When dogs don’t get along at home it’s not only concerning for dog parents, but it’s also a dangerous situation.
Biting or aggressive behavior between dogs in the home occurs most frequently when a new dog is introduced into the household or when there is a sudden shift in dynamics or health of the dogs in the home. It leaves dog parents feeling like they have failed and, often in the case of bringing another dog into the home, like they have made a terrible mistake and it leaves them considering returning their newest family member just to keep the peace.
So today I want to talk about this topic a little more in the hopes of promoting a better understanding of canine behavior and how this “incompatibility” can be resolved.
When Dogs Don’t Get Along at Home
When dogs don’t get along at home, there are four main culprits precipitating the situation:
- Insecurity over resource availability
- Pain or physical abnormality
Insecurity Over Resource Availability
The most common reason for dog-dog aggression or dogs simply not getting along is due to resource availability. Like humans, dogs need to feel that their needs are being met. Security and happiness are a must and if a dog feels like their access to these limited resources is being threatened they will self-preserve by trying to push out the competition.
What resources does your dog see as limited?
While anything can be seen as crucial to your dog’s happiness or security, the most common culprits are food, toys, and attention.
Pain or Physical Abnormality
Just like us, when in pain, our dogs can be snappy with each other. Additionally, physical abnormality (which is rare) can also lead to behavioral changes such as aggression. We actually had a chocolate lab who developed brain cancer from an undiagnosed nasal tumor and as his cancer spread he became aggressive. It was this change in behavior that tipped us off to something being wrong with his health.
Miscommunication is another possible cause for when dogs don’t get along. This is particularly common when a new dog is brought in to the home or when one dog in the home begins to lose their senses.
Body language is just as important for dogs as it is for us and when dogs don’t have the socialization needed to understand canine cues or are unable to read cues from other dogs in the home due to sight or hearing loss miscommunication occurs.
Anxious or fearful dogs are on edge and easily startled or aggravated because they are in a primal fight or flight mode. If a fearful or anxious dog feels that they are being pushed or feels overstimulated, it is not unusual for them to snap or act out.
Determining Why Your Dogs Don’t Get Along
So, how do you determine which of these reasons is the root of why your dogs don’t get along?
Look at the Situation at Hand
Is there something specific that you could have controlled that caused the disharmony? For example, did you introduce your dog to a new furry family member inside your home instead of on “neutral” territory? Sometimes it is a mistake that we have made that causes things to blowup and educating ourselves on how to be better pet parents can go a long way in setting our dogs up for success.
A Vet Check
Your next priority should be making an appointment with your vet to check for any physical ailments or changes that could be contributing to your dog’s behavior. It is helpful to have reference information available when you visit your vet, however. The more information you can give to your vet about your dog, the better.
Some things that you can do to get a better picture of your dog’s situation while you wait for your vet appointment include:
Check your dog’s senses
Check sight by taking your dog into a darkened room that they are familiar with, but place an obstacle in the way changing the layout of the room. See if your dog can navigate around the obstacle using sight or if they bump into it. If they bump into it, they may have sight loss which is causing them to miss cues from the other dogs. This can create confusion and aggravation between the dogs in your household.
Check hearing by going into another room and calling your dog. Start with a whisper and get progressively louder. Do they seem to have trouble hearing you? Loss of hearing can cause dogs to become nervous, fearful, confused, or irritated.
Check Your Dog’s Physical Appearance
While your dog is laying down, run your hands over their body and note any sores, lumps, bumps, or unusually hot areas that could be causing pain.
Touch their joints (don’t attempt to manipulate them for range of motion) and see if your dog has a response to any type of touch. Painful areas or infection can lead to irritability and a lowered patience threshold.
Watch Your Dog For Other Signs of Physical Problems
Make note of any changes in behavior, unusual symptoms, or symptoms of note that may indicate a physical or neurological cause for when dogs don’t get along.
- Does your dog have any symptoms that could help your vet to make a diagnosis?
- Does your dog seem to have or have a history of having seizures?
- Does your dog ever stand still staring off into space?
- Do your dog’s eyes dart back and forth or seem to shudder?
- Does your dog seem off balance or have trouble walking?
- Does your dog seem to have problems with coordination?
- Is your dog particularly lethargic?
- Is your dog limping when they walk or holding one limb above the ground?
- Does your dog tuck their tail between her legs when they walk?
- Does your dog pant excessively?
- Has your dog been drinking or eating more or less than usual?
- Is your dog urinating more or less frequently?
Check For Attachment Problems
Check your dog’s attachment to you and other members of the family. Do this by having one member of the family stay with your dog while you leave. Ask them to note your dog’s behavior. Do the same thing with other members of the family and take note of any signs of anxiety.
Anxiety can put a dog on edge and lead to a lowered patience threshold and irritability. This is particularly the case if your dog tries to self-soothe and another family dog tries to get in the way.
Watch Dog-Dog Interactions
Take note of how your dog interacts with other dogs.
- Does your dog seem to have trouble communicating with or understanding communication / body language of other dogs? For example, if your dog initiates play with one of the other dogs but they don’t respond, does your dog seem to understand or do they continue to push? (It can be normal for younger dogs to push limits and test boundaries, but eventually most dogs will understand the “leave me alone” cue and walk away rather than risk confrontation.)If your dog has trouble understanding or exhibiting traditional dog behaviors, cues, and dog body language, these miscommunications can cause frustration between dogs.
- Does your dog test their position in the hierarchy? For example, how do they interact with other dogs? Does your dog seem to be bossy with your more dominant dog? Does your dog test limits with the other dogs, perhaps by trying to steal treats or food from your most dominant dog?If a dog is pushing to be more dominant, they may be using their teeth to put the other dogs in their place as they vie for dominance.
Note Other Attachments
Does your dog seem particularly attached to a specific object or item? Do they always have it close by or carry it around? If other dogs try to “claim” or touch this item, it may create jealousy, frustration, or the need to put the other dog in their place.
Does your dog always sit in one particular spot? This could also create an object of contention between the dogs if another dog sits in that favored spot.
What to Do When Dogs Don’t Get Along
After gathering as much information as possible, it’s time to sit down and really talk to your vet.
Pursue general testing to rule out any physical or neurological causes for your dog’s behavior.
If there is no physical or neurological cause, analyze the information you have collected with your vet. Try to pinpoint what is provoking your dogs into aggressive or defensive behavior.
Dogs do not shun other dogs for no reason, it’s your job to pinpoint that reason and address it with a qualified professional such as your vet or a behavioral trainer.
In the meantime, be sure to spend one on one time with each of your dogs. Ensure that each dog is confident with their place in your family and focus on reinforcing obedience training. Building your dog’s confidence can help them to interact with each other with more self-assurance and less uncertainty.