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Canine Behavior/Two females fighting


QUESTION: Hi, i have an a 4 yr old Rhodesian Ridgeback and a 8 month old Dogue de Bordeaux-both female. They have had a few little tiffs however the ridgeback has always been the dominant dog, however yesterday they had an aggressive fight which we broke up as I was concerned one of them could get injured. The ridgeback is desexed and I have not had the dogue desexed as yet, do you see the situation improving once the dogue is desexed and or could this be them sorting out who is the dominant dog? What do you suggest as I love them both and wouldn't want to rehome either of them?

ANSWER: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without more detail, I can't tell you if they're a good fit for each other or not.

I can tell you that desexing will only effect hormone/mating related aggression. So, if your Dogue is in heat (or near to coming into heat), she may be much more likely to be aggressive toward another female, and other females may be more likely to be aggressive toward her. But if she's not near heat, then this aggression is likely entirely unrelated to hormone issues and so would be unaffected by spaying her.

My first questions are:

A. How long have they lived together?
B. How often do they have "little tiffs"? Monthly, weekly, daily, multiple times per day?

1. Under what circumstances have they had "little tiffs" - around a particular person/s, toy/s, food/water, resting spot, inside or outside, during play (what kind of play - chase, wrestle, tug, etc)?

2. Describe for me what the "tiff" looked and sounded like - body language from ears to tail of each dog - ears, eyes, mouth, hackles on their back (a bit difficult to know with the rhodesian), tail position, stiffness of body, teeth showing, vocalizations, etc).

3. How did they behave with each other after the "tiff"? Did they avoid each other, watch each other warily from across the room, go back to playing, take a nap?

4. What prompted the "fight" - same trigger as the "tiffs" or different?

5. Describe to me exactly what the fight looked and sounded like. How did it differ from the "tiffs"

6. Was anyone injured in the fight? If so, what injuries were sustained and did either need to see a vet for care because of those injuries?

7. How did they behave with each other after that "fight"? Was it different than how they behave after a "tiff"?

With more detail, I'll be in a better position to give you an impression based on your dogs, rather than very generic information.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

I will try my best to answer each question with the best detail that I can.

A. How long have they lived together?

They have lived together since I got the Dogue ( In April when she was 8 weeks old )

B. How often do they have "little tiffs"? Monthly, weekly, daily, multiple times per day?

They have only ever had 2 that I am aware of.
They do play a lot however and the Ridgeback does "nip" at my Dogue, but nothing aggressive.

1. Under what circumstances have they had "little tiffs" - around a particular person/s, toy/s, food/water, resting spot, inside or outside, during play (what kind of play - chase, wrestle, tug, etc)?

Both times they have had their "tiffs" has been around myself and my daughter who is 22.
The first time was around food - the Ridgeback would always go for the Dogue's food, as she eats her meals VERY quickly and the Dogue is a slow eater.
My Dogue would usually spill some food out of her bowl and the Ridgeback would then go and eat the "spilled" food.
That's when they go into their first "tiff" - My daughter and I broke that one up, with great difficulty as that was the first time they did it. It lasted only a few minutes or so.
We do seperate them when feeding them now.

The second one was when my daughter and I had just got home from being out for the day, she came inside and verbally said hello to the dogs, and then went to go outside to say hello and interact with the dogs, as  soon as she opened the door, that's when all hell broke loose and it was what I would call an "aggressive tiff/fight". Again, we ended up seperating them and put the Dogue outside and the Ridgeback on the balcony for a good 10 minutes.
It seemed to have started as soon as we drove into the drive way. The Dogue was very excited and was jumping up on the gate and it seemed that the Ridgeback wasn't happy with this and was growling and "nipping" at the Dogue.

2. Describe for me what the "tiff" looked and sounded like - body language from ears to tail of each dog - ears, eyes, mouth, hackles on their back (a bit difficult to know with the rhodesian), tail position, stiffness of body, teeth showing, vocalizations, etc).

This is a bit of a difficult question to answer, as I was more concerned with my daughter and making sure she was okay and wouldn't be harmed.
The sound was a typical dog fight, with growling and just awful noises really.
The Ridgeback was over the Dogue and the body language definitely wasn't wagging tails etc. You could tell it was a fight. That being said the Dogue wouldn't ease up even though she was underneath the Ridgeback.
I'm sorry I haven't really given you a very good answer with this question, as I said, my concern was more on my daughter's safety due to as soon as my daughter opened the door the dogs came in and started the fight, so it was inside the house, just near the front door.

3. How did they behave with each other after the "tiff"? Did they avoid each other, watch each other warily from across the room, go back to playing, take a nap?

As soon as the fight was over - as I mentioned before, we did seperate them for a good 10 minutes or so.
I was outside with the Dogue and she was  "crying" every now and then and kept jumping up on the front door.

My daughter was out on the Balcony with the Ridgeback.

