Canine Behavior/Dog shows agression towards new puppy
Hi. Thanks for your time.
I have a 7 year old male German Shepherd/Husky mix. He's never had any issues with other dogs, and I've had friends dogs in the house without any issues.
About a month ago, we adopted a pure bred female German Shepherd puppy, who is now about 3 months old.
When they are both in the house the, the Shepherd/Husky mix doesn't really want anything to do with her. He will sniff her if we are holding her, but otherwise will show his teeth and growl at her. He will chase after her, but doesn't bite her or anything.
However, if we put them outside together, it's like he's a completely different dog. He plays with her like they are best friends. As soon as they come back into the house, he starts showing his teeth and growling at her.
So why is he fine with her outside but not inside? Is there anything we can do to try and correct this behavior?
Thank you for your question. If your male has been an only dog for some time, then having a new full-time family member can be stressful - especially when that new family member is trying to hang out in all the same spots, play with all the same toys, get attention from the people in all the same ways... So we may be seeing a bit of resource guarding, which is a fear based behavior that a dog does when they believe their valued items are at risk of being stolen/usurped.
Also, inside is generally a much smaller, more congested space while outside is usually more open with room to move around. Many dogs have some issues with other dogs in small/confined spaces. Areas like doorways, hallways, narrow paths around furniture, etc. are known as grumble/growl zones. They are typical areas where dogs have issues with each other.
From your description, it sounds like your male is demonstrating excellent bite inhibition - he growls and chases after her, but does not put his teeth on her - or at least does not cause harm if he does make contact. That's VERY good! He's communicating with the puppy clearly. He's giving her what we call "distance-increasing" signals. These are signals that tell the puppy to back off, give him space, leave him alone. Growls, snarls, showing teeth, air snapping, lunging, chasing, contact without injury are all distance-increasing signals. The key is to take note if the puppy is heeding these cues. If your male growls a "give me space" at the puppy, does Puppy back off and leave him alone? If yes, AWESOME! If your male then relaxes because Puppy backed off when he told her to, then we're in an ideal situation because there is good mutual communication going on. While we certainly want to pay attention to these moments, there are only two situations where you need to intervene.
1. If your male gives a distance increasing signal and Puppy continues to harass him, then we need to move Puppy and give her something else to occupy her, while reassuring your male that you have his back and will protect him from the annoying pest that is Puppy. NO SCOLDING THE MALE FOR COMMUNICATING. COMMUNICATION IS CRUCIAL, AND IF WE PUNISH THE COMMUNICATION OUT OF HIM, THEN WE RISK A SERIOUS INCIDENT BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE LEARNED THAT COMMUNICATING IS USELESS.
Instead of punishing him, we reassure him that we'll protect him and help him get the space he needs to feel comfortable. In this case it's Puppy who gets redirected.
2. If your male gives a distance increasing signal (e.g. grrrrr.....) and Puppy does back off - redirecting herself to another activity, and your male decides he needs to chase her down anyway, even after he's made his point... this is when we redirect HIM to another activity and reassure Puppy that we'll protect her from unnecessary assaults. He's made his point and she respected his request. He doesn't get to hammer it home even further.
The fact that they get along outside is great and bodes well for them going forward. Inside, I would do a couple things. I would have a crate or playpen for the puppy and I would make sure that she is in that space with an appropriate chew toy* to occupy her for an hour or so at a time a couple times per day. She can nap in there, she can get meals in there via Kong toys and the like, she can just hang out in there with a couple of interesting toys. While she's in there, your male is free to roam the house. You can play with him, snuggle him, or just let him be where ever he wishes to be. But he needs a break from Puppy a couple times per day so he can relax. He's 7 years old, technically a senior dog and his energy and stamina is no match for the Puppy. So he needs regular recovery time. As he gets tired, or if he's a bit stiff or sore, then his tolerance for Puppy will be lower. So giving him time to recover after playtime is very helpful for his peace of mind.
You can also do things like tether puppy to the couch on one side of the room with a toy, and sit on the other side of the room with your male and love on him and give him some treats so that he can clearly see that just because Puppy is in the space, he is not going to lose your love or attention.
So, for the next while (few weeks to few months - let your male tell you...), I would make sure that there are breaks from each other inside - with Puppy being isolated in a playpen or crate that is still in the main living space so she's with you, just separated from your male. I would make sure that your male is getting plenty of love and reassurance that he's not being usurped in the family. Redirect Puppy if she fails to heed his requests for space, and do NOT scold your male for asking for space. Redirect your male if Puppy does heed a space request and he doesn't let the issue go immediately.
* Appropriate chew items for when Puppy is penned include antlers, marrow bones (the long tubular bones with a hole in the middle), Nylabones, Bully Sticks (not raw hides, they're bad for the digestive system) and Kong toys.
Kong toys can be loaded with food to be entire meals or just keep-quiet-and-color activities to occupy the dog for a few minutes. When loaded more fully, they are meals and can take some dogs an hour or more to empty. When loaded just a little, they may be emptied in just a couple of minutes.
To load a Kong, you will want some of the dog's regular kibble, some tasty treats which can be crunchy dog treats or dog-safe human food, and a soft binder. The binder is any dog-safe spreadable food. Many that I use include: cream cheese, peanut butter, nonfat plain yogurt, low or nonfat sour cream, Beech Nut baby food (not Gerber - they use corn starch and other ingredients that can cause allergy in dogs), liverwurst, mashed potatoes (no garlic), mashed sweet potato, pumpkin puree, apple sauce, or even a high quality canned dog food. You don't need to limit yourself to these options - anything that is spreadable and a bit sticky, and is safe for dogs is acceptable to use as a binder. I also will often combine options, especially if I'm using a higher fat option like peanut butter or liverwurst, I'll cut it with something lower in fat like pumpkin puree or yogurt.
In a dish, you'll put some kibble, a few extra tasty bits of food (yes, a nibble of bacon or chicken skin is fine as well as cooked meat, carrot, peas, blue berries, melon, broccoli - anything your pup likes that is not toxic to her) and mix the binder ingredients in. Then, you can load up the Kong with this mash. You can load it sparsely if it's between meals and you don't want to overfeed. You can pack it full and even freeze it if you want your dog to take a good long time working on it. She may even give up for a while and then go back to it a bit later. If you just need to occupy her for a couple of minutes, you can just smear a little bit of binder to the inner wall of the Kong and then just strategically place 3 or 4 treats in there.
You can load a hollow Marrow Bone the exact same way - just lodge a solid treat at the narrowest part of the bone so that there's a bit she won't be able to extract without your help. This will keep her going back every now and then until you help her get it out.
NOW KEEP IN MIND, THIS CAN CAUSE JEALOUSY - PUPPY IS GETTING SOME AWESOME GOODNESS... SO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE KONGS FOR YOUR MALE AS WELL. HE'LL LOVE IT TOO! If there's any concern about resource guarding such a high value interactive toy, then make sure the dogs are in different spaces while enjoying the Kongs (puppy in play pen is sufficient or on opposite sides of a closed door). And make sure you pick up and put away both Kongs BEFORE you reunite the dogs again.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist