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Canine Behavior/sibling rivalry?


QUESTION: First of all, thank you for the services you provide! How wonderful to be able to seek free, knowledgeable advice on so many subjects!
I have 2 one year old dogs who are litter mates, both males, named Peanut and Pudge. They are feist/Boston terrier mixes. It seems they just do not like each other most of the time. They have been together since birth, have fought violently a few times, and have also played peacefully together at other times. Neither dog has EVER shown any inclination toward aggression with humans, be it family members or strangers. They seem to be aware of our presence even when they fight, as I have accidentally put a hand in or near their mouths when trying to separate them. They both have never applied even slight pressure to my hand and have both immediately submitted when this has happened. They have NEVER been struck, nor punished with any sort of physical contact. My father has the parents of these 2, and the grandparents, and has stated that the bloodline seems to tend toward being "people friendly, animal aggressive". I've never been much of a believer in breed specific aggression, and they also get along fine with our cats and pig.  Sometimes they seem to be on edge with each other ( heightened ears, some trembling, challenging stare) but can be distracted easily from pursuing aggressive behavior simply by calling them to me. Sometimes, a warning growl is given if one is with a family member and the other approaches. They are definitely jealous of one another. But other times, it is as if nothing triggers a sparring session. They may be both lying down, for instance, and Pudge will look up at Peanut, snarl his upper lip, and then Peanut immediately rises to the challenge, resulting in my having to literally pull them apart. However, they share a food bowl, water bowl, toys and treat times without incident.
Thus far, most situations have been controllable, but not all. Neither dog has ever sustained any serious injury, although they have both gotten their share of minor abrasions and punctures around the scruff. However, I am extremely concerned that something horrible may happen in my absence, or that the rivalry will escalate to a point that I can't prevent injury to one of them. I have been separating them when I'm out by putting Peanut in an outdoor run (he likes being outdoors, Pudge cries and panics when left alone outside.) I cannot continue this when they are home alone, though, because Peanut can jump the 7 ft fence as if it weren't there! It may also be relevant to state that they have both been vet checked and pronounced in good health, they are given adequate time outdoors, and we interact with them both together and seperately for several hours each day. Is there anything I can do to help them at least be tolerant of each other? How can I ensure their safety? Any advice you could offer on this would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks again,

ANSWER: This is the perfect example why no one should have two puppies from the same litter: dog to dog, bitch to bitch, but even opposite sex.  Your dogs are too close in temperament to one another.  My job, so far away, is to attempt to determine which dog SHOULD be higher in social rank than the other (if I can do this, at all, without eyes on.)

I need you to answer the following questions:

1.  Have your dogs received any formal training (in group experience) using positive reinforcement ONLY?  If so, describe
2.  WHEN did these incidents begin?
3.  Think carefully (your description of Pudge beginning a confrontation with Peanut and Peanut "rising to the challenge" is excellent).  Describe other confrontations, if you can, in detail.
4.  WHICH DOG struggles to greet you first and do fights ever start if one gets to you before the other; who starts the fight, Pudge or Peanut?
5.  Your dogs have bite inhibition regarding Humans (it appears from your post); but dog to dog aggression can be a precursor of dog to human aggression.  At age one, your dogs are both at the first threshold of entering adulthood.  This will get worse.  Is there anyone in your home whom both dogs seem to "resource guard"...if so, describe
6.  HOW do you separate them or stop the fight?  NEVER put hands on, you will be accidentally bitten.  CAN you "call them off" every single time simply with your voice?
7.  Once you have separated them, describe in detail what EACH DOG DOES NEXT.  (i.e., one runs to hide, one might appear cowed and "guilty", etc.)
8.  The fact that Pudge "cries and paces" if left outdoors might indicate the "house" is "his" and he is quite unhappy about Peanut being in there while he is outside.  Can you describe which dog pushes the other off the couch, out of a comfortable resting spot indoors (like under an end table, top of stairs), etc.?  When you sit down, which dog sits or lies so close to your feet that you can't get up without stepping over him?  Which dog lies casually in doorways so you can't leave the room without stepping over him?  Or do both do this?
9.  Do you have a veterinary teaching college in your geographical area

It's important that your purchase a "top" chain link for your dog run.  This must be covered with a sun-resistant top; if there is such a top, Peanut CANNOT GET OUT.

Your "fix" (putting Peanut outdoors) might actually be making the situation worse, but right now you cannot allow them to be alone together.  Keep in mind: your reaction to their heightened alert toward one another (adrenaline can cross the room, they can read your body language in an instant) can actually escalate the problem.

Answer using followup and do it ASAP.  I will attempt to help you but I can't see anything from here.  "Fixing" a situation where siblings are so close in temperament really requires an in person Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, IF it can be done.  There are no guaranties.  This is a difficult situation.  You may need to re-home the most confident dog.

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

QUESTION: Thank you for the very timely response! To answer your questions:
1. They have never had formal training, although when I train them myself I only use positive reinforcment. They know by voice command: sit, stay, up, down, go, no, drop it, lay down, and by hand signal: sit here, lay down, out.
2. The first aggressive incident between the two occurred at about 6 months of age. However, there was no repeat incident following the first for several months. The original problem had no trigger I could recognize. Peanut was laying with me and Pudge was laying with my husband on opposite ends of the room. We noticed they were staring at each other (directly, apparently in the eyes). Both seemed to get up at about the same time and they began to fight in the middle of the room. We were able to get them to stop by verbally correcting them and picking up each of them, returning them to respective couches and telling both to sit and stay. On another occasion, they had been let outside together in the kennel to play and run. When they came back into the house, Peanut sort of ran over Pudge when he stopped suddenly. They starting fighting immediately when that happened, with no warning, or standoff at all. That was probably the most severe fight between them, as it lasted several minutes before we could get them under control and resulted in a tear in peanut's ear and a puncture wound on Pudge's neck. They had no incident while outdoors together for about 2 hours beforehand, however.
3-4. They greet us at approximately the same time, and no altercation has ever ensued upon greeting or due to our arrival.
5. Most times, Pudge stays with or near my husband and Peanut stays with me. They will become timid if one approaches the other of us while they are sitting or laying with us, but there's never been a fight because of that, as a verbal correction sends them back to "their couch."
6. If they actually start fighting, verbal commands no longer work. They only respond to verbal correction if we get them before they are fighting. On most occasions, a water bottle spray gets their attention enough that they let go and will listen. Occasionally, we've been hands on, picking up each dog separately and removing both to other locations. I realize this is a personal risk, but I suppose I'm a bit self sacrificial in regards to their safety.
7. After a fight, Pudge will sit on "his" couch and tremble uncontrollably for several minutes. He won't make eye contact with us during this time, although he doesn't tense up if we approach and pet him, pick him up, etc. Peanut seems to return to normal after a fight, playing, or going back to sleep, basically resuming whatever he was involved in before the problem started. Pudge is always the first to growl or snarl or give a challenging stare. It appears as though pudge is giving a warning and peanut doesn't take kindly to threats, as peanut usually makes the first physical move.
8. Neither has ever pushed the other out of an area. If one of them is sleeping in a certain area, the other will simply lie down elsewhere. Peanut does sit on my feet a lot, and pudge tends to lay nearer my husband.
9. After several hours of hard work today, we have made adjustments to the outdoor kennel so that it is "peanut proof". This area is sufficient as a permanent living area for one of them if necessary (half acre, shaded with mesh netting and now covered) but that is not preferable, as both dogs enjoy using the area for playing, exercising, and pottying. Pudge seems to be less tense when peanut is outside and pudge does seem to feel its his house.
When a problem arises, I try to address them in a calm but stern manner, but I'm sure they do sense my adrenaline surge as it gives me great anxiety. There is no veterinary college in my area that I'm aware of, but I need to research that further to be sure. I am willing to consult a behavior specialist if needed, provided I can locate one within reasonable distance. I'm also willing to separate them by moving one outside if its required. I'm concerned about doing that as I feel they are both extremely emotionally dependant dogs, and may have extreme anxiety or even grieve if left outdoors overnight. Perhaps there's a way to help one adjust to outdoor living if they have to be permanently separated?
I hope that I have provided enough details to answer your questions. Thanks so much for the advice! I'm sure its hard to tell much about these situations when you cannot observe the behavior yourself, and so I greatly appreciate your time and efforts to help!

