Can these two dogs learn to get along?
December 20, 2009 6:43 AM   Subscribe

HelpMeHelpMyParentsFilter: Can these two dogs learn to get along?

My parents have recently become the guardians of a new dog. This situation, though it's supposed to be temporary, will probably last quite a long time (months at least, possibly forever).

The first dog is a 14 year old, 75 lb male Chow Chow mix who has lived there since puppyhood, and has never interacted much with other dogs. The second, new dog is a 4 year old, 15lb male Jack Russell terrier who has had a hard life with multiple homes and is extremely high strung. Neither of them are fixed. (My parents will not allow this to be done for their own inscrutable reasons).

What happens is this: the Chow Chow will stalk the Jack Russell around wherever he goes, and stare at him intensely and unremittingly. The Jack Russell may take a nap for an hour, and the Chow Chow will stare at him without blinking the whole time. The Chow Chow also likes to loom as close to the Jack Russell's face as possible to do this, and would get within millimeters if he were allowed to.

When the Jack Russell walks around, the Chow Chow starts quickly circling him as if he's trying to herd him. Within seconds, this leads to them circling each other, as the Jack Russell tries to get away while not turning his back. When the Chow Chow inevitably stumbles after a moment or two (he's got weak legs), the Jack Russell interprets this as a lunge and attacks with full force.

Recently, there was a time where the Jack Russell was only walking by, the Chow Chow made a sudden move to get up from a sitting position, and the Jack Russell freaked out and attacked. (Luckily he's got a small and not very strong mouth, and the Chow Chow has a lot of fur, so he's never been injured at all).

If the Chow Chow is near the Jack Russell and makes a sudden move at all or stumbles, the Jack Russell gets nervous and growls. If the Chow Chow is restrained from moving as the Jack Russell walks by, he strains and stares until the Jack Russell's out of sight.

The Chow Chow has never flat-out attacked the Jack Russell directly, although, very rarely, he's been seen making nips in the direction of the Jack Russell's tail or a foot when he's walking or being carried by. Apparently he has never made contact, though.

My parents have dealt with the problem this way: for the first few weeks, allowing the dogs to just do their own thing under supervision; afterwards, developing a complex system of baby gates to keep them apart. This results in whichever dog is separated by the baby gates from everyone else becoming upset and whining nonstop. Especially the Jack Russell, and his whines are extra loud and piercing, and he'll keep it up for hours.

Is there a way to improve any of this? I would like to help make the situation better if I can, but I'm at a pretty total loss.
posted by Ashley801 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
They should have stepped in right away and set the rules for the dogs, not allowed them to do their "own thing". The circling should have not been allowed in the first place. It sounds like the dogs are pretty stressed and unhappy. How trained are the dogs at this point (in general)?

If they have had basic training, I would possibly try keeping them in the same room but on leashes for awhile, with your parents having a zero tolerance rule to any single act of dominance. This could either be all they need, or at least give them an idea if it will be possible any time in the future.

Their mistake was not taking control from day one.
posted by Vaike at 6:54 AM on December 20, 2009

Response by poster: They are definitely stressed and unhappy. Neither of them has had basic training. We all let it go with the Chow Chow when I was a kid, since none of his behaviors were that bothersome and there were no other dogs around. What needs to happen before they can be on leashes in the room together?
posted by Ashley801 at 7:06 AM on December 20, 2009

The problem will not resolve unless the testicles go away, and even then, it is going to be a LOT of work. You might want to tell your parents this, regardless of their current beliefs. If your parents don't step in and actively work with these dogs (with a professional trainer), I would wager that one will succeed in killing the other at some point.

Is there any way they can find a different home for the terrier? It's really not fair to either dog to be living in such a stressful situation.

I have 2 male dogs (neutered) that had issues with each other, and it took 6 months of intense training while one of them was on Clomicalm. It was a lot of work, but they did get to the point where they decided to get along. But I agree with Vaike, your parents should have taken control on the first day, and that control is very difficult to reclaim.

