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The underdog

Published: 
Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kristel-Marie Ramnath

Aggression between dogs is a complex psychological condition requiring a professional dog behaviourist to evaluate and treat each case individually. In this fourth article of the series we will look at how owners contribute to inter-dog aggression.

Inter-dog aggression is fighting between dogs living in the same household. Some owners often complain that their dogs only fight when they are around but leave them alone and everything is fine. Those same owners find it hard to accept that they are most likely the cause of the problem. While compassion is to be encouraged, anthropomorphism should be treated with caution. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to an animal. Simply put in this case, it is when we treat dogs as if they are children and expect them to understand and behave as humans.

The reality is that the world is a harsh one for dogs. In human society we are expected to nurture and care for people as they become older and less capable of caring for themselves. In dog society an older dog suffering from ill health (or just physically incapable of strength and ability) is expected to become deferential to a younger and fitter dog. Naturally, this does not sit well with a dog owner who feels sorry for the older (and possibly ill) dog. The result is that the owner interferes with the interactions between the two dogs and creates stress in both dogs. The situation changes from one where the older dog naturally submits to the younger dog with no fighting to one where the older dog is made to become dominant over the younger one by the owner and the younger one is punished for doing something that comes naturally to him as a dog. The older dog now feels the need to be assertive over the younger one and the younger one becomes insecure and starts to challenge the older one more aggressively to get his point across. So, you see where this is heading. As much as it may seem unfair to you, avoid getting involved in situations where your younger dog is challenging your older dog. If you take a back seat and simply observe, you will notice that they will sort it out on their own with no blood being shed. The moment you start meddling is most likely when teeth will be bared.

Similarly, if the dogs are of the same age or are siblings then fighting is more common as we discussed in the third article. Again, it is human nature to feel sorry for the underdog, but it goes against dog nature for the underdog to prevail. Do not show preference to the underdog because it gives him ideas above his station and will encourage him to fight back. This also increases insecurity in the other dog and will make him more likely to be aggressive towards the underdog. Having said that, do not encourage bullying, which we will deal with next.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018

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