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Where's the line between hierarchy and bullying?


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Looking for some insights because I've never had two dogs in one household before. The girls are getting along splendidly most of the time but Cal's guarding is becoming an issue again with Panda's introduction into the family a few weeks ago. We had gotten it under control (with the understanding that it's a lifelong issue and we are at a point where we can take her food away and not get snarled at), but Cal is getting snarly towards Panda if she so much as looks at her too closely while Cal is eating.

 

And Cal is started to steal Panda's food. She actually instigated a fight over it the other night. Cal finished her food first (we had it in the kitchen) and Panda was still happily munching in the living room (about 20 feet and a wall of space) and Cal decided that she wanted Panda's so she bullied her way in and pinned Panda down with a vicious snarl when Panda tried to pull her own food closer with her paw. The poor babe yelped and went down submissively and Cal kept her pinned and snarled while I jumped up and pulled her off.


Panda doesn't seem scared of Cal at all, and they were playing happily later. But what's the line between bullying and asserting that Cal's the alpha between the girls? A point that Panda doesn't really contest at all...Did I overreact? Am I giving Cal human qualities like jealousy or bullying?

 

And how do I differentiate a borderline fight between the hierarchy being established? That snarl sounded vicious but Panda was obviously unhurt after and really didn't seem shaken either, even though my heart was pounding. I've seen REAL dog fights at the shelter, so I know how to handle those, but how do I handle my own bratty girls at home when they get in a tiff?

 

Any thoughts or help appreciated! :)

 

P.S. - We've been doing a LOT of positive reinforcement with Cal and being accepting of her new sister and she's doing so well and obviously loves having a buddy. She chooses to be near Panda throughout the day because Pan is crated and lays next to her a lot and even lets Panda cuddle up closer and closer to her with every day that goes by. Other than what seems like food/edible item aggression on Cal's part, they're also sharing wonderfully, even toys and snoozing spaces (like beds, rugs, or the couch, not crates...Never sharing crates. That's each dog's personal space). They play so nicely and Cal is obviously being gentle with Panda and very, very patient with the puppy biting when they play.

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And to clarify, I know that I should treat my own dogs like I do those at the shelter and think of my own safety first. I know but sometimes I forget because they're mine...I'm more asking how to differentiate between the sounds and what looks like a fight but probably isn't.

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If Panda was pestering Cal, a fairly mild air-snap/snarl warning correction is okay. The food taking and the rest? Not letting the pup back up and moving on? Over the line, in my household. Dogs are allowed to say 'no' (as in no, you don't get my food, no you can't have that toy, no, I don't want to play right now or that way) to each other, and have that respected, but that's as far as it goes. The dog snarls at another minding its own business gets removed. The dog who doesn't listen to no gets removed.


I have five. There IS NO hierarchy that I can identify. It's cyclic, it depends on who values what resource most and playstyles. It's not 'someone is the boss of someone else'. Out of five. Kylie humps Thud when given a chance and tells him off for trying to play and takes food out of his mouth. Thud won't share food and will scream down Jack for trying, but Kylie will let Jack have her food. It's like that in all things. Molly will take toys from Thud and Bug, but Jack takes the toys he wants from Molly without complaint. But Thud and Bug take them from Jack.

 

They're not wolves.

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I'd agree that Cal is over the line. I'd keep them clearly separated when all food is present, perhaps even to the point of feeding in crates.

 

I understand and accept a dog defending it's own food, but I do my darndest to prevent a dog's being in the position she or he feels they need to. I won't tolerate a dog stealing another dog's food from it.

 

ETA: You might consider doing some research on the whole Alpha mentality. It's been debunked, even by the wolf scientist who originally proposed it.

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My dogs eat in their crates. My guys are all really food motivated and I don't want trouble.

 

Tommy sometimes gives Zeke a bad time . She will block him so he can't get to his food. He just backs down but I don't like that so I just have everyone eat where they are supposed to.

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Whoa, I definitely need to read up on dog behaviors in groups of two or more. Cal's never had a friend stay long enough that it became an issue. A week and a half is about the longest we've had canine guests and there's still so much novelty there for her in that span that she's super pleased to have company and doesn't start on her quirks.

 

I will separate them any time Cal shows unnecessary dominance over Panda. Luckily I think all that'll take is a distraction for Cal. A "come" and something else for her to do like eat her own dinner or drink some water.

 

We actually have the whole house gated because of the toddler, so it'll be very easy to separate them for food. We just put some new gates up in the kitchen so Cal will continue to eat in the kitchen and Panda will eat in the front hall until both are done with their meals!

 

Any hope for this behavior becoming habit over the years and they'll just start to ignore each other at meal times with enough years of habit forming separation?

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In multidog homes, the humans have to adopt the attitude that they own everything--the food, the toys, the furniture etc. It is much better to prevent fights before they start. You do have 2 females in the house and you don't want to get into a bitch fight situation which is often untenable. The dogs need to be fed separately behind closed doors and all high value resources need to be removed. Remember, you own everything. The new dog is in a honeymoon period and these last 2-3 months. The dog that you have now may not be the dog that you have in 3 months. In 3 months, Panda may start fighting back. You need to run your home in a manner that fights don't start. You need to monitor the dogs for hard stares, posturing, etc and redirect before things progress. Once you know Panda better, you can start to relax things a bit.

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I agree with keeping the dogs separated at mealtimes - and by that, one, or both, should be behind a closed door. That way, if one finishes faster and starts looking for more food, you don't have to be on high alert to prevent it. I mean, if you want to constantly monitor, OK, but it is so easy to forget for a second or two and that might be when trouble starts again. I would also pick up each dog bowl not letting the other dog lick it. If Cal is looking to lick Panda's bowl (which IMHO is how this pattern can start), and if it is not there, she may not be so eager to eat fast and run to look to Panda's bowl for more food.

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I didn't used to, but now my girls eat in separate rooms. Lyka likes to stare Lily down or position herself over Lily's bowl if it's close enough so Lily not wanting to fight over it leaves. So now Lily eats out of Lyka's sight in whatever room I'm in so I can keep an eye out for Lyka trying to sneak in. However, if it got bad I would definitely go to closed crate feedings.

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Agree with all the above. Of course your dogs need respect for their own space and their own needs, but what you described is unacceptable in my household. Nobody gets to interfere with anybody else's meals. So definitely count on separating them at mealtimes from now on. Feeding in crates works great, but if it's easier to just gate them in different areas, go for it.

If food is the only trigger you see, manage that to avoid any chance of conflict and it sounds like the rest should be good.

As others have said, the "alpha" thing is pretty much a load of rubbish. :rolleyes: Sure, one dog may be kind of pack leader - in my house, it's my male dog, Nick. My 3 girls all defer to him and let him go first through the door and whatnot. But not even that gives him the right to bully or mistreat anyone. These are domestic dogs, not wolves, so overt displays of dominance have no place with us.

Best of luck! :)

~ Gloria

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I have three boys and although two are brothers, I still feed them in three different locations, one in the kitchen, one in the laundry (with a closed door between) and one just outside the back door. The one in the kitchen eats the slowest, so we give him his food last and wait until he finishes, comes into the living room, jumps on the couch and starts rubbing his head against the back of the couch. Once he is done, we let the other two in and give them all a treat.

 

Treats are given jointly, and we have never had a fight over food, but I don't push it either.

 

We did feed the two brothers together at first, but one would gulp his tea and go to the other bowl, which was not fair on the slower dog, who would yield the bowl. So we started separating them and have kept going ever since.

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Dear Panthers,

 

For years when I put out food for two guard dogs, with a curled lip the dominant bitch would push the inferior off the food . When she had eaten her fill she went back on duty and the other dog finished what was left. When I put out bones for sheepdogs and guard dogs they all get one and polish them off QUICK. I don't think I've ever seen a dominant bitch having finished her own bone chase an inferior off theirs. Nor has there been any squabbles. I've noticed, however, that some inferiors disappear into the bushes as soon as they get their bone.

