Canine Behavior/One Cavalier bullying other one
I have two young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel females. The older one is about nine months, the younger one about five months, the older spayed the younger not. Fairly recently, the older one has started running at the younger one and pinning her down on her back by the neck and not letting her up - she sometimes also does this as part of a play session but increasingly she does it randomly and totally without any reciprocation from the younger, in fact the younger often tucks her tail when she's knocked down onto her back. The older one also sometimes backs off slightly but stays kind of still and watches the younger girl and if she tries to get up jumps on her again and knocks her back onto her back. The older girl growls kind of low during this, don't know if that's playful or not. The older girl's tail sometimes wags during this but the younger one's DOES NOT, she really dislikes it. The younger one also tries to avoid the older one when she does this, walking away or avoiding her gaze.
It's usually done in open areas - we don't allow the older one anywhere near the younger when they're eating as she (the older) tries to shoulder other dogs aside and eat their food. It's done largely when everyone is and has been around for a while, etc - no excitement and its not over toys or food or attention, it's usually when the younger girl is just standing there.
The only warning you get that the older one is about to start is usually just her stopping and staring at the younger for a second then charging, though occasionally she will give her a prolonged stare down - the younger one stares back but in a more wary way.
We stop the older one immediately and intervene when we see the staring - but she doesn't usually respond to verbal warnings by us, we have to go and touch her (we don't smack her or anything, just lightly touch her so she's distracted) and she gets very intent on doing it.
If we don't get there quick enough the younger one will sometimes manage to struggle up and chases the older one and tries to bite her, older one acts like its a game but the younger one seems sincerely angry, but there's a fair size difference so she can't really hurt the older one.
The thing is, the older one gets really into doing it and when she's in the mood does it whenever she can (whenever we're distracted by anything especially) and repeatedly for... probably more than two hours a day all together. It's exhausting. She also has a history of being a bully with our elderly chi x - she will stick her face right in hers, jump on her, nip at her - the chi x dislikes her and so snaps and tries to bite when she does it, but has no teeth and the older cavalier puppy seemed to realise pretty quickly that she couldn't fight back. She minds her manners well with dogs that can hold their own and don't let her push them around.
Is the reason behind this dominance, as that's what it seems like to me since she's making her go on her back and won't let her get up? We interrupt the older girl when she does this but she gets very obsessive and seems to like doing it to the younger one more than any other reinforcers.
Thank you for your question - and for providing a great deal of detail about the circumstances surrounding the behavior in question.
To answer your main question first - "is the reason behind this dominance"? The answer is No. Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by
force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources
such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominance-
submissive relationship does not exist until one individual consistently submits or defers.
What you're describing doesn't sound like the behavior is happening in an effort to gain or maintain priority access to coveted resources. Instead it sounds like very poor play skills. It sounds like your older girl is a bit of a bully in her play style - when she can get away with it (smaller dogs) and clearly able to be respectful when she can't get away with bullying (larger dogs).
Your younger one is providing clear communication by averting her gaze and moving away and generally avoiding her during these episodes when she isn't interested in engaging. She's also demonstrating excellent communication when she defends herself (and she has every right to defend herself when she's being bullied).
I agree, it's unacceptable to allow this to continue. It sounds like the older pup is the only one in the house who is enjoying this game and that's entirely unfair to the younger pup.
So the question is: how do we improve this situation? I would start with management. I would put a body harness on the older pup and have her on a drag line (a leash that doesn't have a wrist loop - to avoid tangling). This way you can step on or grab the drag line before she can reach the younger one and thus prevent the start of the behavior. You can also tether her to something (with a regular leash or a hands free leash) so she can be in the space with you, but can't access the younger pup, giving the younger one the space to move away without fear of the sneak attack or ongoing attack once she's decided she has had enough. This kind of management is crucial to the process of improving the situation.
The second part is providing ample exercise (mental and physical) so that the older pup is not bored. If she's expended both physical and mental exercise regularly, she'll be less interested in creating her own games. Along with off-property walks and run-around games like fetch or chase, it's important to provide mental stimulation for dogs. This can be accomplished most easily through puzzle toys. There are interactive puzzle toys which require you to supervise and reload compartments as she empties them of food, and there are independent puzzle toys that you can load with a meal and leave her to enjoy them.
Because she has a known history of resource guarding food (bullying her way into other dog's bowls, not sharing nicely), she'll need to enjoy these toys separately from the other dogs and they must be picked up and put out of reach when she's finished - BEFORE she's allowed to be in the same space as the other dogs again.
Interaction puzzle toys include things like:
Kyjen Paw Hide Treat Toy
Trixie Gambling Tower
Trixie Move 2 Win
Puzzles by Nina Ottosson
Independent puzzle toys - things she can do on her own, once you've made sure she knows how to use them
- you can feed entire meals in these. Make a mixture of her regular kibble, perhaps a treat or two and a soft binding ingredient to hold it all together. Stuff the Kong. You can freeze it to make it last longer. The first few times, only just barely fill it - don't stuff it too packed or she may give up. You want to make sure she has positive first encounters. Then, as she gets more adept at cleaning it out, you can pack it a bit tighter, but still not so tight that she's unable to dislodge the food. With my two boys, one meal takes two appropriately sized Kongs for them. See below for recipe guidelines.
