Canine Behavior/fighting with other family dog
QUESTION: I have 2 male terriers, 1 Yorkshire, 1 Norwich. Norwich is fixed and has
Been for 4 years he is 8 years old. The Yorkshire is not fixed. He is 3 years old.
I've had the Norwich for 8 years, and the Yorkshire 1 year. They've
Always got along no trouble at. All. But for the last week they've
Been fighting really bad. I'm afraid they may seriously hurt each other.
Why would this suddenly happen. I have to keep them separated
Always. The minute they get close to each other the fight ensues.
ANSWER: Hi Diana,
What you're reporting is serious. Although Norwich and Yorkies are both small terriers, Norwich are pretty substantial, and Yorkies are usually small (though I've seen some mill and backyard bred Yorkies that are rather large as Yorkies go). I'm bringing this up because the disparity in size also concerns me; i.e., the much smaller dog could easily be hurt or killed.
If the dogs have gotten along for the year that you've had them together, then I'm thinking that there must have been a pretty serious trigger, from a dog's point of view, that set the dogs to fighting. I also wonder if the trigger is still present, as the fighting continues, though it can continue even if the trigger has been removed if the competition over whatever started the fighting was not resolved.
Sometimes fighting issues occur between household dogs because the health status of one has changed. Your Norwich is quite a bit older and considered in his senior years. Has his health changed in any way recently that would cause your much younger Yorkie to become seriously emboldened enough to pick fights?
Speaking of 'picking' fights, can you tell me who starts the fights if this is at all clear to you?
Other questions: do you feed the dogs together? If so, STOP. That's a bad idea! Even for dogs who have eaten together harmoniously for a while, once a fight breaks out over a valuable resource such as food, you may have to feed them separately from that time forward. The same goes for toys, premium resting spots, access to your attention or to you as a resting 'spot.'
High arousal can set dogs to fighting, such as your coming home and the anticipation and competition over who gets your attention first when you arrive.
A change in the household which would be a stressor to the dogs could be a conrinutor or reason for the fighting - the loss of another animal, especially a 'peacemaker' animal; the loss or arrival of other people; a major environmental change; changes in exercise habits and access to outdoors.
As far as neutering your Yorkie, this may have some positive effect, particularly if your Yorkie is the aggressor. However, the effect isn't immediate and may take several months. Any positive effect may reduce the intensity and frequency of the fights, but it may not eliminate the fights.
However, reducing the intensity and frequency are good effects, especially if you want a window of opportunity to insert some training and counter-conditioning (making the dogs feel differently and better about each others' presence), which I would suggest be done with a trainer who uses positive only methods and has had successes with these types of situations before.
I have another question: how do the fights end? Is it that you remove them from each other, and that ends the fight? Do they end the fights themselves and then shake out? The shaking out is important. I need to know if they do this at all. Are they on or off leash when they fight? Where is the fighting occurring? What part or parts of the house, or are they occurring outdoors - or, everywhere? Can you walk them together? Do they have crates that they go into? How are you keeping them separated between fights? Who is present when the fights break out? Please answer ALL questions, including the ones I asked earlier.
It's hard to guess why the fighting started. Maybe I've given you some food for thought so you can let me know in a follow-up if any of the above sounds relevant and provide more details. Once you do that, and provide some more detail about the fights, I will give you some advice. I need to know more before I do so as you haven't provided a lot of detail for me to go on about the fighting. In the meantime, keep them separated with doors and gates.
I look forward to your responses.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: in response to your questions both dogs are very healthy neither one has any illness or anything like that.also I give them each the same amount of time for one-on-one attention.the aggressor happens to be the Yorkie. Butsince the Yorkie has been the aggressor the Norwich terrier is now growling every time he even sees the Yorkie. But at any rate even when I'm holding the Norwich terrier the Yorkie tries to still attack. I separate them with agate in separate rooms but they can still see each other because it's just like a child gate but whenever the Yorkie gets close to the gate then the Norwich terrier goes up to the gate and starts growling so now it's almost like they're territorial. but neither one gets special attention special favors or anything to that matter and they've never fought over the food and they each get taken for walks I I don't understand why this is even started.I will say though that the very first time they did fight was when I came home and yes they were excited to see me but I gave them both the same amount of attention as I always do and for some reason the Yorkie went crazy on the Norwich terrier it was very strange and shocked me and no they don't fight it out I have to separate them I have to pull them apart myself.
I'm glad I brought up a trigger that resonated so you could identify it! That's VERY helpful.
So, it seems that high arousal started the cascade of fighting, with your Yorkie being the provocateur and your Norwich responding defensively. This can be a difficult cycle to break and it will take some work on your part, but it is not impossible and is do-able if you do things consistently, have patience, and can follow the instructions of the trainer you choose (which, again, I highly recommend).
Although the door greeting has been identified as the trigger, there may be other contributors now that the fighting has started. You mentioned that there isn't a problem with feeding them, but you didn't really provide the information I asked for, which is whether they are fed together and in sight of each other. I'm guessing not at this point, since now the sight of each other sets them off, but I still don't know if they were fed together before the fighting started. If so, that could have been a contributing stressor. If so, you must create and from now on stick to a feeding time scenario which has them being fed separately and with NO VISuAL ACCESS to each other. Same with toys and treats.
As far as the visual access they have to each other when behind baby gates, that will need to be changed, too, as visual access has now become a trigger according to your description. If it's possible to put one of them in a different room where they'll have no visual access to the other dog, then you need to do that. If it's not possible, you can drape the baby gates with dark sheets so that they no longer have visual access to each other.
Any visual access they have to each other you will now control, in the following manner. Prepare many small treats, and do the following exercise when the dogs are hungry. You will need a helper for this who will handle one dog for you while you handle the other, and the helper will be armed with many small treats, Treats should be something special, something high value that the dogs don't normally get, and which they will not get except during this specific training time. Cooked and cooled hot dogs work well. So does canned, cooked chicken or boiled chicken. Both dogs will be securely on leash. What you will do is have your Yorkie in a room with a doorway, as far back in the room as possible away from the door opening. You will then have your helper bring your Morwich into view at the opening of the doorway. As soon as both dogs are in view of each other, feed them the treats, very quickly, in an "open bar" fashion, one after the other, without hesitating. Just feed, feed, feed, don't stop, one treat at a time, but constantly. Do this for about five seconds. Have your helper remove your Norwich, and as soon as your Norwich and Yorkie are out of each others' view, STOP the treats. You don't need to say or do anything, just visual access equals a stream of treats. Other dog is out of view, the treats stop.
It doesn't matter what the dogs do - no matter what, feed them the delicious treats without pausing. Ideally, you'd like to start feeding before either dog growls, but if one or both do growl, just feed the treats anyway. You may need to shove the treats right into the dogs' faces so they take them. If they won't take treats and they are normally dogs that like treats, it could be that the distance between them is too close, and you'll need to find a way to get them farther apart, maybe working outdoors appearing around a corner with the Norwich instead of in a doorway.
The idea of doing this exercise is to change how the dogs feel about each other. This is called "counter-conditioning." You will do this three times daily for a solid week. If it's going well, you can SLOWLY start to close the distance between them, and by slowly I mean three inches or less at a time, per day. When they finally get to standing right next to each other, you will look for a friendly interaction of about three seconds, then say "let's go," and leave - and, the open bar treats stop when the dogs leave each other. Keep the leashes loose, too. You don't want to pull on the leashes and put tension into the leashes, as this can cause the dogs to further agitate.
Ideally, if you can have a trainer guide you and your helper through this exercise for the first hour the first time you try it, that would be best. The trainer can visit again a week later when you're at the point that you're starting to reduce the distance between the dogs.
Also, change your greeting style towards the dogs when you return home. Although they won't be loose anymore to greet you, at least not until they're getting along again (and maybe even not then), keep your arrivals low key. Don't even greet your dogs while they're still excited and aroused. Wait five to 10 minutes and greet them only when they're calm and quiet, and then just a low-key "hello" and some brief attention. Try to do the same when you leave - no long good-byes with pets and kisses - put them in their rooms with their gates 10 minutes before you leave, ignore them, and then just leave. This may sound rude, but it's really not, and is actually much better for your dogs' emotional states.
Last, get the booklet "Mine" wrotten by Dr. Jean Donaldson. It's been out for some years now and you can get used ones for pennies on Amazon. Although the book was written primarily for dogs who resource guard, the exercises in the book are geared to reducing high arousal in dogs and changing bad associations that dogs may have made with another dog to good associations, much like the counter-conditioning exercise I outlined above.
At the point at which you think the dogs can be together, have them trailing leashes under supervision so if anything happens you can grab a leash or leashes and quickly separate them. Some people never feel they can fully trust their dogs again and always have at least one dog (usually the aggressor) trailing a leash whenever that dog is around the other dog(s). I know a couple who have been doing this for about three years now with their terrier. After working with them for several months, the dogs get along 99% of the time; but, occasionally, the terrier will pick a fight. The leash let's him know that he can and will be quickly removed and isolated for up to half an hour and until he calms down and shakes out. By the way, the shaking out is how dogs communicate that they're done with the fighting. I've worked with many household dogs which fight with each other, and the fight is never over until both dogs shake out, which is literally "shaking it off." So, if you see your dogs do this, that's a great sign.
Best of luck with things,