After that we let them be with each other and they avoided each other/were stand offish/ as you said "watched warily across the room" for a good few hours.
Then later that night they were fine towards each other, sitting and sleeping together and the Ridgeback was licking the Dogue's face ( she does this all the time )

4. What prompted the "fight" - same trigger as the "tiffs" or different?

What I think prompted the fight was as I mentioned above, we got home and the Dogue was very very excited and was jumping up on the gate etc.
And the Ridgeback didn't seem to like this at all.

5. Describe to me exactly what the fight looked and sounded like. How did it differ from the "tiffs"

The fight lasted a few minutes - probably would have lasted longer if we hadn't interrupted it.
It sounded different to the "Tiff" as this sounded a lot more aggressive.
The Ridgeback was the one on top and the Dogue was on the bottom, but the Dogue didn't give up.
They were definitely biting at each other.
I'm sorry I'm not giving great details, I think because it was the first time dealing/seeing such an aggressive fight I was more in shock and my daughter was going ballistic with screaming, that it just was in "the moment" situation and I can't remember it exactly, and I was also yelling out my partner's name to come and help - He was the one that actually got between the two dogs and seperated  them.

6. Was anyone injured in the fight? If so, what injuries were sustained and did either need to see a vet for care because of those injuries?
None of them needed to see a vet.
The Ridgeback had some cuts and was bleeding a little on one of her hind legs and was limping at the time - she is completely fine now.
The Dogue had some cuts on her ears and hind legs also.
But both are fine.
So no real drastic injuries, just a few cuts  on each dog.

7. How did they behave with each other after that "fight"? Was it different than how they behave after a "tiff"?

They did act a little stranger this time compared to their first "tiff".
They didn't really avoid each other much the first time, however after the second one, as mentioned previously,  they did avoid  each other  for quite some time and warily looked at each other from across the room.
The Dogue was very submissive when the Ridgeback would lick her face too.
But they were getting alone fine and like normal later that night.

I hope this has been helpful.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you.

Thank you for such a prompt reply. And thank you for answering every question to the best of your ability. I understand in the heat of the moment, it can be very stressful and downright terrifying to see dogs fighting. I will say, for future, do your darndest to not make any noise as you go in to break up the fight. Your vocalizations will only serve to further rile up the dogs that are fighting. I know this is often nearly impossible as instinct wants us to shout out "hey! Stop that right now!" I have trouble with that too. But if you can quelch the instinct to yell, it'll actually be easier to break up a fight.

OK, so from your description, there is an issue of resource guarding - which is a totally normal survival skill. In the description you gave, it was the Dogue guarding her food and the Rhodi being rude by stealing it. The Dogue is well within her rights to tell the Rhodi to back off, while protecting her own meal.  Feeding them separately is the fastest and easiest management technique, and even a slow eating dog usually doesn't take more than 3 or 4 minutes to eat their whole meal. So it's a rather simple-to-implement management protocol.

There's also the issue that they are very clearly not in a stable relationship at this time. When dogs have a very stable relationship (rank order), there is almost never an altercation, and when there is it's usually a very ritualized aggression with no injuries, and nearly no actual physical contact.

In your case, I'm hearing that the Dogue gets very excited and the Rhodi is uncomfortable with that and tries to control the Dogue's movements. If the image in my mind is accurate, then it actually suggests the Rhodi is insecure in that situation. If it's about who gets to greet the humans first, then that goes back to resource guarding, only now it's the Rhodi who is guarding. The the Dogue does not defer even when the Rhodi has her pinned, suggests that there is still a question between them of their relationship dynamic.

I want to be clear on two points as they're often misunderstood, and it's crucial to understand them if there's going to be any effort to help them learn to live together.

First: dominance. Dominance is not a personality trait. It's wrong to say that "Fido" is a dominant dog as that suggests an innate characteristic that is stable across situations and relationships. Dominance is actually a relationship dynamic between two individuals. To help clarify, there's a good example using chickens. Chickens are the origin of the phrase "pecking order" as the dominant chicken will peck the others, and each one down the line will peck all those lower to them. If you take the dominant chicken from 5 groups of chickens and place all those dominant chickens together, within a few minutes, there will be a clearly established pecking order in which only one of those chickens remains dominant in this new group, while all the others are now lower in the ranking order. And that one who remains dominant in this new group may not be so in a different group.

Dominance in dogs is determined by force, aggression and submission. And in fact, in the end, it's determined truly by submission - when one dog "cries uncle" and defers to the other, you then have a clear dominance relationship. It's maintained by the continuing deference of the subordinate, not the overt aggression of the dominant in that relationship. If the subordinate decides they no longer wish to defer, then there is a challenge again. Does this make sense?

In your situation, the Dogue is not deferring, even when the Rhodi is clearly asserting herself and trying to achieve that rank order with her. This means they do not have an established rank order between themselves. Their relationship is not stable. This is especially displayed later when the Rhodi is demonstrating submissive appeasement behaviors by licking the Dogue's face (grooming). There is a clear conflict, not only between the dogs, but also, it appears, within the dogs individually - at least for the Rhodi. She's not sure where she is or where she should be in this relationship.

