Pet­ting Wars


Modern Dog - - NEWS - BY NI­COLE WILDE

Dog-dog ag­gres­sion in the home and what to do about it.

My dogs have a ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship that can erupt into vi­o­lence, keep­ing ev­ery­one in my home on edge. One of the trig­gers is when I'm pay­ing at­ten­tion to one dog and the other comes over. What can I do to help them get along and cre­ate har­mony in my home?

You, my friend, are a valu­able re­source! You have man­aged to be so amaz­ing that each of your dogs wants you all to him­self. While that might be flat­ter­ing, it is also no fun for any­one. I feel your pain be­cause I ac­tu­ally had the same prob­lem my­self when we first adopted my sec­ond dog. I had to come up with so­lu­tions for this, two of which I cover in the “Pet­ting Wars” chap­ter of my new book, Keep­ing the Peace: A Guide to Solv­ing Dog-Dog Ag­gres­sion in the Home. Read on for an ex­cerpt out­lin­ing one of these very ef­fec­tive tech­niques, which I call “You Guard It, You Lose It.” I hope you will find it help­ful.

When a dog guards his owner and another dog backs down, the guarder is in­her­ently be­ing re­warded. Why would he ever stop the be­hav­iour when it works so well? But what if, in­stead, the valu­able re­source were to dis­ap­pear when he tried to guard it? To put it in a hu­man con­text, imag­ine that you love pizza. You cer­tainly do not want any­one com­ing near your very own yummy slice of heaven, so when­ever some­one ap­proaches, you tell them to back off. But what if ev­ery time you warned some­one away, the pizza vanished? How many more times would you say some­thing when some­one ap­proached? In no time at all, you would learn that qui­etly en­joy­ing your pizza even if some­one was close by was the best way to keep the prize to your­self.

Here’s how to ap­ply the prin­ci­ple to your dogs: At the ex­act mo­ment your dog pulls the “She’s mine!” rou­tine, say in a light voice “Too bad!” and im­me­di­ately stand up and walk away. There is no need to rep­ri­mand your dog or to use a stern voice. The phrase is merely a ver­bal marker that lets your dog know that was the ex­act mo­ment he was do­ing the thing that re­sulted in the con­se­quence of los­ing his valu­able re­source—you. If your dog fol­lows you, ig­nore him. You are ef­fec­tively giv­ing him a time out, so you need not ig­nore him for longer than a minute or two. No talk­ing to, look­ing at, or in­ter­act­ing with him while he’s be­ing ig­nored!

If nec­es­sary be­cause of your home’s lay­out or for con­ve­nience sake, you can in­stead tether your dog (as­sum­ing your dog has been con­di­tioned to a tether ahead of time) to the leg of the couch near you. Pet your dog as you nor­mally would. If another dog ap­proaches and the teth­ered dog shows guard­ing be­hav­iours, when you move away, he will be un­able to fol­low. You could even move to the op­po­site end of the couch out of his reach and give the other dog at­ten­tion. Imag­ine the guarder’s sur­prise!

The “You Guard It, You Lose It” tech­nique of­fers a very clear, easy les­son for dogs to learn, and it is very ef­fec­tive. Think of sce­nar­ios in which one of your dogs guards you or your other fam­ily mem­bers, and for­mu­late a plan. Choose a marker word that ev­ery­one will use, and make sure it is used at the ex­act mo­ment your dog be­gins to show any guard­ing be­hav­iour. Be sure ev­ery­one knows to stand up and walk away im­me­di­ately af­ter the word or phrase is spo­ken. Plan ahead of time where they will move to and for how long. If ev­ery­one in the fam­ily is on the same page, your dogs will learn much more quickly. As with all be­hav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion, con­sis­tency is key.

Ni­cole Wilde is an award-win­ning au­thor of ten books on ca­nine be­hav­iour. Her books, sem­i­nar DVDs, and Wilde About Dogs blog can be found at

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