Canine Behavior/Inter dog aggression/bullying
QUESTION: Hi Jody,
I am currently studying ( early stages) to become a behaviorist. I have two female dogs. Daisy (GSDx Collie, 9, spayed) we adopted her 3 years ago and Amber (GSD, 2.5, unspayed) adopted nearly 2 years ago.
These two have a complicated relationship. Here is the background info-
Daisy has mild IVDD and Pannus, and generally supressed immune function. When we adopted her, she had been in 4 foster homes and previous to that her original disabled owner had kept her in a small house and yard for 5 years( she never left the house or got a walk) I have worked with her a great deal. She is on good pain meds and supplements. she has put on weight and was beginning to thrive with a behavior modification program. I feel she has been subjected to large amounts of negative training, maybe even physical abuse in the past. She is a very sweet dog however.I do feel she suffers from anxiety and her dog social skills arent the greatest,but she is very submissive so it saves her from potential aggressive encounters.We have a lot of land and a large house, so we do not venture into the outside world much.We have a select few dogs that come to play for social interaction.
A year after Daisy, We adopted Amber when she was 6 months old.A typical GSD pup, bright, alert, fun etc. When she was 8 months old, we noticed some physical and behavioral changes, which kinda started at the same time as her first estrus. Upon Xraying her, the vet found she had OCD in both knees as well as hip dysplasia in both hips. Her skin became hyper sensitive too. It was at this time both girls had their first 'fight' it was shortlived and was over quickly, no biting was observed. It was after this incident that Daisy decided to become the lower ranking dog. I must also stress that at this point, both girls played together everyday. Once rank was established then generally Amber initiated play and Daisy was always up for a game. Then the resource guarding began. Amber would guard toys and us( me, my husband and son) Daisy would always submit, turn and walk away to avoid conflict. I have also done a lot of training with Amber. She knows almost all obedience cues very well and also knows 'watch me'. We have practised in a variety of contexts. I used to take her to the park for walks but after her knee and hip diagnosis, and her being in estrus, we stopped for a while. When i did take her to the park again, she displayed leash aggression(mild)I wanted her pain to be under control so i took her to a specialist and got her on some good pain meds. I must add at this point that she developed a fear of the vets too, when previously no obvious fear was shown. She seemed to then generalise this fear and not want to walk into anywhere new (neophobia?)
We were managing the situation at home, there were no fights.. even the resource guarding lessened. I used techniques such as 'watch me' and rewarded Amber everytime she made the right choices etc. I was making progress in my canine behaviour course too. This february 2016, Amber hurt her knee , and after this point she and Daisy stopped playing. Daisy tried many times to play but Amber would just walk away. It was time, so i booked Amber's knee surgery and she was going to be spayed at the same time in April 2016. In March however, Amber started attacking Daisy. At first, It appeared to happen for no reason. Amber would try and mount Daisy and hump, then even after Daisy displayed submissive postures, the humping turned into aggression and Amber would 'attack' Daisy, mainly toward the neck, shoulder and rear. all the time Daisy would lay frozen in fear.There was no punctures or bites. I was taken aback the first time. But it kept happening. I would generally use my body to block Amber from continuing these 'attacks' but it doesnt work very well .I am still confused to why the attacks start, it seems like resource guarding to me( only happens when me or husband are there) Since then, Amber has had her knee op ( but not spayed due to her hormones), and she is in post surgery, 5 weeks in and the attacks on Daisy have started again. Today being the worst, almost 6 times. I feel so awful for Daisy, she was making so much progress, but now she is sullen and depressed. I do not know how to stop this, I have tried many different things, none seem to work. Amber is extremely attached to me and whines for my attention constantly even though i work from home.
I want to add that my dogs are a healthy weight, they are fed twice a day on home prepared and also the best food money can buy. I have a variety of enrichment toys which they use everyday. They have several acres of rural grounds to roam on.They have raw meaty bones regularly. They have doggy friends that come over to play regularly. We use positive reinforcement wherever possible. What I am missing here? its obviously something.
I would love to have your input. This behavior from Amber is causing real frustration in our family, and Daisy's health is starting to deteriorate.
Thank you for listening. I hope i have provided enough info here.
ANSWER: Thank you for reaching out and major kudos to you for trying to do right by these dogs.
I was going to reject this question (with an explanation), but decided to go ahead and answer it so that others might see what a severe situation looks like.
So, you have two dogs, one senior, both of whom have some pretty involved health issues. The conditions your dogs are coping with all have the potential to be extremely painful, which dramatically lowers thresholds for tolerance of others being in their space. Pain is often a trigger for aggressive outbursts that appear to be otherwise unprovoked.
The situation at present is unfair to Daisy. Between her age and her health, she is unable to defend herself. And so, whether solely because of her physical status, or maybe also in part her personality, she is choosing to defer to Amber. But Amber is continuing to aggress toward Daisy. This is unsafe for Daisy - which of course, is why you're reaching out.
Given the level of health issues involved, I think your best option is to consult with a veterinary behaviorist. A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who specializes in behavior issues. They will know well how the various conditions your dogs are coping with can manifest behaviorally and how that can be compounded when we include the dog-dog dynamic. Because of the health issues, this is really outside the skill set of a trainer/behavior specialist as there is a clear medical component that needs to be addressed.
