I am writing on behalf of a friend who owns two year-old black German Shepherd bitches. They are littermates and my friend has owned them since they were around nine weeks old. They were both well socialised as puppies and, until just before their first birthdays, were generally very good with other dogs, although one of them, who was at the time the more dominant of the pair, tended to be a bit pushy with other dogs sometimes, though not aggressive.
Then one day they were being walked in the woods when another dog came rushing out of the bushes behind them and they both suddenly attacked it and had to be dragged away - but not before they had caused the other dog a bad injury, for which it needed stitches. It was the first time they had attacked a dog and the first time the less dominant dog had ever been bossy with other dogs.
Following this incident they were mostly exercised seperately, with the more dominant of the two wearing a muzzle. The less dominant dog likes playing with a ball so only wore her muzzle when other dogs were in sight.
For several months they seemed to improve until, on entering the park, the less dominant dog (who was being walked on her own) suddenly attacked a Labrador who was walking in the park with his owner. The GSD apparently rushed over to the Lab and attacked him on seeing him, causing him also to need stitches. Since then the less dominant dog is more aggressive than her sister, who now begins to run up to dogs then chickens out at the last minute, unless they are together.
Now they are both walked wearing muzzles and are kept well out of the way of other dogs, although they have always been fine with the small corgi-type cross who was walked with them since they were puppies.
Apart from their aggression towards other dogs, they are very friendly with humans. They are outdoor dogs and live in the back garden, though their owners' house has an extension which they have access to and they can go in to sleep or in cold weather.
To add to their problems, they have recently begun fighting among themselves whilst outside and as a last resort an electric collar is going to be used on them in an attempt to stop their aggression. As you can imagine walking them is one big headache with no pleasure at all. Ant advice would be very much appreciated.
It can be difficult living with two bitches. Keeping two bitches is less natural than two dogs or a dog and a bitch. A high number of inter-dog aggression happens between two bitches as they tend to fight to be an only bitch where as two dogs would fight to take the dominant role and tend to dust themselves off and carry on as normal after a fight. Two bitches are more likely to fight until an agreement has been reached. That said many people successfully own two bitches and never experience any issues. Generally bitches need to be of different ages, sizes and temperaments in order to cohabit happily.
It is a problem that can be corrected but it is made harder by the fact that the two GSDs live outside as this means they are left to their own devices and does increase the chances of fights. If they could be brought into the house they would then need to abide by the human rules, rather than their own.
With the dog-to-dog aggression they display, does one set the other off or do they work as a pack? We need to start right back at diet, routine and rules in order to fix this one. It's quite an involved issue but most reputable behaviourists will be able to fix this. It is well worth contacting a good behaviourist who will come out with you on a walk and address all the issues, without just sitting at your house drinking tea. It is a tricky problem to live with as it means the dogs cannot be enjoyed and if they cannot be off lead this may exasperate inter-dog problems as due to their not letting off steam.
Amy Hatcher, Canine Behaviourist
I would strongly advise this owner to seek professional advice. I believe that thinking in terms of 'dominance' is confusing the issue here and that what is really going on has little to do with dominance and more to do with fear based aggression. I wonder how much training has been given to these dogs to provide them with adequate coping skills to deal with situations that give rise to anxiety or stress.
The fact that they are fighting amongst themselves also suggests that these two are not particularly comfortable around each other at times. The use of an electric collar will only make the problem worse, it may stop aggression when the owner is around but the 'angst' has to come out somewhere and is likely to lead to other problems further down the line. Please ask your friend to contact a good behaviourist that only uses non-confrontational reward based methods to work through behavioural issues to make a house call and evaluate the situation and work out a plan of action. Alternatively it may be in the dogs best interests to think about finding one of them a new home where it is not in competition.
Pauline Lock, Dogs Today Advisor
I have come across this scenario many times but usually with males. They must both be very unhappy to have started the infighting now. Perhaps they need more interaction with their owner.
I think that it would be a good idea to have them in separate homes for a while to see if their own personality comes through. We have found that when this happens it is best to follow this route. As the writer said there is no pleasure at the moment with muzzles and electric collars.
Jan Robinson, N.W. Golden Retriever Rescue