You have been extremely thorough in your response and I thank you for that.  It appears your dogs are far too close in temperament for me to address this issue in a text box.  The fact (as you state) that Pudge trembles and shakes after an altercation, while Peanut is just relaxed, MAY MEAN that Pudge is far more sensitive to YOU.  Picking a dog up and placing it elsewhere (for any reason, let alone to break up a fight) is a very dominant thing to do.  Pudge might be reacting to this, demonstrating his confusion; OR Pudge may be locked into a fight/flight response (and forced to "freeze" on his "couch" which would account for the rush of adrenaline and shaking).

Putting a dog out into a run for a small amount of time (an hour or two at most) is fine; confining a dog to such a place all the time is not humane.  The dog so confined will soon become quite aggressive toward "strangers", and more and more aggressive toward his "brother".

You have a serious situation on your hands.  I'm going to make this suggestion but, since I can't "interview" your dogs, evaluate actual temperament by testing, observe them "working" under cues (commands) together and individually, I cannot solve this problem.

First:  put lightweight leashes on both dogs (handles cut off) when they are in the house.  DO NOT PICK A DOG UP or interfere with your hands if they get into a fight (the "stare" you described is absolutely a problem with rank in social hierarchy).  Instead, pick up the tabs (leashes) and remove both dogs TO ANOTHER ROOM behind a closed door (not the SAME ROOM, this requires both of you be at home.)  Count to ten.  Open the door, using the tab lead the dog to his "place" and ask for "down/stay".  Walk away.  Try to remain calm (I know this is very hard to do).  The "bridge" between breaking up the fight and removal to the dogs' couches is the closed door: the dogs' couches will no longer become an issue (over time, approximately 10 repetitions) so Pudge's shaking should stop.  

Second:  put both dogs on Nothing In Life Is Free.  Now: in order to do this properly it is best to know which dog has the emotional/psychological "edge" over the other.  I can't determine that.  You will absolutely require a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB). can still use NILIF to an advantage, that being that you and your husband will very clearly become much higher in social hierarchy to both these dogs, and that by itself MAY help to ease the problem.

The following is a description of NILIF, its philosophy:

:::::::::::::: start source, Debra Horwitz DVM ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Changing the Owner-Pet Relationship
Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB
Veterinary Behavior Consultations
St. Louis, Missouri
When an owner is having problems with their pet, there are both owner driven factors and pet driven factors that are contributory. Some animals with problem behaviors are normal but have learned that certain behaviors are tolerated and beneficial for them. Other animals may be abnormal and respond to owner interaction in a different manner than expected1. In some situations the owner is interacting with the pet in an inappropriate manner that although unintended may prolong, worsen, or facilitate the problem behavior. The pet on the other hand, is often unaware of what the owner considers proper behavior and therefore is choosing behaviors that it feels are the most appropriate responses. What commonly occurs is miscommunication between the owner and their pet. The owner is using a human form of communication, reasoning and language, something most pets do not understand in the same manner as intended by their owners. The pet however, is communicating in the manner most appropriate for its species, and therefore often misunderstood by the human. The first step in behavior therapy is changing the pet-owner relationship and creating clear rules and expectations. This must be done in a manner that is understood by the pet. The goal of changing how owners and their pets communicate is to create an environment where it is easier for the owner to control the pet and thus elicit good behavior. This step is most useful in treating behavior problems in companion dogs.
The Theory
The theory involved in changing the pet owner relationship is that cross species communication often results in misunderstandings and thus problem behaviors. Therefore, clearer communication is needed. Owners frequently misunderstand a dog's expectations in social communication and group living. Communication is a behavior that has a goal and a function. Communication is an action that takes place between a sender and a receiver. 2 For communication to be functional, the receiver must understand the message. The information that is transferred between sender and receiver can have 4 possible outcomes: 1.) benefit the sender and receiver, 2.) benefit the sender and manipulate the receiver, 3.) disadvantage the sender and benefit the receiver (eavesdropping), 4.) disadvantage the sender and the receiver (spite).2 Although owners often feel that the fourth option spite is taking place, most likely what is occurring is a miscommunication between species. Without clear communication problems can arise. The goal is to give the pet clear signals of what is expected so that behavior can begin to change and conform to owner's expectations. By bundling a series of learning and control tasks together, the owner can create an environment for clearer communication.
When owners seek help with their problem dog, the problem may be labeled a "dominance" or leadership problem, which can be a simplification of the issue. Practitioners of applied animal behavior interpret dominance hierarchies, ranking and how they interact in the human-dog relationship many different ways and may use varying criteria to define dominance 3, 4, 5. The concept of dominant and subordinate relationships between animals was developed from observation of animals (wolves, baboons, chickens) living in social groups. 6 Social hierarchies arranged around dominant and subordinate relationships decrease the conflict associated with the allocation of critical resources, i.e. food, shelter, mates and territory7. When living in social groups, canids will establish dominance hierarchies that may dictate access to certain resources such as food, resting places, favored possessions, territory and mates but may or may not involve aggression 8. These social relationships can be extended to the human members of the household9. However, a case could be made that dominance behavior may occur without aggression and instead be about control of the outcome. In domestic canid groupings, overt aggression is rare and deference common8. Owners often inadvertently reinforce a dominant outcome for the dog by deferring to the dog's demands. This sets the dog up as the one in charge, and each interaction that ends with deference to the dog reinforces that assumption. So perhaps the issue is not always one of "dominance" as much as one of control. The animal has learned that certain behaviors result in certain outcomes, which are favorable to the dog. In addition, often a behavior occurs because it can, in other words, the owners do not prevent the dog from engaging in a certain behavior and that in and of itself can be reinforcing. Some dogs that control their environment may do so because it is important to them to be in control. Others may control because they can but yet are anxious about the outcome. Changing the pet-owner relationship focuses on "control" of the dog, which often prohibits the dog from engaging in behaviors that "control" the environment and thus the owner. This alone can have an effect on the expression of problem behaviors.
The Program
None of the elements in this program are new. They have been used before and discussed many places in the applied animal behavior literature. The goal of this program is to place them together and counsel the owner on how and why changing the pet-owner relationship is beneficial to them and their pet. Initially, the owner is educated about canid social structure. Second, the owner is told how dogs communicate and what dominance and subordinance mean to dogs. Third, how animals learn is briefly explained to the owner. Finally, owners are told of how increasing their control over their dog is a positive action that can make their dog more relaxed and compliant in the long term.
The first step is a program that requires the dog to comply with an owner command to obtain anything the dog wants. This has been called numerous things since its inception. ("Nothing in life is free" by Dr. Victoria Voith10 and "No such thing as a free lunch" and "Learn to earn" by William E. Campbell11) In essence, the dog is required to follow an owner command, such as "sit" to obtain anything that the dog wants. This could be access to the outdoors to eliminate, food, petting, a ball the list is endless. The goal is for the dog to "earn" everything they desire by deferring to the owner. Deference is accomplished when the dog follows the command to sit or down. If the dog performs the command prior to being asked, it must do something else. This is critical. Unless the owner gives a command and then the dog complies, the dog is still controlling the situation and deference has not occurred. The goal is for the owner to have control. Although many owners have been told that they should control their dog, usually they are counseled to use physical control methods. While an owner can have control by trying to physically control a dog this can be difficult and potentially dangerous. Instead, in this program the owner uses their ability to physically control the environment and the resources to control the dog. By using benign control of resources and deference for access, the owners place themselves in a "dominant" position. It is not necessary for the owner to physically control the dog, merely to control access to things the dog wants. If the dog will not obey the command, the resource is withheld. In essence the dog is offered a choice-do you want the resource enough to comply or not. For some dogs the answer is yes, for others the answer may be no. Once the dog has learned to comply, if they defer by waiting quietly, the resource may be given.
The second step is control of attention. Many dogs with problem behaviors engage in numerous attention seeking behaviors. These include nudging the owner, pushing, leaning, barking, whining, pacing, scratching the owner, bringing toys and climbing on the owners lap to get attention. The attention can even be "negative" attention such as pushing the dog away or yelling at it; the desired response is an interaction. Some dogs use attention seeking behavior to control the owner, while other may have underlying anxieties which stimulate them to constantly seek information about their environment and social status12. In either case, the owners are told that they must ignore all attention seeking behaviors. If the dog approaches them for attention, they must ignore the dog. If the dog persists, then they must leave the room. Again, their response is to be benign. They are not to allow the dog to engage them in any interaction. However, this is not a prescription for ignoring the dog. They can give the dog attention, but with certain rules.
•  They are only to give attention to the dog on their initiative.
•  The attention should be given when the dog is calm and quiet.
•  The goal is to reward calm, quiet, good behavior with positive owner-pet interaction.
They can call the dog over, request that the dog sit or lie down and then pet the dog. However, it is also critical that they end the interaction and send the dog away. If the problem is aggression, the type and amount of interaction are structured and detailed for the owner. This program of controlling attention has been used in other treatment plans for various behavior problems. 13, 14, 15 These rules also extend to how they are to play with their pet. The owner is instructed to only play with the pet when they initiate the playtime and end the game when they are done. The owner is encouraged to play games such as fetch, or engage in a walk with the dog if they can control the pace of the walk.
Finally, the dog is taught to sit/stay or down/stay on a verbal command. Eventually the dog should be able to sit while the owner leaves the room, returns and releases the dog. Once the dog can do this well, the owner is to introduce a verbal phrase to signal relaxation such as "chill", "relax" or "easy". Again the goal is to teach the dog to take contextual cues from the owner. When given the "chill" command, the dog is to be watching the owner with a calm, relaxed facial expression and body posture. If the owner tells the dog to "chill" the dog learns that this means to focus on my owner and wait for the next command. To facilitate learning this task, food rewards are used. This task is useful as a basis for counterconditioning, which is often used in behavior modification programs for other problem behaviors.7, 16, 17, 18 This program has also been called "Protocol for relaxation: behavior modification tier 1" by Karen Overall. 19
The techniques described have been combined various ways in treatment protocols for separation anxiety, dominance aggression, fear aggression and compulsive behaviors7, 12,13,14.
Potential problems and pitfalls
This plan is not without its problems. Many owners have difficulty ignoring the attention seeking behaviors. What they like about their pet is the persistence and the perceived "need" the pet has for them. These owners are unaware of how their actions are reinforcing behaviors that they do not like or may be contributing to the problem behavior. It is imperative that the concept of control be explained to the owner and how their behavior can change the problem behavior exhibited by their pet. In addition, it is important that the owner not feel as though they are neglecting their pet. Therefore, they must be given guidelines for appropriate interactions. This can include a list of appropriate games, walks, and number of times that they can call the dog and pet it. Each case will be different and have different needs to encourage compliance. If aggression is the major problem then the owners must also be given instructions for safety around their pet and avoidance of further injury.
Another problem area can occur 10-14 days into the program. Many animals will initially respond well to the new rules for interaction. However, once they realize that the rules have changed, some dogs will increase their efforts to get the owner to interact in the old manner. This usually results in the dog engaging in attention seeking behaviors at even a higher level than previously exhibited. This is an extinction burst. If owners are warned about this phenomenon, they are prepared and ready to continue the program and wait out the pet. Many dogs will then return to compliant behavior if the owner persists with the plan.
This is not meant to be a stand alone treatment plan for any and all behavior problems. Neither does it replace the need for complete behavioral histories and diagnosis of behavior problems. Nearly all dog owners are given this plan as an adjunct to a more complete behavior modification program designed to treat their specific problem(s). In each case this plan can act as a framework for beginning to change problem behaviors. Each environment and problem will be different and require modifications to this plan as well as a more in-depth behavioral treatment plan. However, what often is surprising is that many dogs improve greatly as judged by owner reports with only these three steps. What this plan seems to accomplish is to allow owners to change the way they interact with their pet with easy to follow and understand steps. Once owners see that they have the ability to control their pet, and in many cases still have a satisfying relationship, they are often empowered to continue to shape behaviors in more positive directions.
Changing the pet-owner interaction is the first step in behavior therapy. It allows owners to be in control of their pet and its behavior in a benign way. When done correctly it empowers the owner to change their pet's behavior. This will often encourage them to go further and work on specific problems. When explained correctly owners gain a better understanding of canine communication and learning and can use this information in all their interactions with their pet.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: end source :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

This next is a description of how to implement NILIF, introduce it into your dogs' lives:

::::::::::::::::::::::::::: start source, Karen Overall, DVM :::::::::::::::::::::::::

Protocol for Relaxation
This program is the foundation for all other behavior modification programs. Its purpose is to teach the dog to sit and stay while relaxing in a variety of circumstances. The circumstances change from very reassuring ones with you present to potentially more stressful ones when you are absent. The purpose of the program is not to teach the dog to sit; sitting (or lying down, if the dog is more comfortable) is only a tool. The goals of the program are to teach the dog to relax, to defer to you, to enjoy earning a salary for an appropriate, desirable behavior, and to develop, as a foundation, a pattern of behaviors that allow the dog to cooperate with future behavior modification (generally desensitization and counter conditioning). This protocol acts as a foundation for teaching the dog context-specific appropriate behavior. The focus is to teach the dog to rely on you for all the cues as to the appropriateness of its behavior so that it can then learn not to react inappropriately.
About Food Treats
This program uses food treats. Remember, the treats are used as a salary or reward, not as a bribe. If you bribe a problem dog, you are defeated before the start. It is often difficult to work with a problem dog that has learned to manipulate bribes, but there are creative ways - often using the use of head collars - to correct this situation. First, find a food that the dog likes and that it does not usually experience. Suggestions include boiled, slivered chicken or tiny pieces of cheese. Boiled, shredded chicken can be frozen in small portions and defrosted as needed. Individually wrapped slices of cheese can be divided into tiny pieces suitable for behavior modification while still wrapped in plastic, minimizing waste and mess. Consider the following guidelines in choosing a food reward:
1.   Foods that are high in protein may help induce changes in brain chemistry that help the dog relax.
2.   Dogs should not have chocolate.
3.   Some dogs do not do well with treats that contain artificial colors or preservatives
4.   Dogs with food allergies or those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs may have food restrictions (for instance, cheese for dogs taking deprenyl).
5.   Dog biscuits generally are not sufficient motivation, but some foods are so desirable that the dog is too stimulated by them to relax - something between these two extremes is preferred.
6.   Treats should be tiny (less than half the size of a thumbnail) so that the dog does not get full, fat, or bored.
7.   If the dog stops responding for one kind of treat, try another.
8.   Do not let treats make up the bulk of the dog's diet; the dog needs its normal, well-balanced ration.
The Reward Process
Rewarding dogs with food treats is an art. Learning to do so correctly helps the dog focus on the exercises and keeps everyone safe. To prevent the dog from lunging for the food, keep the already prepared treats in a little cup or plastic bag behind your back and keep one treat in the hand used to reward the dog. That hand can then either be kept behind your back so that the dog does not stare at the food or can be moved to your eye so that you can teach the dog to look happy and make eye contact with you. The food treat must be small so that the focus of the dog's attention is not a slab of food but rather your cues. A treat of the correct size can be closed in the palm of the hand by folding the fingers and will not be apparent when held between the thumb and forefingers. When presenting the dog with the treat, bring the hand, with a lightly closed fist, up quickly to the dog (do not startle the dog), and turn your wrist to open your hand.
When starting the program, let the dog smell and taste the reward so that it knows the anticipated reward for the work. If the dog is too terrified to approach, you can place a small mound of the treat on the floor. Then ask the dog to "sit;" if the dog sits instantly, say "Good girl (boy)!" and instantly open your hand to give the dog the treat while saying "stay."
Getting the Dog's Attention
If the dog does not sit instantly, call its name again. As soon as the dog looks at or attends to you, say, "Sit." If the dog will not look at you and pay attention, do not continue to say, "Sit." If you continue to give a command that you cannot reinforce, the dog learns to ignore that command. If necessary, use a whistle or make an unusual sound with your lips to get the dog's attention. As soon as the dog looks at you, say, "Sit." Use a cheerful voice. Some people may have to soften or lower their voices almost to a whisper to get the dog to pay attention to them. Often this is because they have given all their previous commands to the dog by yelling. The dog has very successfully learned to ignore this.
If the dog is looking at you but hot sitting, approach the dog to close the distance, raise the treat gently to your eyes, and request "sit." Often just moving toward a dog helps the dog sit. Not only have you decreased the distance, you appear taller and to be over the dog; such behaviors are used in canine communication to get the lower (in relative elevation) dog to obey the desires of the higher one. You can use these innate dog behaviors as long as you are careful. Never back up a dog that is growling. Never corner a fearful dog. Never continue to approach a dog that acts more aggressively the closer you come. Remember, the point of the program is to teach the dog to relax and look to you for cues about the appropriateness of its behavior. The dog cannot do this if upset.
If the dog still will not sit, consider using a head collar. By using a long-distance lead you can request that the dog "sit" and gently enforce this from a distance by pulling on the lead. Reward with a treat as soon as the dog sits.
Cautionary Note
If your dog is aggressive or if you are concerned about approaching it, do not do any of these exercises off-lead until the dog is perfect on-lead. Fit the dog with a head collar and work with the dog only on a lead at the outset. The halter allows you to close the dog's mouth if the dog begins to be aggressive. This is an ideal correction because it meets the rule that psychologists have established for ideal "punishment": you have interrupted the dog's inappropriate behavior within the first few seconds of the beginning of the behavior so that the dog can learn from the experience. Be gentle but consistent. Taking your anger or fear out on the dog will only worsen the behavior. As soon as the dog responds to the halter and calmly sits, reward the dog and continue. Never reward a dog that is growling, lunging, barking, shaking, or urinating.

After the dog sits for the first time you are ready to begin the program. Remember the following guidelines:
1.   Use the dog's name to get the dog to orient toward you and to pay attention. If this does not work, use a whistle or a sound to which the dog is not accustomed.
2.   Once the dog is paying attention to you, say "sit" and give the dog 3 to 5 seconds to respond. If the dog does sit, reward it instantly; if not, repeat the "sit" command in the same calm, cheerful voice. You may want to experiment with voices to see the tonal qualities to which your dog best responds.
3.   Do not worry about using the dog's name frequently or about repeating the commands if the dog responds. This is not obedience class, but if you later wish to take the dog to obedience class, the dog will do well if it did well on these programs. Making the adjustment will not be a problem.
4.   Do not chase the dog around the room to try to get it to comply with you. If necessary, choose a small room with minimal distractions and use a leash. A head collar provides even more instantaneous response. Use head halters and other collars kindly.
A sample sequence could look like this:
"Bonnie - sit - (3-second pause) - sit - (3-second pause) - Bonnie, sit - (move closer to the dog and move the treat to your eye) - sit - (Bonnie sits) - good girl! (treat) - stay - good girl - stay (take a step backward while saying "stay" - then stop) - stay Bonnie - good girl - stay (returning while saying "stay" - then stop) - stay Bonnie - good girl! (treat) - okay (the releaser and Bonnie can get up)!" - Bonnie happily gets up and watches calmly for your next signal.)
Note that you talk nonstop to the dog during these programs. This type of talking is not allowed in obedience classes but is desperately needed with inexperienced puppies and problem dogs. These dogs need all the cues that they can get. They need the constant guidance and reassurance of hearing your voice with clear instructions. These instructions and reassurances should occur in the context of shaping or gradually guiding their behavior toward more appropriate behaviors. You will have to learn to read subtle cues that your dog is giving and use these to your advantage. You will find it easier than you believe. The one thing that you absolutely cannot do is to talk a continuous stream to the dog without receiving the context-appropriate responses to your requests. If you rush through everything, you will only stress the dog and teach it to ignore everything you say. This is not good. A corollary of this admonition is that it is necessary to use consistent terminology and brief phrases and to do so in an environment when no one else is carrying on long, loud, distracting conversations.
Avoiding Problems
Do not push or pull on your dog or tug on its collar to get the dog to sit. These types of behaviors can be viewed as challenges by some dogs and may make them potentially dangerous. Use the methods discussed in the Protocol for Deference. If you really believe that the dog needs some physical help in sitting, use a head collar.
Do not wave your hands or the treat around in front of the dog. Part of the point of this program is to make the dog calmer and less confused. Excitable behavior on your part or unclear signals can make your dog more anxious. This does not help.
It is important to be calm. Yur dog will make mistakes. This does not reflect on you. Problem dogs and new puppies require a lot of patience. The people who have had the most success with these protocols have been those who work the hardest and most consistently.
Do not let your dog be a jack-in-the-box. You must control the situation, and you must achieve that control by convincing the dog to defer to you. If the dog gets up to get the treat every time it is offered, the dog controls the situation. When the dog does this, consider whether you were too far away from the dog when you offered the treat. If so, move closer. Ideally, the dog should be able to get the treat just by stretching its neck. The dog should not need to get up. If you have a small dog, this may mean that you need to squat down to offer the reward. Be careful if the dog is aggressive because your face is now close to the dog. If you are close enough for the dog to do the exercise properly and the dog still gets up, close your hand over the treat and say "No." One advantage of holding the treat in this manner is that you can safely deny the dog the treat at the last second if the dog acts inappropriately. The ask the dog to sit again. After the dog sits, say "Stay," wait 3 to 5 seconds, say "stay" again, and then give the treat. The two "stays" with the period between them will reinforce the dog that it cannot get up when it wants to - the dog must be released. By asking the dog to stay twice, you are telling it that whenever it makes a mistake, it must do two things to recover from it. A sample sequence follows:
"Susie - sit - (3 to 5- second pause) - sit - (Susie sits) - good girl! - stay(start to give treat and dog gets up) - no! - (close hand over treat) - sit - (Susie sits) - stay - (3 to 5-second pause) - stay - good girl - stay - good girl! - stay (give treat) - okay!" (Dog is now allowed to get up and does so.)
Do not tell the dog that it is good if it is not. Do not reward shaking, growling, whining, or any other behavior that may be a component of the behavior you are trying to correct. If the dog gets impatient and barks for attention, say "No! Quiet! - stay - good girl - stay - good girl - (treat) - stay…" If a vocal command is not sufficient to quiet the dog, remember that a head collar can be pulled forward to close the mouth and abort the bark before it starts, so that your correction is the most appropriate possible.
Finally, if you accidentally drop a food treat and the dog gets up to get it, do not correct the dog (the dog did not make the mistake and you did not deliberately drop the treat). Just start at the last point.

