only one top dog, please.
April 27, 2009 4:37 AM   Subscribe

why is my younger dog (1 y/o) suddenly trying to kill my older one (2 y/o)?

basset hound, 2 y/o. was an only dog until 8 months ago, when we got a rescue puppy (female). puppy was undernourished and small, but has equaled out in weight to the basset (45 lbs) and doubled in height.

pecking order had been pretty firmly established: he was top dog, even though she grew taller and faster than him. they play rough, but until now always respected the "ow, that really hurt" squeak and backed off when one hurt the other.

twice in two days, now, the younger girl has started to take on the basset, to the point of drawing blood and seriously freaking him out. (he cowers and shakes and pees and gives his sad howl--it's seriously bad.) she just won't stop.

nothing's changed in their environment or routine that we know of, although new neighbors moved in with three dachsunds, but they have no contact besides barking over the fence.

what happened? how do we change this behavior? we will keep them in separate rooms while we're at work, but are there any other tools? we have gone through a beginner training course with them and are about to start an intermediate course in a couple of weeks. they both did fine.

fwiw, we are not sure what her breed is, but from polling a lot of folks, we're getting beagle and some kind of shepherd. unlikely to have doberman, pit bull, or any other aggressive breed (at least not dominantly).
posted by thinkingwoman to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: yes, fwiw, we do reinforce the pecking order--the older basset gets fed first, let out first, rewarded first for good behavior, walks ahead of the younger dog on walks, etc. so we have pretty much embedded that into our routine.

other data points: the dogs sleep in separate crates at night. in the past, the basset would try to steal the puppy's food but hasn't tried that in a while. when they get out of control around us, corraling them in a separate room--together, just not in the same room as us--seems to calm them down. it doesn't matter if we were playing with them or ignoring them.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:05 AM on April 27, 2009

What happened is that she is maturing. Stop interfering unless there is injury going on, you should not be "reinforcing the pecking order", that is not your business, most of us do not actually understand pack dynamics at all well (even though we think we do, especially if we watch too much Dog Whisperer), and the more you interfere, the worse this will get. As long as you control the resources (i.e. until the dogs grow opposable thumbs), you are the leader, pretty much, but anything else is their business (which is also the case in a natural state). It is normal in dog relationships for the female to be higher up than the male, but even so, humans do a very bad job of understanding pack dynamics, and are usually better off leaving things alone for the dogs to sort out, as long as nobody is bleeding.

That said, do not leave them alone together, separate them when you go out, and feed them separately (in crates or separate rooms), do not put them in a position where they have to compete for resources like food, chewies, etc, and step up the obedience training.
posted by biscotti at 6:44 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sounds like younger dog is dominant and really should be getting fed first, etc. Why not have a dog trainer out to your house to evaluate them?

I'm sure prices vary but a trainer charged us $35 for a house visit to do exactly this sort of evaluation - it was well worth it.
posted by txvtchick at 6:48 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: thanks biscotti. the fights are leading to injury; the basset has a bloody nose and torn ear.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:00 AM on April 27, 2009

Agree with biscotti, sounds like your new dog is a pretty natural alpha and that's coming out. By reinforcing your pecking order you're countering her nature and she's acting out a bit.

I'd also recommend socializing her more with other dogs, dog parks or a local doggy day care a couple of days a week can also help.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:03 AM on April 27, 2009

How much exercise is the puppy getting on a daily and weekly basis? Is she getting socialized with other dogs too?

And yeah, the idea that you're 'reinforcing' or controlling pack order with feedings and attention isn't good. Treat them the same and keep them separate while needed.
posted by barnone at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: normally the dogs stay in the (decent-sized--larger than an outdoor kennel) kitchen while we're out and run around the yard pretty much nonstop in the evenings. likewise on weekends, unless the weather's bad. they are usually pretty pooped by the end of the night.

we've been reinforcing the pecking order because when we started taking her for walks when we got her, she would hide and cower and look back to her big brother unless the basset went first. we thought she was afraid of the cars and the street until the basset happened to go first, and tehn it was like night and day--she was happy, playful, running around, enjoying herself. she was like this last week--wouldn't go first on the walk, the basset had to. so that's why the idea of her suddenly making a play for dominance is so surprising.

we are taking them to the vet (to get the basset's wounds looked at, as well as to rule out any biological cause for the puppy's outbursts), and we do have a call into the trainer we took classes from a few months ago.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:33 AM on April 27, 2009

Best answer: Puppies learn from older dogs - so the walk order isn't that surprising. But that's not really pack order, which as biscotti says, is a way more complicated/invisible thing than we humans can surmise. Most ideas about dog packs were based on outdated research on fenced-in wolves. Not wild wolves, and not dogs, but wolves put into captivity. Dogs haven't been 'wild' or like wolves in a long, long time.

Their hormones do kind of explode sometimes - just like a toddler goes from crawling to walking in a short amount of time. So her maturing and getting more aggressive in a week isn't that that unusual.

Once you rule out medical issues, talk to the trainer about socializing her with other dogs. Sometimes puppies have to learn limits of play and the basset might not be the one to do it. If she's safe (enough) to be around other dogs while supervised, I've seen rambunctious puppies get put in their place by a, say, 3 year old gentle lab or other big/energetic dog. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't always work with the dogs at home, but as a long-time rescue/foster parent a few key playing/tumbling sessions with newly-maturing puppies has saved my sanity a few times. Obviously not if she's going after all dogs, or can't stop once she's going, etc.

If the first trainer doesn't work out, find an animal/dog behaviorist in your area. Sometimes they really have the magic touch and suggestions for these situations.

Good luck!
posted by barnone at 10:50 AM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: also, i must have given the impression that our newer dog is brand new--we've had her for eight months. this behavior only started emerging this weekend.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:06 PM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: yes, we use positive-only training methods. by enforcing pecking order, i just mean that the basset gets whatever positive feedback first. by, like, five seconds. so maybe we're not enforcing pecking order. we don't even do the forcing-the-dog-on-her-back thing.

at most, we physically remove them from undesirable situations.

anyway, all interesting responses, especially ones that offered solutions.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:15 PM on April 27, 2009

Best answer: kalessin: The so-called "alpha roll" is outdated and dangerous, and DOES NOT EXIST in the dog world.

My reaction to your comment is based on the fact that some of what you are recommending has in general been pretty thoroughly discredited, and can cause more problems. I'm glad it worked for you, but I respectfully suggest that you at least consider that the results you got may be in spite of the methods you used, rather than because of them.

thinkingwoman, I definitely think you should look into more dog socialization for your younger dog, and I would also start taking them out and about separately. I always recommend people walk and socialize a puppy alone for the first 6-12 months of its life, you want the dog to learn self-reliance and not get overly dependent on other dogs. I would still keep them separate when you are not home, and I would start watching for warning signs of trouble. I stand by upping your obedience training, it can only help.
posted by biscotti at 4:21 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks, biscotti. we are keeping them separate and hope our trainer has some more ideas when we meet with him later this week. in the meantime i'll take her out for walks alone--there are a lot of dogs in the neighborhood to meet. it's so heartbreaking because she doesn't understand what she's done...she knows we're upset about something and she misses her brother (who won't go near her now). our next round of classes starts in a couple of weeks; hopefully we can curb some of this before then.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:28 PM on April 27, 2009

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