Thursday, June 12, 2014

The way that dogs work out their issues is that they first use eye contact and body language signals to each other—but if these are ignored or challenged, the issue can escalate into growling, showing teeth and sometimes using teeth. The hard thing for many people is to not interfere with dogs when they’re trying those earlier, nonviolent ways of working out who is going to be where in the pecking order. But the best rule of thumb is to back off: control your misguided impulse to “fix” things by intervening (which will only exacerbate and escalate problems) and let the dogs do it their way. Unless you’re trying to protect a very young or very old dog from a dangerous situation that he himself does not comprehend, trust in the natural canine process of communication.
Do Not Get in the Middle of a Squabble.
If a dogfight starts, or there is a standoff with teeth bared in which neither dog moves, you need to step back. Anything you do could trigger a worse outcome than what might have happened without your provocation. If a conflict is broken up too soon—or before one of them emerges as the victor—it will leave unresolved tension between the dogs, which can brew into a bigger problem down the road.
When dogs start growling, it may sound worse to you than it really is. These moments usually blow over in a matter of seconds, at which point the issue is resolved between them. You need to back off, no matter how scary it seems, unless it is a full-fledged battle and one dog is really getting hurt. If you must do something, resist the instinct to reach between the dogs (which could leave you with hands like Swiss cheese). Turn a garden hose on the dogs at full pressure (if you are inside and in the kitchen, use the sprayer attachment from the sink), or get a pot or bucket of cold water and dump it on their heads.
  Let the Dogs Work It Out on Their Own.
Everyday life will present inter-dog issues we don’t even recognize; the dogs will be guided by whatever power balance they work out now. Depending on your personality and how compulsive or controlling or dominant you are, it may take some self-control for you to let the dogs work it out unimpeded by you. Stepping aside is easier for some people—for others, it’s agony not to monitor or arbitrate any potentially nasty moments between the dogs. However, it may be easier to keep yourself out of the middle of it if you trust that the dogs have their own language and will sort it out themselves.
  When the Conflict Is Over, Pay Attention to the Winner First.
This may seem unfair, unless you remember that dogs don’t abide by the human concept of “fairness.” Your attention to the winner will reinforce the dominance hierarchy that the dogs have just established. Once that hierarchy is in place, there should be no more fighting.
  Continue to Reinforce the Balance of Power.
Once the dogs are living together, you must maintain the power structure that they’ve established. You should always greet and give affection to the dominant dog first; her food should always be served first; she should be allowed first into the car; she should have her leash put on first and be allowed out the door in front of the other dog. These are the natural “perks” of being Top Dog; both dogs will feel best if you respect that hierarchy.

At the same time, regardless of who’s on top, it is considered wise to continue giving the resident dog at least the same amount of affection that he got before the new dog came along, regardless of which dog won the position of Top Dog. You would not want to give your first dog reason to be jealous or resentful of the newcomer. If there are no power issues between the resident dog and the newcomer, then your first dog should remain first in everything—sort of the first-come, first-served theory. The resident dog gets treats first, goes out the door first, gets his dinner bowl set down first and is greeted first by you.
Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner

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