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NILIF is used to treat active dog to human aggression if it is rank opportunism; here you have rank opportunism dog to dog.  The first two to three weeks, it is not uncommon for a dog (or in this case both dogs) to appear "depressed", less at ease: this is NORMAL.  The dogs will be obtaining CLEAR SIGNAL that they are not 'IN CHARGE' in any way.  It MAY EFFECT THEIR RELATIONSHIP AS WELL.  IF you see fights occurring more often, STOP.  Because I can't see anything from here, I can't ethically tell you which dog to pet first, let in/out first, greet first, etc.  So you must attempt to observe your dogs in such a way as to see ANY SUBTLE BODY LANGUAGE to indicate which one of them has that "edge".  This is a big task, I know.

I urge you to find a CAAB.  Here are two lists for the USA:

The veterinary college in your geographical area (even if it is 200 miles away) should also have a list available.

CANT this situation be "fixed"?  I've done it, but it isn't easy.  Often, the most humane thing to do is determine, without hesitation, which of the two is the most confident, the happiest and most outgoing, and then carefully work with rescue groups, the Humane Society (NOT a municipal kill shelter!) to find a new home:  NO CHILDREN, NO OTHER DOGS.  Can it be done?  Yes but it takes a lot of work.  You must screen each potential home, ask for references (including veterinary) and check them; ask what happened to their other dogs (and if you don't like the answer, pass); and DO A HOUSE CHECK because people lie: they lie about having a fence, they lie about having cats or another dog, they lie about anything.  THEN you must followup up every week for a month, every two weeks for a month, then once a month for six months, with phone calls, and the adopting party MUST AGREE TO THIS IN WRITING.  I've placed high kill shelter rescue dogs many, many times using this method.  It can take months but, if you find the right home, both dogs will be happier.  This is, obviously, the last resort.  Your dogs cannot live outdoors: this is extremely punishing socially, emotionally, psychologically.  Although parting with one will be very difficult, it may be the best option for both.

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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

Past/Present Clients
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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