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Canine Behavior/Yelping Triggers Aggression/Attack

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Hey there!

So, I have a pack of four pups (two females and two males) that all happily coexist for the most part. However, there has always been tension between the two males. One of the males is an 11 year - old Jack Russell Terrier and the other is a 4 year - old Siberian Husky. The husky was introduced to the JRT when he was only eight weeks old, but the JRT was not socialized properly as a pup, so he has displayed issues with aggression with strange dogs on numerous occasions.

Getting the JRT used to the husky was a bit rocky at first, as there were a few incidents where he provoked/attacked the husky for unclear reasons, but the husky always cowered away from his attacks until we separated them. I have done a lot of bonding activities with the two of them to help ease the JRT's hostility and it has worked very well. Also, the husky has learned to respect the limits of the JRT, and is very submissive to him. While they are certainly not the best of friends, they both interact positively 99% of the time. However, even after four years, we are still experiencing one particular issue that we cannot quite figure out.

It seems that whenever the husky yelps or cries, the JRT's immediate response is to fight and attack. This doesn't happen very often (only when a paw or tail is accidentally stepped on, etc), but it almost always ensures a fight because the JRT will attack the husky straight away. When he was a puppy, the husky never fought back, but as he has gotten older and more confident, he has begun to stand up for himself. Now, there have never been any injuries/bloodshed and they seem to do more "teething" than biting, but we are still fearful one of them will be hurt someday because of this. After the fights occur, we separate the dogs, make them lay down for a few minutes and calm down, and everything goes back to normal.

I've considered that the JRT's response is due to his lack of understanding of social cues, as he has attacked the other dogs for sneezing nearby to him a couple times before, and also seems more aggressive when he is aroused by visitors or knocks on the door. I've also hypothesized that perhaps he thinks we are attacking the husky when he yelps, so he is just capitalizing on that and his weakness. Yet another theory I've had involves the high prey drive of JRTs and perhaps his prey drive activating at hearing the yelp. So my question is, in your professional opinion, what do you think the cause of the JRT's reaction could be?

We try our best to prevent fights at all costs by avoiding certain situations and this only happens on a very limited basis... once every other month would be considered very frequent and often we are able to intervene before the JRT can even reach the husky. I would just like to better understand what the JRT is thinking in order to perhaps work on eventually redirecting his aggressive response to the yelping, for the safety of both of the pups. The goal, of course, is to avoid all fights.

Thanks so much for your help!

Answer
Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts,
The Jack Russell terrier Club of America claims " Same-sex aggression and aggression towards other breeds of dogs is well documented with this terrier." So what you are seeing is not that unusual; actually, things seem to be going pretty well if you mention that they interact positively 99 percent of the time.

It's not easy to give an idea of what may be going on exactly without seeing the interactions, but based on his history, I am gearing more towards your idea that it's possible it's a mis-communication issue. In other words, the JRT interprets the yelps and cries as something threatening, just as he does when other dogs sneeze. I have seen my fair share of dogs who misinterpret normal social cues. From the Lab who attacked dogs doing play bows, to the Rottie that attacked dogs who coughed.

The other theory you have though isn't much unfounded. In some dogs, the yelping of another dog may trigger predatory drive. The name for this is predatory drift, but it's mostly seen in larger dogs seeing smaller dogs as victims. You can read more about this here:
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-Understanding-Predatory-Drift

Whichever the cause (we may never know for sure what precisely goes in the dog's mind), it looks like they have engaged for the most part in ritualized aggression that is--utilizing non-bite messages to resolve conflicts without resorting to actual violence. Which is good. However, of course, I can see your concerns as there are always chances for escalating, especially since you mention the husky won't back down as before. Whichever the motive of the JRT, though the management and redirection would remain the same. Perhaps train a positive interrupter if you are fast enough to catch them in the act since you know what triggers the attack. I hope this helps! Kind regards,
Adrienne  

Canine Behavior

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.

Experience

I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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Suite 101 Examiner.com Daily Puppy

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Certified dog trainer (APICC, CPDT-KA)

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Over 800 fans on my blog offering tips for training dogs and treating behavioral problems

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