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The X-Factor

Dog AggressionDear John,

I’m writing to get a second opinion on a recurring problem I’m having with two of my dogs. I’ll just give you a little background I have four dogs all different breeds. Buddy is a six yr old English Springer Spaniel 66 lbs, Victoria 6 years (7.5 lbs) Toy Rat Terrier Leader of the pack, Basil is a Snoodle 5 years weight 34lbs and last Hunter 3 years old Toy Fox Terrier. I realize I have a pack and I’m the leader and most time things are pretty good as I keep the dogs well exercised. They have been crated since puppies and are happy and comfortable in them. Now comes the problem that seems to come back every year . Bud and Basil get into a fight once in a while at different times of the year but in December seems to be the worst. I have been separated for a while and kept the dogs and so when a fight happens and I’m the only referee. There is blood being drawn and it’s mine. I have now got scars on my hands arms and legs trying to break these fights up because it appears Bud who has Basil by the neck is going to kill him. Also if I can get Buddy off Basil, then Basil just goes right back at Buddy. My body parts are being bitten all the while. These fight are terrifying. I have been working with a dog training school and have tried their suggestions but I just got bitten again twice on the legs this month. I need to understand what is happening and how to stop it,as I don’t wish to have to give up either of the dogs. These dogs have all been together from 6 weeks old. Any advise would be a great help. Oh I don’t give rawhide or clean teeth bones unless they are in the crate alone,

Thank you


Dear Eliza,

The holiday season must really be stressful when even dogs are at each others throats. Good thing they can’t drive to the mall.

Dogs do pick up stress from their owners and the more sensitive the dog the more unsettling their owner’s stress. Marital separations are are particularly stressful during holidays and if it so with you, your dogs may be picking up on it and like many family members are more prone to duke it out during that time of year.

However, if it’s not the only time they’re fighting then they’ve got some sort of other dynamic going. Dogs gage their respect for each other to a certain extent on the basis of their strength, speed and agility but the ‘X’ factor is their drive to be ‘Number One”. It appears that your 7 ½ pound toy Rat Terrier has enough of the ‘X’ factor to keep the boundaries he wants and if either of the combatants did as well there would be no problem. The slug fests occur when you have a pair of dogs where their ‘X’ factors are equal. Look out then! The fur may fly only over only certain things or everything. In many of cases the dogs simply can’t live together and the best for all involved is to find another home for one or the other.

Mark Twain knew what the ‘X’ factor was. He once said that “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Fine, but when the “fight in the dogs” is even, things can escalate dangerously as neither will want to throw in the towel no matter which started it. The danger is more so in a case like yours where one dog outweighs the other by a factor of two. Even playing, a significantly larger dog can accidentally hurt, even kill the smaller.

When the speed, strength, agility and drive is clearly in the favour of one over the other most dogs work their way through these things without much ado. The odd nick or scratch but most come out of it just wearing a lot of the other’s spit. The one most seriously hurt from these encounters is generally the dogs’ owner when they try and break up the fight. As you’re the only one getting clipped in these encounters I think you should contact a good dog trainer to have a look at these two interact when they’re non confrontational. They may recommend that you get out of the ring and let them work it out. Don’t try that though until you’ve had someone that knows dogs work with you. I have found that dogs that could have worked it out but were constantly interfered with when they tried, can over time lose their ability to stop when victory is clear.

A trainer with experience is going to ask a ton of questions before they work with the dogs. They’ll want to watch the dogs interact and you interact with the dogs on your home turf. I don’t think you’ll get a fair assessment if it occurs at a facility. They might decide to be on their best behaviour or then again, their worst. Don’t worry, the trainer won’t need to see them fight. They know what a dog fight looks like. They need to know the cause and the personalities involved to advise you properly.

-John Wade

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