DEAR DIDI: We have two dogs. They are both Queensland Heelers and both are boys. We got them as puppies at 8 weeks old but there was six months in between. So Duke is 18 months old now and Sam just turned 2 years old. We are extremely concerned because they have always gotten along and all of a sudden this week they have had two fights. No damage yet but it escalated fast and sounded horrible. My husband had to run at them yelling to break it up. They are both neutered so we can’t figure out what happened. Any suggestions? We don’t want to have to choose between them! - Oakdale Dog Mom
DEAR DOG MOM: It can be very difficult to determine the cause without a thorough investigation. When I take on cases like this, I find it crucial to come out to where the dogs live. My observations begin the moment I pull up in my car. I take note of whether or not I hear the dogs barking already at a front window or gate. When I ring the doorbell what happens on the other side. The sit-down consists of finding out background information like feeding schedules, health history, past training, your routines, current exercise levels, your management techniques in the household, and much more.
Your dogs are entering the adult stage of life as they approach and hit 2 years old. If we compare to human siblings it would be the stage where they are coming home from college. They have developed their own individual independence, attitudes and ideas about life. Sometimes kids that were close as youngsters veer off path as adults. It is, however, up to the parents to provide rules and boundaries about how they treat each other even if they disagree. It is not always a good idea to “just let them work it out”. Once resentments have reached the point of aggression, it is much more difficult or sometimes impossible to recover from because it has been going on longer than the humans usually realize. Dog body language can be very subtle and complex. If a peaceful and respectful home is your goal, then we need to take a look at what things you may or may not be doing, as a matter of normal daily activities, that either promote or undermine those desired calm, focused and respectful behaviors.
The science of canine cognition and behavior has made HUGE strides in the past 30 years. Many of the old methods are no longer effective for a variety of reasons ranging from, they aren’t terribly nice methods, to dogs are just really different now due to overbreeding. A German Shepherd in the 50’s was a whole different beast than the German Shepherds of today. I strongly encourage you to find a good Canine Behaviorist in your area with solid credentials to come out and be your “relationship counselor”. Time is of the essence here before the aggression level hits a point of no return. Ignore trainers who talk Alpha or Dominance theory or say, “you just have to make sure they know you are the boss”. Dogs are so much more intelligent than those ideologies give credit to and a more thoughtful, consistent and fair plan needs to be put together for the long term safety and success of your household. Good Luck!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to Didi@californiacanine.dog.