Tricky Treat Ball
- this is a soft rubber ball with divots in it and a hole in one area. It's meant for kibble or small hard treats only. As she roles the ball around, the kibbles bounce around inside and eventually come out the hole. Sometimes one kibble, sometimes a dozen.
- similar concept, more difficult than a Tricky Treat Ball, but needs to be used on carpet or grass otherwise it will slide and not role.
PetSafe Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble
- another variation
- has a weighted bottom and a single hole for the kibble to come out. As she knocks it around, it will right itself back to standing in between her efforts.
These are just a few - there are dozens out there to choose from. Having several allows you to create variety by rotating from one day to the next how she's getting meals. Some may be easier for her than others. That's OK. Just because she may be fast, doesn't mean she's not having fun nor being challenged.
You can also be creative and make your own. I've seen people put crumpled paper into the sections of muffin tins - with kibbles underneath, so the dog has to remove the paper to get to the kibbles. I've heard of some using PVC pipe ends with holes drilled into them to create their own knock-around independent puzzle toy. You can also play hide-and-seek by hiding kibbles around a space and then bring her in and tell her Find It. At first you may need to make it pretty easy and obvious, having the kibbles just scattered on the floor. You may have to walk around and stand near them so she is somewhat directed where to go. But as she gets skilled at this, you can start to tuck them into corners, under the edge of furniture (or if you're outside, at the edge of bushes, etc). under blankets or cushions, wherever. Making it slowly a bit more difficult, and being ready to adjust the hide if it is just too difficult for her. Adjust by moving the kibble to an easier location when she's not looking, so as she makes her way back around, it's like she stumbled upon it herself and not that she had to turn to you for help.
Kong recipe guideline: You can be as creative as you like, so long as you are using dog-safe foods. I use mostly the regular kibble, though I'll remove a few kibbles (depending on the total portion and how much other stuff I'm adding, anywhere from 3 or 4 kibbles (for a 10-lb dog) to a couple dozen kibbles (for a 35-lb dog). Toss in a couple dog treats, maybe some blue berries or melon, slivered almonds, chunks of cooked meat - chicken, turkey, beef, ham, bacon, lamb, whatever you've got handy), maybe some baby carrots or broccoli, apple chunks or banana... Not all of these things, but a bit of whatever you've got handy that the dog likes.
Bind it together with a soft binder. Some of my favorites for this include: Pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree, mashed potatoes (no garlic), apple sauce, cream cheese, plain nonfat yogurt (I've been using greek yogurt), sour cream or cottage cheese, peanut butter, liverwurst, quality canned dog food. Or you can soak a portion of the kibble in a low sodium soup stock (vegetable, beef or chicken) and once the kibble is mush, use that as the binder.
I will sometimes drizzle in a bit of honey just for a sweet touch.
When I'm using thick, rich, high fat options like liverwurst, peanut butter and cream cheese, I will always mix it down with something lighter like pumpkin puree or yogurt. It makes the binder thinner and easier to mix together, and it cuts the total amount of fat down a bit.
Once mixed together, stuff the Kong. You can offer it fresh, or you can freeze it. I usually freeze it for at least 90 minutes before serving, but you can prep a bunch ahead of time and just keep them in the freezer for a few days to a week or so before serving.
Finally - training. When you see this dog do her lead-up behaviors of freezing and staring, I'd redirect her. You've already been making efforts to do so, and sometimes it does require a light/gentle physical contact (single finger on the dog's rump just so they know you're there). But if you can do it with your voice, all the better. Rather than scold her, I'd use a super chipper, playful voice and call her name. As soon as she looks at you, engage her. Talk to her, ask for simple behaviors such as Sit or Paw/Shake or any skill she knows and will readily do. Once she complies, you can give her a treat or a toy or start a different game with her. The idea is to help her learn that she can get her needs met (satisfying boredom, playing) by other means and not by tackling her sister. With consistent interruption and redirection, you should find it become easier and easier to do, and you will likely see her interest in that game wane as she's getting all sorts of other mental stimulation and play time.
Now, if she loves the stalk/chase/catch scenario, we can help her get that need met by using what's called a Flirt Pole. This is essentially a horse whip (or long, light pole such as a dowel) with a toy tied to the end of it. I use toys that have tails that flutter. Then you can move the pole around so that the toy is running along the ground or bouncing up into the air and back down, etc. Let her stalk and chase it. Let her catch it and "kill" it - give her a chance to play tug with it or do the head-shake kill move. Then ask for a Drop. You may need to trade with super tasty treats until she gets good at Drop (especially if she doesn't know that command yet). Then ask for a Sit and when she's calm and polite, start the game over. This way we tend to the need/drive she has in a way that protects your other dogs because she's no longer using them...
Don't forget that these puzzle toys and games will be fun for all the dogs, so you'll want to have enough for everyone - or be able to enjoy them individually with each dog so that everyone gets the fun and enrichment.
I hope this proves helpful. Remember: Management, Training, Enrichment. These are the ingredients to putting an end to that undesired behavior. And your younger pup will surely thank you for the efforts.
Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist