Canine Behavior/Two female hybrids showing agression towards each other
I have two female hybrids, wolf dog mix. They are Shepard and gray wolf. I have had these two dogs since they were 5 weeks old. They will be three years old in February. One was spayed when she was very young because she had a hernia that she was born with. The other has not been spayed yet, she has never had a litter of puppies. Within the last two weeks, my dogs have been being very aggressive towards each other. In the last two weeks, I have noticed my dog that has not been spayed yet has been standing with her tail up as soon as my other dog gets near her. When it comes to feeding time, my dog that has not been spayed will run to the food and water dishes even though she stands over them and does not eat or drink at all. Its like she is standing guard. As soon as they walk near each other, the tails go up and the snarling and growling starts. My dog that has been spayed is growling if someone sits in the chair she usually lays behind. I don't know what to do, I have a five year old grand daughter that lives with me and now I am getting very concerned about her safety. I am trying to understand why this has just started happening within the last two weeks. My dog that has not been spayed is not in heat, I thought they may be part of the issue, but she got over that about three weeks ago. I am just looking for suggestions to try resolve the issues before I am forced to get rid of my dogs. I need help please. They do get separated at feeding time, I just don't know where this is coming from all of the sudden. We give them treats with good behavior, but this is something new and I am not sure how to approach the issues they seem to be having with each other.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for your question. What you're describing is called Resource Guarding. It is actually a rather normal behavior among social animals, though some individuals are more prone to larger (more obvious) displays. All social species (humans included) do this. Of course, that doesn't make it safe nor acceptable in our homes.
You have a young child in a home with hybrid wild animals who are now reaching adult-hood (puppy until 3 years of age), who are now recently showing an increasing behavior that could possibly escalate to actual violence rather than just ritualized displays as they're currently doing.
Because of the clear safety factors that must be addressed, I'm afraid this isn't the appropriate forum for you to get assistance. You require someone who can see you in person, observe the dogs and determine the triggers and who is actually instigating the issues - which may be different in different situations, for example the intact female is guarding food/water while the spayed female is guarding resting spots. Then, that person will be able to help you determine if there is a good prognosis for addressing the issue and improving it - keeping your grandchild safe, or if the best option for all involved is to re-home one or both of the dogs. I know that's the last thing you want to think about. And it's never my first go-to. But it is necessary to be realistic and keep that option on the table as you determine what's happening here. In the end, your grandchild's safety must be the first priority.
A bit about resource guarding: This behavior stems from a fear of losing what the individual feels is a prized possession. Dogs/wolves may guard any item they deem valuable from food/water to sleeping/resting spaces, toys, doorways, rooms, people - anything that the dog thinks is valuable. If the dog fears that another may take (or try to take) their prized possession, then they will guard it - sometimes fiercely.
There are exercises we can do to help the guarding dog feel more secure and less threatened, which will in turn reduce the resource guarding behavior. However, it can be more difficult when the dog is guarding from another dog because you need to take into account BOTH dog's experience, stress, emotional response to the situation. And you can't as easily explain to the other dog as you could to a human how to behave to reassure the guarding dog that their stuff is not being threatened. This is another reason why it would be most beneficial for you to secure the assistance of a local professional who is familiar with dog-dog resource guarding. And particularly with a professional who is experienced with hybrids.
Wolves are not nearly the aggressive, fighting species that urban myth would have us believe - if they fought as frequently or as severely as some would have us believe, then we would no longer have wolves in the wild as they'd kill each other off. They are masters of ritualized aggression which involves a lot of displays and even some physical scuffles, but rarely ever cause serious harm to each other.
That said, aggression between two females is generally worse than any other pairing (even more than between two males). Spaying your other dog may or may not help the situation. The timing of the onset - just after her heat cycle may in fact be playing a part as the bleeding occurs for a couple weeks and then after the bleeding stops is when the female is receptive to mating and when she's more likely to be aggressive to other females. So the timing of the start of her guarding behavior (about a week after she stopped bleeding) is actually about right for increased aggression caused by the hormone changes of her heat cycle. The problem is that for many female dog relationships, even once her hormone levels settle and she's fully out of the heat cycle, this new behavior pattern can remain, causing ongoing behavior issues.
Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia with a focus in the human/animal bond wrote an interesting blog about canine aggression between dogs in the same home:
I also encourage you to read the book Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs
, by Jean Donaldson
This book talks about what resource guarding is and what it isn't. It walks through some great exercises to work on resource guarding when the dog is guarding toward humans. These exercises can be adapted to work with another dog, but I strongly encourage you to seek out the assistance of a professional versed in force free, positive reinforcement
training procedures to help you make those adaptations.
Also the book Fight! A Practical Guide to Dog-Dog Aggression
, by Jean Donaldson. This book may also lend some insight and options for how to improve the growing tension between your two dogs.
You can find a veterinary behaviorist (vet who has a Masters in animal behavior - they are the psychiatrists of the veterinary world) here: http://www.dacvb.org/about/map/
If there are none near you, many will work remotely with you and your vet via phone, skype and online video uploads as there are so few vet behaviorists in the nation.
You can also reach out to Tufts university for vet behaviorist assistance:
Other options include Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) who have a PhD in an animal related field and at least 5 years of experience (ACAAB has a MS and so is an Associate).
You can also seek out Certified Professional Dog Trainers at the CCPDT website. These individuals have passed a test for basic knowledge of training skills, husbandry, ethology, learning theory, training equipment and business practices.
Finally, there is the Association for Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). These are a group of people who are committed to continuing education in the field of animal behavior and dog training/behavior. https://apdt.com/trainer-search/
To help you decide on an appropriate professional for you, I encourage you to read through the Animal College of Veterinary Behaviorists "How to Select a Trainer" guide.
Please don't hesitate to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
I'm sorry I can't offer direct options/solutions in this forum. But when there is a potentially escalating aggression issue and a small child in the house, it would be unethical for me to make suggestions which may put the child's safety at risk if the suggestions are not implemented correctly, of those suggestions are based on incomplete information.
I wish you the best of luck as you search for a local professional who can assist you in person.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist