Thursday, February 4, 2010

When Is It Actually Aggression

Yesterday I did an evaluation for a family with 5 dogs. On the phone they had informed me that their problem was aggression with one, maybe two, of the dogs. (all names have been changed - even the dogs, the breeds of the dogs are however the real breed mixes).

The story is that they have a 10 year old Pit/Boxer mix female (Lucy) they have had for many years and a 7 year old Retriever/Pit mix (Zed) they've had for nearly as long. Two years ago these two dogs started fighting at the drop of a hat for what seemed to the humans to be for no reason and with little to no warning. There are three other dogs in this household as well, two are Scotties, one of which Lucy doesn't like at all and wants to eat. That's the story at least.

Here is what I saw. I arrived to find all the dogs in separate rooms (Lucy, Zed and the 1 year old pit/lab Boone all in separate rooms with the Scotties in a room together). Lucy greeted me at a babygate to the living room. She was waggling all over and really wanted to meet this new person. I came in amidst Mom telling Lucy over and over and over to calm down, come, sit, lay down - all while holding on to her collar. I told Mom to just let her go, she wasn't bothering me.

Then we talked.

The answers to my questions were:

  • that there was never blood drawn in these fights except an accidental ear slash occassionally. Sometimes Boone would get in the middle of one of these altercations and get slashed somewhere, but there was little to no bloodshed even when it took the humans several minutes to manage to break up the fight.

  • occassionally they noticed that Lucy would growl and lunge at Zed almost simultaneously or a hard stare and then the lunge.

  • they only got the occassional walk as they couldn't be walked together, and only Lucy, Zed and Boone, never the Scotties

  • all three were reactive on the leash with strange dogs but otherwise walked well

  • the fights started shortly after the Scotties came into the home

Is this aggression? If not, what is it?

As we continued to talk, I took Lucy's lead and asked that the daughter (Peggy) bring Zed into the room on lead also. Lucy immediately went to Zed and started sniffing him all over.Peggy freaked out and pulled Zed as far from Lucy as she could. Peggy is actually responsible for the three pit mixes and the Scotties are Mom's responsibility. Dad just seems to hang back and comment on what's going on, he never did get up off the couch the whole time I was there.

I moved close to Zed and calmed him down and then just stayed there with Lucy next to me for at least 15 minutes with nothing happening. So I asked Mom to bring Boone into the mix. Boone arrived in a flurry of pent up energy wanting to do everything at once. It took about 10 minutes for Mom to relax enough for Boone to start to relax. Eventually Boone layed down and just watched what was happening. Lucy and Zed in the meantime are just being perfect puppies and doing everything they are asked (sit, down, move here, move there) despite the fact that they wanted to go for a walk since they had the leashes on.

Finally, I just let Lucy loose. She visited everyone, especially Mom. She wanted nothing to do with Peggy however other then that Zed was near Peggy. Neither dog really listened to Peggy unless she had a treat in her hand. While we were talking, Lucy decided to get up on the ottoman and Zed decided he would join here. This is a large ottoman, but not really big enough for the two dogs. Lucy growled at Zed and he started with some pretty aggressive submissive licking and groveling. So I stopped this before it escalated. But it showed me enough that I knew exactly what the problem was in this home.

I still haven't seen the interaction with the Scotties, but I really didn't need to at this point. The Scotties were in the room next to the living room the entire time barking, whining, scratching at the door and generally being obnoxious.

The problem in a nutshell is

  • lack of mental and physical stimulation of all the dogs, not just Lucy and Zed - they are bored stiff and have so much pent up energy they look for ways to get rid of it even if that means a fight

  • the Scotties have been separated from the rest of the dogs since the first month they were in the home - they are not considered part of the pack by the two older dogs and Lucy in particular tells them to stay away

  • lack of firm leadership and direction for all the dogs, despite Peggy being the defacto owner of the pits, she is more like a younger sibling and Mom is the only one who has any control over them.

  • Lucy thinks she runs the show and looks at the humans as just part of her pack.

This is not aggression, despite the fights and how Lucy feels about the Scotties. It could become aggression in the future if nothing is done about it, but for now, it's just misplaced energy and easily handled so long as the humans in this pack are willing to step up and do their part.