Second: Resource Guarding. Many people mistakenly see resource guarding as an effort to dominate. In actuality, it is a fear-based behavior. We protect the things that we deem to be valuable, that we believe someone may try to steal from us. So it is a fear of losing that precious item (food, toy, attention, resting spot, etc) that prompts the offensive posturing (growling, freezing, snarling, biting, attacking). All social animals will resource guard the things that are precious to them. Women will fight a would-be purse snatcher. You might slap someone's hand away as they try to sneak a piece of food off your plate. Most will do all they can to protect their home and property... For dogs it's no different. The issue is that what is considered valuable is entirely up to that dog. And sometimes it's dependent on mood.

My dogs share their toys very well. But sometimes, my older one is chewing on a particular toy and the younger one decides he'd like to enjoy it. They don't escalate beyond a breathy warning (can't even really call it a growl) with a head turn toward the other dog to nudge them away. But in that moment, the dog is not prepared to give up that toy and will protect it if necessary. He's saying he'd rather not fight, but also don't force me. At other times, my older dog is less concerned and will just drop the toy and walk away if the younger one shows interest in it, and still other times, the older one will be resting near by and not even blink if the younger one takes the toy he'd been playing with. On the complete opposite spectrum, my Rainbow Bridge dog was so toy possessive (resource guarding of toys), that even toys she didn't care about and never played with were, in her mind, off limits to my other dog. There were only 2 toys my dog (the current older one) was "allowed to have" according to my Rainbow Bridge Dog.

There are methods we can utilize to help minimize resource guarding - helping the dogs learn that the other is not only NOT a threat to their prized possessions, but actually that the other dog reliably predicts the appearance of awesome things. I will link to a couple of books, but I would strongly encourage you to address this with a professional as you have 2 large dogs who now have a history of fighting. It's important to get the timing of reinforcement correct or you can undermine the process. It's also important to get the timing and distance of moving them closer to each other correct.

There are management options such as crate training them, or confining them to separate bedrooms when unattended so that greetings can happen one at a time with the dogs before bringing the dogs together. But, in all honesty, based on your information, I'm not certain that they're going to live comfortably together. Until/unless they can create a stable relationship, they will continue to have scrapes, and it's escalating. It's good there was no serious damage done that required medical attention, but they were serious in that last fight. That was not a scuffle. They weren't trying to kill each other or there would have been serious injuries. But there's a clear lack of trust between them and a clear escalation of tension.

If these were my dogs, and I wasn't a behavior specialist, I'd be making an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or at least a CPDT (certified professional dog trainer) who has experience with dog-dog aggression. I'd want the professional to observe how my dogs interact with each other normally. They don't need to witness a fight unless you happen to catch one on video tape. No need to set them up to practice the behavior. They would be able to tell you if they're seeing warning signs that you may be missing. They'd be able to tell you if it's likely they can learn to be comfortable with each other or if they would both be happier if they lived separately.

I encourage all my clients to read On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. This would be especially useful for you right now as there is likely a whole conversation going on between these two dogs (most of the time) that you may be entirely unaware of. If you know what the behaviors are, then you'll be able to see them and may be better able to redirect and defuse tension before it becomes a tiff.

Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding by Jean Donaldson
This book is specifically about resource guarding. It's directed more for the dog who guards toward humans, as it's a bit more difficult when they're guarding toward another dog. The concepts are the same, but you need to be doubly wary as you have two dogs who both need monitoring for stress/comfort, and you need two people - one to handle each dog during practice sessions. Ideally, after reading one or both, you'll enlist the aid of a professional who can help you implement the protocol safely for everyone.

There aren't really any excellent books on dog-dog aggression that are directed at the pet owner. This is because dog-dog aggression is potentially dangerous and addressing it requires a greater breadth of knowledge of dog behavior and skilled timing for training - reinforcement and adjusting criteria. For that reason, most of the quality books on the subject are geared toward trainers and so use jargon that most pet owners may not be familiar with, and are a bit on the dry side to read... But working with a positive reinforcement/force-free trainer/behavior specialist can go a long way to helping modify their behavior.

You need to understand that because their current relationship is so unstable, it's possible that they are not meant to live together. Just like humans, not all dogs will get along. To that end, it may be the kindest gift of all to rehome one of the dogs. I can't make that decision for you, and without observing them personally, I can't directly recommend it. But I want that to be in your mind as a real potential outcome so that if you do invite a professional over to assess, it's not out of nowhere if they come to this conclusion. But, seeing them in person, the professional may see a rather easy fix that I'm not in this written forum.

I wish you the best of luck. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance, or to let me know the outcome.

Los Angeles Behaviorist  

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


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 8 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 and many other issues. 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 a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

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I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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