What needs to happen before they can be on leashes in the room together? Basic training for each dog, first. If they aren't listening to you in the first place, why would they behave on a leash? After that, lots and lots of training, and again, I really think you need a professional. The other thing is that the Chow mix is 14...that's getting up there. It seems like the best possible solution is for the terrier to be placed in a new, less stressful home.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:32 AM on December 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Given what you have described, yes, this situation will resolve when the Chow kills the smaller dog, this would likely have already happened by now if the Chow weren't ancient. At very least, these dogs should NEVER be left alone together, and your parents need an behaviorist to help them with this if they intend to keep both dogs, this is a dangerous situation and not one the internet can solve. Dog-dog aggression is one of the only problems neutering reliably helps with, I am not a "speuter everything" sort of person as a general rule, but these dogs should be neutered. You can't train out aggression, you can just manage it. The terrier should be rehomed if your parents can't keep them separate and won't get professional help.
posted by biscotti at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2009

PLEASE get professional help for the dogs in this type of situation!
Someone (over and above the dogs themselves) could get hurt.
posted by Drasher at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2009

Response by poster: Just wanted to say- there is no chance of the dogs killing or even injuring each other right now. Even if they were physically capable of it (one is too old/weak, the other is too small/weak), my parents keep them completely separate with the baby gates at this point, and close them up in different rooms when they're not home. The problem that creates is that each dog becomes extremely anxious when he is the one separated from everyone by the gate. I have also suggested rehoming the terrier; my parents are going to stick it out with the baby gates forever rather than do that.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2009

Response by poster: Follow-up question: would it be a waste of money to get the professional training if the Chow doesn't get neutered? Even if my parents could be convinced to allow it, he's old enough that I don't know how well he'd bounce back from that. It might be possible to get the terrier neutered, though.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2009

It would absolutely NOT be a waste of money to get professional help, regardless of whether or not they neuter. Just be aware that any professional will likely recommend neutering.
posted by biscotti at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of the dogs should be rehomed.

I'm not being flip with such a short answer. The situation is poor for both dogs. Eventually, one of the dogs is going to slip past those baby gates. Neutering and professional assistance with socializing the dogs would be a huge help. Your parents don't seem equipped or inclined to deal with this situation. Since your parents didn't really train the chow, it's unrealistic to expect that they will learn and consistently practice new dog handling skills. Your folks have 14 years of bad habits to unlearn.

The situation isn't going to lead to a happy home for the two dogs. Find a new home for the Jack Russell. He's young and can be appropriately trained and socialized to be a good pet.
posted by 26.2 at 9:38 AM on December 20, 2009

JRs can easily jump regular-height baby gates. I'm not sure why he hasn't already, but once he figures it out, he will. Or slip past your parents as they move between spaces.

Training won't be a complete waste of time, especially if it will have a professional assess the situation in person, and possibly impress the seriousness of the situation on your parents.

Maybe we can also list here the kinds of qualifications or certifications a good behaviorist will have. Biscotti - what's the best resource for finding a good behaviorist?
posted by barnone at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2009

FYI that staring and circling situation is bad, really bad. That chow, even at 14, could kill the JR or provoke a fight so bloody that one or both is severely injured. And if your parents put an arm in there to try and pull one off, there could be severe consequences.

This is beyond "my dog is peeing on the couch" level of seriousness.
posted by barnone at 9:57 AM on December 20, 2009

Get the professional help for two reasons: 1) You need it. 2) The professional may be able to convince your parents that these dogs need to be fixed. There is NO good reason for these dogs to be intact. Having a neutral 3rd party say this may do the trick.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2009

Veterinarians can usually give you the names of who they recommend for behavior problems. You can look through the APDT website for trainer recommendations, many trainers are behaviorists (like human psychologists or therapists), but you may need a veterinary behaviorist (a vet who specializes in behavior and can prescribe meds, like a human psychiatrist). I might start with a trainer who specializes in behavior problems, since they often take a more holistic approach (i.e. they assess the home situation and owner skill levels and the temperaments of both dogs, etc.). However, this problem will not be solved without full commitment from your parents, and this doesn't seem likely to happen, so rehoming the younger dog is probably a better choice.
posted by biscotti at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

NEUTER them, these are two assertive dogs. I have had about 20 dogs in my life, and un-neutered males are very difficult. Jack Russells are very assertive, I cannot imagine what a intact male must be like!! I think this is a dangerous situation for the dogs and the humans. I would not give up on the Jack Russell, but your parents really should consider neutering, professional training, and perhaps anti-anxiety drugs.
posted by fifilaru at 3:11 PM on December 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you very much everyone.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:07 AM on December 21, 2009

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