 

Donald McCaig

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My dogs are always fed separately. They can get a bit snarky with resource guarding over food and toys. I hadn't had this issue before these two - mostly because there was a definite hierarchy and Kipp was the most "low on the totem" pole dog ever.

 

Kolt started trying to resource guard from the get go. He dove in to grab a toy from Kenzi snarling like crazy when he was 10 w/o. Which earned him a prompt removal from the situation and a "what the heck are you doing?!?" from me. And Kenzi is competitive and pushy, too. So as soon as the puppy license wore off she started posturing a bit. And when stuff happens, she postures and Kolt growls. To an outsider, she looks innocent and Kolt looks like the instigator. But it's often pretty equal.

 

That said, my two live mostly in peace with each other and do enjoy each other's company. They run, play, work for treats in tandem just fine. I step in when I see behavior start to be thrown, tell them to knock it off and whatever is causing the problem becomes mine.

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My females are fed separately; Faith (4) in her crate and Georgia (almost 11) on the other size of the room. Faith is very respectful of GA 99% of the time. Food is something she will occasionally push her luck with. And if allowed to push too much, it would not be pleasant. Short fuses there. In my house as soon as a dog is finished eating they must leave the area. If I am late picking up empty bowls, GA will remind me by lying in front of hers. Also, while I am prepping their meals they must be in their "spot" either sitting or lying down and wait to be released before diving into their bowls.

 

On the flip side, neither of my females care what Tex does, or what he eats where, or if he wants their toys.

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They share toys beautifully so far and they seem to play quite fairly even if it is so rough with the tumbling and sitting on each other. Cal's still pretty gentle with her weight and where she lands, she's got 50 lb to Panda's mayyyybe 20.

 

It's really the food that's the issue. Thanks for all the suggestions, they'll be eating separately from now on! Panda actually ate her dinner in her crate because we threw her dish in there for a moment for safe keeping because we weren't ready to feed it (she's getting a dewormer sprinkled on top and Cal can't have any), she followed it in, and then the baby closed her in with a maniacal giggle. She seemed content with the arrangement so we left her until she finished and Cal was in the kitchen by then. :)

 

Help me understand what you all mean by posturing. What do I look for as her personality develops?

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Posturing is just that. A dog strikes exaggerated poses of dominance by standing as tall as possible, i.e. stiff legs, head high as possible and neck arched, tail held up high and stiff. This may include "looming over" the other dog, staring at them very hard, stepping into their personal space and perhaps making not allowing the other dog to break off or step away easily. Remember, in dog body language a hard, prolonged stare is a form of challenge.

In my view it's rather like how schoolyard bullies act, just basically trying to look all big-stuff and encroaching on the other dog's comfort zone. :)

~ Gloria

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There's a whole lot of body language going on between dogs all the time. IMO anyone with more than one dog would be sell served learning about how dogs communicate through body language.

 

There's a very good book on the subject, though I can't recall its name or the author ATM. I'm also sure there's lots to be found online.

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Hmm. I guess Cal does some of that, but it's more in-your-face type aggression. Like she'll step on Panda and just stare her down and not let her get up. She likes to be in direct physical control rather than presumed control, maybe? Anyway, thankfully it's pretty rare so far and I'll keep an eye out for it now that I know to be aware and make her quit it when she starts it up.

 

So far I really think she's so thrilled to have Panda and she's gotten over her realization that this one's staying (versus her friends leaving when she gets sick of them). Food issues aside, we have a pretty relaxed household at the moment...Well, about as relaxed as you can get with two Border Collies and a curious toddler underfoot!

 

Thanks all!

 

@GentleLake - I'll look them up! Let me know via message if you happen to recall the name(s) of the best books!! my Kindle is looking bare these days.

 

Posturing is just that. A dog strikes exaggerated poses of dominance by standing as tall as possible, i.e. stiff legs, head high as possible and neck arched, tail held up high and stiff. This may include "looming over" the other dog, staring at them very hard, stepping into their personal space and perhaps making not allowing the other dog to break off or step away easily. Remember, in dog body language a hard, prolonged stare is a form of challenge.

In my view it's rather like how schoolyard bullies act, just basically trying to look all big-stuff and encroaching on the other dog's comfort zone. :)

~ Gloria

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There's a whole lot of body language going on between dogs all the time. IMO anyone with more than one dog would be sell served learning about how dogs communicate through body language.

 

There's a very good book on the subject, though I can't recall its name or the author ATM. I'm also sure there's lots to be found online.

 

Patricia McConnell has a good book on body language. I can't remember if it's The Other End of the Leash or For The Love of a Dog. Both are very good but one of them has pictures of dogs displaying different body language; and she then goes on to explain.

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Got the info on the book I was thinking of, as well as another by the same author. I'd emailed a former pet sitting client who's moved away who I knew had them. Here's what she wrote:

 

"The two books I’d recommend for her are both by the same author, Brenda Aloff. The one on body language is Canine Body Language, A Photographic Guide…Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog. The second book is Aggression in Dogs, Practical Management, Prevention and Behavior Modification. I’m assuming the reason she needs the book is due to some kind of aggression so both books should be a help. Problem is a lot of what the dog’s body tells us is really subtle (how the mouth is shaped, are the eyes open or squinty, a tiny freeze) so really easy to miss. But hopefully these will help."

 

Her next to last sentence reaffirms something else I'd wanted to mention, that it's important to be aware of these really subtle signals from both dogs. It's all too common for a dog to get blamed for starting something when it's really the other dog (the seemingly innocent one) who was actually the instigator. So definitely good to keep close tabs on both of them.

 

Another book I highly recommend is Turid Rugaas' On Talking with Dogs: Calming Signals, which addresses the body language dogs use to try to avoid confrontation. I haven't read Aloff's books thoroughly, so these may be covered in Canine Body Language.

 

HTH

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Having a new puppy and a second female I've been thinking about dynamics a lot. Previously had 2 females that did not get along and don't want to end up with the same. It is never ok for one dog to take the others food. Ours also eat in their crates.

 

I do allow the adult dog Abbey to reprimand the puppy Shay when it is appropriate, but recently I've noticed a little bit of resource guarding of me so need to remember what I was told years ago .... Get up and walk away. I do not belong to either dog.

 

Gina

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I am always fascinated to observe how the dynamics change in groups when one individual leaves or a new one comes. Many of the same behaviors and dynamics occur across the board, whether it is dogs or cats or people or any other creature that has a social structure.

 

I thought that another dog would rise to "top dog" position when my Jester died. He was plainly "top dog", and maintained that position at all times no matter who else came or went, and being a foster home for many years, a lot of dogs did. He was never overt about it, but everyone respected his position. When he died I was sort of placing personal bets on who I thought would become "top dog", but interestingly enough, in the past 4 months no one has. The three dogs seem to be on equal footing with one another. It's very peaceful.

 

I always feed my animals separately. Each has his or her own space with doors closed between. I think it's important for everyone to feel comfortable and to know he or she can take their time without anyone else watching or waiting to finish it off if they don't. I also can keep good track that way of who is finishing the meal and who is not.

 

The dogs also know that, while they are allowed to own toys of their own, I am allowed to take them if I want to. Ditto anything else - food, couch, etc. They have no problem with that.

 

My animals really don't have altercations for the most part. When they have had, I watch closely, and try to let them work it out themselves unless it is getting over the top or one animal is pestering another. I believe it's easy to be too controlling and interfere too much, and that doesn't allow the animals to work out their relationships on their own terms. What is considered "over the top", however, is a personal line to draw. I allow the occasional growl, but I say in a quiet voice, "No growling, please." On the rare occasions that there is anything physical it is cut short immediately.

 

Of course, I spend a lot of time observing my animals, so I pretty much know what they are on about, and mostly it's just the little irritations that develop in any group that lives together.

 

How Cal and Panda interact now may not be how they interact in a week, a month, a year. Relationships are fluid. Enjoy the observations, and I'd say try not to interfere overmuch.

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