QUESTION: we have a small young dog that has developed seizures. 1 of my older larger females attacked & tried to kill him while he was seizing. we have 9 dogs but have been practicing avoidance and separation. but its tough w/so many dogs. do u have any suggestions what we can do otherwise
ANSWER: Thank you for your question. Nine dogs is a lot to manage under the best of circumstances. When one is ill, it can be nearly impossible.
I hope that your dog with seizures is being monitored by your vet and anti-seizure meds are being used as prescribed (usually a daily pill to avoid having seizures).
The issue here is that the seizure activity is upsetting, scaring, concerning or otherwise distressing the other dog. In nature, sometimes when there is a severely ill animal, it will be attacked by others. There are many reasons why that may occur, none of which are really relevant here beyond saying that it's not a totally abnormal behavior by your other dog to do this to a seizing dong. Of course that doesn't make it OK at all. The seizing dog can't help that it's happening and can't defend himself when it's happening.
Your best option here is going to be management - keeping these dogs separated until such time that the seizures are fully under control. How were they after this attack? Is she still wary of the little dog? Or was she totally fine with him once the seizure was over?
The problem really is that you never know when a seizure is going to strike. Well, you the human never knows... Dogs are able to smell chemical changes in the body leading up to a seizure (which is why some can be trained to be seizure alert dogs) and so your female may recognize those changes and if stressed by them, may attack the little one even before the seizure strikes.
In theory you could do some behavior modification to help the larger one see the seizures as predicting something wonderful for her. but that would require having her leashed/tethered and supervised at all times when in the presence of the little dog, and then when a seizure occurs, raining spectacular treats on the larger dog until the seizure is over. She would need to be kept far enough away from the seizing dog so that she can focus enough to eat treats, and then just drop treat after treat after treat onto the floor around her so that she's sniffing and eating and eating and sniffing until the seizure finishes. Then, until the next seizure, she never gets that treat again. And I'm talking the be-all, end-all of treats - whatever she thinks is the single most amazing food on the planet (that's dog safe, of course).
But this is unrealistic to do given the randomness of seizures, and hopefully the medicine is preventing the seizures from occurring at all since every seizure causes a little bit of brain damage, we want to avoid them as much as possible.
If management is not possible (keeping them separated or, if in the same space, keeping the attacking dog tethered and supervised the entire time), then for the comfort and peace of all concerned, it would be best to rehome one of the dogs. I know that's a tough thing to think about. We love our animals. But loving them comes with the responsibility of putting their needs ahead of our hearts. If this can't be 100% managed all the time, then it's not fair to the dog with seizures or to the dog distressed by them or to the other 6 dogs in the house or to the humans in the house to have them living together. So the kindest thing to do at that point is to find a home that can provide for one of them. Which one is up to you. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who can take one of them, at least until the seizures are fully under control (1 year with no seizures) so that you can visit regularly.
Speak with your vet to get a realistic expectation of how under control you can get the seizures. Depending on the cause of them, it may not be possible to eliminate them, in which case it's not safe for that dog to live with the other at all. Even if there's only one seizure per month, that's once per month that we risk another attack and that's obviously not what anyone wants.
I'm sorry I can't offer a better solution, but because of the randomness of seizures and the precursor smells that we're not aware of, and the safety issue involved, I'm not comfortable suggesting that there's a good chance to fix this for these two dogs beyond 100% management. And even a commitment to 100% management leaves open the possibility for management failure - someone forgets to close a door, or their attention is diverted briefly during supervised interaction. We're human and we're not very good at 100%...
Again, I wish I had an easy fix for this. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any more assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: thank u for taking the time to answer my question. i knew there probably wasnt a quick fix for this. i wish giving treats were an option however w/9 dogs its not feasible to single her out for treats. we have been practicing avoidance for over a year now w/1 of our other females who has addisons disease. they arent particulary friends & we cant have them get in a rowl becuase it could bring on an addisonian crisis which are no fun. i have established a pack leader mentality and for the most part they tolerate each other. so avoidance is what we will keep doing. the small dog has been put on potassium bromide & hasnt had a seizure since the attack last week (dec 10). i know my partner will never give the small dog up for rehoming & the larger dog would be difficult to rehome. she has a fear aggression anyway (we have to muzzle her to take her to the vet). so it would be hard to find her a good home w/a strong enuf leader to keep her in tow. pray that im home & quick enuf to get to this 65 lb dog to get her off the little one if it ever happens again becuz my partner stands 4'9" and weighs 120 lbs soakn wet lol. have a good holiday ty again
So you're already familiar with the process of avoidance and limited contact management. That's good.
As for the larger dog who has known fear issues. You may want to address those as helping her feel safer in general is likely to increase her tolerance of sudden behavior changes in her housemates.
A couple of books that can be useful to helping you address her issues are:
The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer their Fears
, by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
This book is an easy, straight forward explanation of counter conditioning and desensitization. While she uses a single example throughout the book, the process is the same no matter the issue you're addressing. You will need to separate her from the other dogs during set-ups so you can practice and focus on her and keep her below her threshold of reactivity, but it may prove to be quite useful to you.
Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression
, by Grisha Stewart.
This book is a bit dry as it's largely for professionals, though understandable by pet parents as well. It will walk you through the process of honoring your dog's emotional state and not only giving her permission to choose to not engage, but helping her see that she can offer softer cut-off signals and still get her real world (functional) needs met. In other words, fearful dogs often growl, bark, snap or bite in an effort to get their need for more personal space met. Those behaviors are classified as distance-increasing signals, and they're quite effective most of the time... But BAT helps her learn that she can offer softer cut-off signals such as looking away, turning her head, turning her back, sniffing the ground, doing a full body shake as if wet, walking away are all just as successful in getting that extra space/distance that she feels she needs to be comfortable. Those behaviors are all efforts at disengaging or cutting off potential confrontations before they begin.
You may also enlist the help of a local professional who specializes in positive reinforcement training. You want to work with someone who has a clear understanding of counter conditioning (changing the emotional response to a trigger from fear to happy anticipation) and desensitization (increasing her tolerance for the trigger).
Because she's fearful, and the last thing you want to do is punish fear as that will only cause it to escalate, you want to avoid working with anyone who uses aversive training equipment such as choke chains, prong/pinch collars, electronic collars of any kind. You also want to avoid working with anyone who suggests physically assaulting the dog with pokes, jabs, kicks or so-called "alpha rolls" when she offers an aggressive display. Remember, that aggressive display is begging for more distance because she's frightened, and so pushing into her space and physically "correcting" her with those techniques will only confirm for her that she has every right to be frightened and her behavior will escalate, or she'll shut down entirely and be too frightened to anything at all - which is no life for anyone.
I have no idea what you've been doing so far to address her fearfulness. I just put out there for anyone who is reading this Q&A, who may have a similar issue, what my recommendations are.
But I should reiterate, as I said in my initial response, that because of the randomness of seizures and the level of her attack when the little one did have a seizure, it will be important to do some serious soul searching and have some long, honest conversations that set aside personal emotion and determine what is best for the dogs - all the dogs. . .
Good luck. Please let me know how it works out in the end.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist