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Canine Behavior/Nighttime aggression toward other dog


QUESTION: My husband and I have 2 dogs that just turned one recently. We  have had them for a year. The female is most likely a Pomeranian mix and the boy is undetermined. Possibly a terrier mix. Kind of looks like a Havanese.  We kept them gated in the kitchen at night until the boy decided and had had enough of that and started barking all night. We caved and let them start sleeping with us a few months ago.  Everything was good until 2 nights ago when our girl became aggressive (growl/snarl/bark)...think attacking type noises, toward our boy. So therein lies my question. What might set her off to "go after" a sleeping dog? I don't think she actually bit him at all. Mostly a scare tactic I think. Scared me! I want this to end before it escalates. Removing them from the bedroom would mean never sleeping again, I'm sure. Nonstop barking. Not that I'm sleeping now. I lay awake in fear of her doing this. This is strictly a nighttime thing. Come morning, they are best buds, playing together. Play fighting mostly, but they have always done that. They seem to enjoy it and nobody has ever gotten hurt. Any insight you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Please let me know what additional info. you need and I will do my best to provide it.  

Thank you for your time.

ANSWER: Educated guess (because I can't see anything from here):

Female is asserting her "right" to a privilege she perceives male does not have: sleeping on the bed.  She is making a statement of social hierarchy.  "Attacking type noises" mean nothing if there is NO actual attack (blood drawing).  Male is most likely moving away or even off the bed, in acquiescence, as he SHOULD BE (for his species).  "Play fighting" is again a rank related behavior (not "play" as human children do).  It establishes rank: there is always a "winner" (even subtly).  The female is establishing her "right" to keep the male in his "place".  So long as no harm is done, no foul.

I suggest you use positive reinforcement training to GIVE PERMISSION to both dogs to get on the bed.  Put lightweight leashes on both (do this several times a day if you can: go to the bedroom, allow both dogs to follow, climb into bed, the moment either or both dogs jump up, use leash to remove them using the word OFF not in an angry way, but in a commanding way, continue this (first time might take quite a while) until they both stop trying, then "invite" the female up using a special word (a unique word you will use for nothing else) in a happy manner, praise and reward; invite male, same thing; now, remove male first with leash while saying "OFF" remove female saying "OFF".  Eventually (have no idea how long this will take since I can't evaluate temperament of either dog) BOTH dogs will GET OFF on command "OFF", and neither dog will get ON without special word invitation.  This might help to control the rank opportunism.  Try this for two weeks.  Use followup feature to report progress or lack of same, or any sudden change in behavior of female toward male.  We will go from there.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your reply. I just wanted to clarify a few things if that's okay.
1. So far, our male has not gotten off the bed when the female shows aggression. He moved away from her the first time. The next time, when she just gave him sort of a growl/bark combo, he stayed put.
2. I have always considered my male to be the dominant dog. He can take things (toys/bones) from her and she allows it, but she can't take anything from him. He growls and nips at her. She also always seems to lose at tug of war even though she is bigger and stronger than him. They eat together just fine. No problems there.
So would you still consider my female to be the dominant dog?
Thanks again,

Again, I can't see anything from here.

"Dominant" is a term that I rarely apply to the domestic dog except in extreme cases.  Between male and female dogs (only two, this does not apply to a multiple dog household which is far more complex), the male "normally" acquiesces (will give way) to the female.  It is thus even in "wolf" society (with restrictions which are not pertinent here and would take pages to explain).  If your bitch (pardon the use of the word but that's what we call a female dog: we call the male a 'dog" LOL) is attempting to make a statement to your dog on the bed and he is not budging, he is thus asserting himself in the social hierarchy BUT is politely "ignoring" her, giving her a clear signal.  Since he is not allowing her to "win" any games, he is stalwartly asserting his place in this hierarchy.  The threshold of age one (twelve months to eighteen months) is the first level of emotional maturity into adulthood in the domestic dog.  The persistence of the bitch is somewhat concerning to me but should be ignored by you (no comment, no eye contact, no use of the dogs' names) so long as the dog remains in place and the bitch STOPS.  I still strongly suggest both dogs be taught that THIS IS NOT THEIR BED, IT IS YOURS, and they are not allowed ON IT without your INVITATION.  You can invite the dog first, then the bitch.  Let's do this for two weeks and see if anything changes.  If the bitch escalates in her growling and snarling at the dog, we'll need to re-think their relationship and that will require a much more in depth question and answer between you and me.  The next step would be to put both of them on Nothing In Life Is Free.  The domestic dog does not obtain full adult maturity until around age three.  From twelve months onward is when we see any problems with rank opportunism emerging, toward human or other dog in household.  

So go ahead and teach both that they have no "right" to be on your bed unless YOU explicitly invite them, and will both get off when you cue them to do so.  This will take approximately 30 to 50 repetitions (because of the social hierarchy in development here, a conditioned response to your cues might take longer than usual).  

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

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Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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