The first thing that might surprise many people is that females are much more likely to fight than males. Only 32% of aggression cases involved conflicts between two male dogs, in the remaining 68% the bitches were the active participants. This is consistent with some earlier research, which showed that when bitches are involved in conflict, the injuries are much more serious, and the fights are longer and more violent.
If we look at the overall characteristics of the dogs involved, we find that the initiator of aggressive actions is usually the dog that came into the house last (70%). Further, in 74% of the cases, the younger dog starts the fight. These fights are often a surprise to owners, as 39% of them claimed that the dogs usually got along well. The conflicts were quite serious, with 50% of the cases requiring veterinary care and 10% of the cases requiring medical attention from owners who tried to intervene. The reason for the owners’ intervention was that they thought that the fight was not going to stop on its own without their physical intervention, and only in 8% of the cases they were able to get the dogs to obey commands.
What served as a trigger for fights? Actions of the owner (singling out one dog in front of the other) – 46% of the pairs. Routine arousal caused by owner’s arrival or other activity – 31%. Conflict over food – 46%, found objects or toys – 26%.
There were also some risk factors for one or both dogs. Among the pairs involved in conflicts, at least one of the pair had changed several owners in 41% of the cases. When at least one dog in the pair was taken at 12 weeks or older, there was a 39% chance of conflict, dogs from shelters were involved 33% of the time, and dogs from pet stores 16% of the time.
There is evidence that dogs involved in domestic conflicts also showed aggression in other situations. For example, 40% showed aggression toward outside dogs, 27% toward family members, and 27% toward strangers, but most depressingly, 20% of the dogs showed aggression toward the owner.
Aggressiveness was not their only problem, 50% of the pairs involved in conflicts had at least one member with a fear of loneliness, and 30% had phobias, fears and other forms of anxious behavior.
The good news is that aggression between domestic dogs can be corrected.
Techniques that can be used at home, to stop conflict between dogs.
The first is “nothing in life is free.” This simply requires the dog to follow simple commands (sit, lie down, come to me, etc.) before they get what they want (bowl, treat, petting, attention, etc.).
The second is support for one of the dogs when they get everything first (treat, food, attention, etc.). The problem here is which dog to choose, and it is practical to choose the one that is bigger, stronger, healthier, more active, etc. The alternative route (which is more in line with human notions of value, respect and reverence) is to choose the “older” dog, i.e., the one that was first taken into the house and has lived with the owner longer.
Both methods work, but not instantly, as average data show that noticeable improvements do not become visible until five weeks after the program begins.
“Nothing in Life is Free” led to improvements in 89% of couples; “senior dog support” helped improve in 67% of couples. The researchers hypothesized that these programs work for two reasons. First, because dogs behave in a more controlled manner, it reduces agitation. Second, because everything happens in a predictable order, the dogs learn that they will each get what they want, and there is no need to fight for it.
It is important to note that the gender of the dogs creates not only differences in conflict expression, but also differences in remediation. As we noted at the beginning of this article, females are more likely to be involved in conflicts, and their fights tend to be more serious. This correlates with the fact that this is also less amenable to correction, although progress is still noticeable in pairs consisting of females. In male pairs, conflicts have decreased 72% of the time, and in male-bitch pairs 75% of the time. In bitch-bitch pairs there was only a 57% reduction in conflicts, which although less than in other combinations, is still significant and worth the effort.