In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to set up a 100% management and do NOT allow Amber and Daisy to engage with each other at all. This means implementing a rotation schedule where one dog is out while the other is in. Or one is in a bedroom with a food stuffed Kong toy or other long-lasting chew such as a Bully Stick or Nylabone (polymer chew toy) while the other is with the family. A 100% management plan means a closed door between them at all times. So, in this rotation, If Daisy is out with you while Amber is in a bedroom, when it's time to rotate, you would put Daisy into another bedroom before letting Amber join you to hang out. Or if Daisy is outside while Amber is in, you would put Amber in a bedroom and then bring Daisy inside and into a different bedroom. Then take Amber outside before letting Daisy be free in the house. Depending on the weather in your area, and the dog's feelings about being outside, you can do a rotation that is up to 4 hours long. Though, I usually recommend a rotation schedule of just 1-2 hours. If the house is going to be empty of humans, I encourage a 2-door buffer between the dogs. In other words, I would have each dog in separate bedrooms with the doors closed. If one is free to roam the house, they can approach the door separating the two dogs and harass the dog through the door.
I encourage this because your description is that Amber's aggression appears to be escalating and this is unsafe and unfair to Daisy, who is clearly not in a position (either physically or personality) to defend herself and prevent further attacks against her.
I'm sorry I don't have any ready answers. But honestly, if this were happening in my house, I would implement the management plan and schedule a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist. If you don't know of any vet behaviorists in your area, your regular veterinarian probably does. Or you can contact your nearest veterinary school as they are likely to have a list of all of the vet behaviorists in your region. I know that there is a website that lists all vet behaviorists in the US, and I expect there is similar for the UK if you were to do a google search.
Again, I'm sorry I can't offer any more direct assistance than this. But I do wish you the best of luck as you find a specialist to help you. And please do followup with me after a vet behaviorist consultation and let me know how the recommend proceeding.
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you Jody.
I had not considered separating them. This can work given the layout of our house and I will implement this right away.
I was working with an amazing vet behaviourist up until a year ago, when her health deteriorated, since then i havent sought out another option. Both girls have been prescribed diazepam and various supplements. It seems that Amber's medical issues just overshadow any learning and it maybe time to revisit the medication and management protocols. The UK is backward when it comes to prescribing medication for behaviour modification programs, which is why I am reluctant to consult with another practitioner.. but I will try and seek one out.As you can imagine rehoming isn't even an option as I doubt anyone would want to taken on all the medical bills.. plus we are attached to both dogs and vice versa and am determined to make it work somehow. Thank you kindly again for your input. All the best, Boo
*****UPDATE corrected website link: A friend of mine directed me to a website through which you can find vet behaviorists across the UK. Assuming you have not yet found a veterinary behaviorist to help you with Daisy and Amber, please check out this website (or do a google search for vet behaviorists in your area). http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/
Also, you could reach out to your local vet school as they likely have a list of vet behaviorists across the UK and can help you find one near you.******
Thank you for the followup. I'm sorry the specialist you were working with had to discontinue her practice. I'm sure that is frustrating for you in your own progress with the girls. It also must be terribly frustrating when you know there might be medication out there that can help, and the local medical community is reluctant to prescribe it. I had a similar experience with my soul-dog when she began showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (doggie dementia). I asked two local vets (one who said he had a special interest in behavior) for a prescription for the medication used to treat CCD, and both vets shook their head, said she didn't have one of the classic symptoms (potty training failure) and I should just rehome the new puppy and accept that the issue was one of personality clash and not an issue of cognitive decline in my senior dog. I finally found a vet behaviorist who was a 3-hour drive from me, and paid him the extra (nearly double) cost to have an in-home consultation. He agreed that my dog's symptoms were not the 'classic' symptoms, but also believed that I knew my dog better than anyone, and if I was seeing behavior changes in her, then there was a change. He prescribed the meds for me, and I got my dog back cognitively for another 3.5 years before her cognitive decline began again! Sometimes we have to advocate for our pets and just keep searching until we find a medical professional who is willing to hear us and willing to at least *try* a therapy that may be unconventional in that part of the world. I understand the hesitation to over medicate - and in the US it does often seem that we reach for pills before any other therapy. But in your dogs' cases, I think that meds is very likely a necessary component of any successful behavior modification plan.
So, diazepam (Valium) is a short-term, fast-acting anti-anxiety medication which is great for acute circumstances like a sound-sensitive dog who lives near where a fireworks display is going to be held. My sound-sensitive boy uses diazepam's cousin alprazolam (Xanax) during fireworks and thunder, and it's made a HUGE difference for him - so much so that the last 3 thunderstorms that have rolled through (granted, they were distant and so not too loud), my boy didn't even flinch, let alone panic.
NOTE: I am not a vet, have no formal medical training and cannot prescribe anything to anyone, anywhere. But... I would discuss with a vet or vet behaviorist options such as clomipramine (Clomicalm) or fluoxetine (Prozac). Clomipramine is a tricyclic anti-depressant while fluoxetine is a selective seretonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). They work on the brain different, but can have tremendous effect on generalized anxiety (which can be a trigger for aggression).
Like in humans, it requires 4-6 weeks or regular use to reach a therapeutic dose, and once reached, must be weaned off rather than stopped cold-turkey. And these drugs are not meant to be the cure. They are meant to help calm the dog enough that new learning can occur. Then, once better coping skills have been established, the hope is to wean the dog off the meds. Of course, like in some people, weaning off results in a recurrence of the undesired behavior and so, for some dogs, it does become a lifetime. But for the vast majority of dogs, it's a 6-12 month regimen and then the dog is weaned off and sustain the newly learned skills.
Advocate for your dogs. Find a vet or vet behaviorist who is willing to work with you - reach out to the nearest vet school as they may be more open to medication. Let me know how you progress.
Wishing you well.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine