Bob and I have an extended family of 3 dogs and 1 cat. I am not counting the 3 cats who are 5/8’s feral and live in the front yard since they think we run a bed and breakfast and flinch when I try to pet them. The dogs and cat who live under our roof qualify as extended family since the definition states, “An extended family is a family that extends beyond the nuclear family, consisting of parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all living nearby or in the same household.”
If I had to give them familial titles, Murphey would be a brother-in-law while Papa’s Kitty would be an adopted daughter whose wealthy family died in a plane crash. She has the attitude of one who has lived through better times and is just settling. Halo and Scooter are cousins, not from the same parents. Scooter is paraplegic as a result of a skiing accident. Halo fell on hard times after getting drunk and sleeping with one of the judges at the Miss Canine Texas pageant.
We usually have a happy family of mammals, the three dogs lying in close proximity with the cat anywhere she wants to be. Murphey never gets ruffled, but there are times when Scooter and Halo get cross with one another, growling their displeasure. Last week, the growling got nuclear. It was after dark and I shrieked for Bob to help me separate them. Between the two of us, we got the animals separated into opposite corners of the house. Scooter inflicted the most damage and was largely unscathed. Halo looked like she’d lost a knife fight. The kitchen looked like a MASH surgery.
I was horrified. Bob, who had a nip wound on his left arm, was furious with both canines. Neither one was seriously hurt, but it was a mess. I kept Scooter and Halo separated for the night, shuffling them outside in shifts. The next morning, after Bob had gone to work, I brought the dogs together. When they snarled and lunged at one another, I grabbed the sink sprayer and doused them with water. That gave them pause and I parted the dogs, putting one in the backyard and the other in the back bedroom.
I drove to work in silence, worrying about our civil war. What had happened to our happy home? What were we going to do? I Googled “multi dog families,” “when dogs fight,” “what causes dogs who haven’t fought to fight one another.” I didn’t get a solution, but one of the sites encouraged dog training. I called a local franchise called Sit Means Sit. They offer free consultations and were able to come to our house within 24 hours. After another night of shuffling dogs between bedrooms and the backyard, I was ready for help.
Wes, the dog trainer, was at our house when I got home. Bob had introduced him to the creatures. Wes took time to get to know Halo; after 10-15 minutes of talking to us, he let Scooter approach. The dogs were a little tense but settled down quickly. In time, we were talking about the dog routine and looking at the 3 dogs who were happily sitting together. Just like old times.
“What happened? Why are they getting along now? What did you do?” (There’s nothing wrong with your dogs. They don’t really need training. To be honest with you, it’s you. If you don’t mind my saying, you are a little co-dependent with your dogs.)
We spent the next 30 minutes going over some suggestions.
- Dogs are animals. They don’t have human emotions. Subscribing human emotions and motivations to dogs confuses everybody.
- Dogs don’t fight unless they are under stress. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. Loud voices and inconsistent treatment can cause anxiety and anxiety can cause fighting. Routine changes can throw dogs off.
- When the dogs do fight, which is a possibility in multi-dog families, it doesn’t help to scream, “THE DOGS ARE KILLING ONE ANOTHER. DO SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING, BOB!”
- Don’t grab fighting dogs by the collar. If there are 2 people, each can grab a dog, pulling them apart. He suggests seizing them from their hindquarters. No teeth at that end.
- Once separated, the dogs need to have some time to lose the adrenalin rush and have time to calm down in one another’s presence. Separating them while they are still agitated can result in another fight.
- Dogs love logical behavior and don’t appreciate hypocrisy.
When Wes left, he gave me some homework: Be an effective communicator. Be aware what you are communicating. Self discipline, self-awareness, and self-control comes from you.
The dogs got off with an ear scratch.