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Canine Behavior/Pack behavior towards youngest dog


You are probably busy, I will try to be brief as possible. I have 4 indoor dogs(fenced backyard). In the order that we got them, I have a male rat terrier(now 9 years old), his half sister(8), a female min-pin(7) and a brindle terrier mix(2).
They are mostly a good pack because I have established the alpha position from the onset. As for the rest, they have been working on the heirarchy. Lucy(the female rat terrier) is at the top. Charlie(the male rat terrier) is second. They love each other, it's like they know that they are kin. "Roady" The min-pin, does not buck the system and mostly just stays out of the others way and rarely will mildly defend herself. "Ginger" the youngest, was raised by the others since she was 8 weeks old.
They taught her how to do her business outside(along with my efforts).
They are on a low protein diet cause they do no work. They get no junk food. Every other weekend I will give them an egg and I can scramble 2 eggs and serve them on 1 plate and they will eat the eggs without snarling and fighting. They share!
I have a large dog cage and if I am preparing to leave the house, all 4 will automatically go into the cage without being told to.

Here is my question, for about the last 2-3 months, for no apparent reason, the rat terriers will periodically(1-2 times a week) jump off the couch and just just maul Ginger and I will have to sound out so that they will break it up. Ginger is fairly agressive in a playful way and usually the rats will let her know if they want to play or not but when the attacks come, Ginger is all the way across the room and not doing anything wrong. Why do the rats do this?

*****I'm glad to know there are no injuries. It sounds like Ginger is doing the right thing - giving very clear appeasement signals to defuse the tension and avoid further conflict.

I actually would intervene as we don't want this habit to continue or to escalate. If this were happening in my home, when it happens, I would NOT scold the dogs who are being aggressive, but I would redirect them. I would call out in a sweet and enthusiastic voice a 'magic word' like TREAT or COOKIE - whatever your dogs know. I would say their names and use a sing-songy voice. e.g. "Fiiidooo...... TREEEAAAAT?!!?!?" As soon as they disengage from the inappropriate behavior, call them to you across the room or to another room, then ask for a simple command such as Sit and give them all a treat. Follow this with an alternative activity like a toy or a game or going out to the back yard for a romp. You are NOT treating/praising their behavior toward Ginger. You are calling them out of that behavior and then asking for 2 separate behaviors (come and some other simple command) before rewarding them. So, don't worry that you'll increase their behavior toward Ginger. You can further limit this potential by calling them once or twice per day (or at least several times per week) outside of these moments for all to come from another room and get a yummy. Yummies can be one of their regular kibbles out of their daily ration, so we don't worry about over feeding. But if we create a habit that several times per week, they get this experience, and then if they are doing something you don't like, use this to disrupt and redirect. It helps Ginger know you've got her back, while avoiding punishing the dogs, which may cause the behavior to escalate. Good luck.*****

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that Ginger seems to be getting some unpleasant attention.

In reality, dogs do not attack "out of the blue" or for "no apparent reason." It is frequent that we, humans, may not recognize what the reason is, but 99.9% of the time, there is something that triggers the attack. Our goal is to determine what that trigger is so that we can then address it.

You suggest that Ginger is getting "mauled" 1-2 times per week. Do these encounters result in injuries that require veterinary care? Or is it just a lot of noise and flying fur, but no actual damage done? If there are serious injuries, then we definitely need to be very concerned. If there are no injuries, or only incidental injuries such as a small scrape where tooth touched skin, but not from a bite, then we don't need to be nearly so concerned. Dog-dog encounters can often sound much more vicious than they actually are.

In order to comment on the specifics of your household, I would need significantly more information that we can go through in this forum. I would need to know the medical/health history for each dog (including whether or not they've been neutered/spayed), more of their history together, do they play together, do they share toys, sleeping spots outside the crate, people, etc. You indicated that they will hang out in the large crate together - which suggests that they can and do sleep together, or at least they tolerate each other in that circumstance. You also indicated that they can eat off the same plate without fighting over the food - which is great! But those are only some of the life dynamics when we have multiple dogs in a household.

I would also want to observe them on their own and with each other. Body language tells us many things, and may be our best bet in determining what is triggering these unpleasant interactions.

Since I am not local to you, I encourage you to seek out a certified applied animal behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist, or a trainer with experience in dog-dog dynamics, and who is quite skilled in reading body language. Make sure any professional you choose to work with does NOT use aversive tools such as choke chains, pinch/prong collars or any kind of electronic collar (shock, vibration or citronella). Also avoid anyone who uses outdated/misunderstood techniques such as alpha rolls/forced submissions as these techniques/tools will likely only make matters worse rather than better. Most aggressive displays stem from fear, not predation, and so using aversive tools and techniques only serves to increase that sense of fear, which can cause the dog to react even more easily, to even less of a trigger.

The American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB) has a brief article on how to choose a trainer. If you go to the below link, and then click on the "how to select a trainer - a guide for owners" link at the bottom of that page, it'll open a PDF with useful information.

You can also search for a veterinary behaviorist (the psychiatrist of the animal world. They are veterinarians who have also completed graduate work specifically in animal behavior)

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and associate (ACAAB) have advanced degrees in an animal behavior related field. CAABs have a PhD and ACAABs have an MA/MS.

You can also ask for referrals from your vet and other local vets in your area. Don't be afraid to interview the professional on the phone before hiring them. Ask about their techniques and training.

You want to hear words like non-aversive, positive reinforcement, counter conditioning and desensitization .

You do NOT want to hear words like alpha, pack leader, calm/submissive . As the information from ACVB says, letters after a name does not necessarily mean they use sound science-based techniques. If a professional ever does anything to your dogs, or asks you to do anything to your dogs, that makes you uncomfortable, stop the session right then and discontinue the working relationship.

In the mean time, you may find the book, On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals , by Turid Rugaas to be very helpful. She walks you through a whole host of very subtle communication signals that dogs give - many of which are designed to appease another or to avoid conflict. Some indicate uncertainty, fear, anxiety. Others indicate happiness, contentment, invitations to play, and still others are clear distance-increasing signals, designed to avoid conflict by keeping another individual at a distance. Many are very subtle and would go entirely unnoticed if you didn't know what you were looking for. Once you know what signals you're watching for, you are likely to see a great deal of communication between your dogs that you didn't even realize was occurring. And this may help you determine what the triggers are that are setting off the rats. Once you can figure that out, it will be much easier to determine the best approach to curbing the attacks.

If you're a visual learner, there's a companion DVD that can be quite helpful after you've read the book. It shows dogs doing each behavior and how other dogs respond to them, as well as humans doing some of the behaviors and how dogs respond to that.

I hope you are able to find some assistance locally if you can't get to the bottom of it on your own after reading the book/watching the DVD. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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