Nicky is 13, and Ash is 11, and they are strongly bonded, so Brandon has been worrying lately that one of them will die and the other will be horribly distraught. So, he started to look through Petfinder at what local rescues have, and found a small terrier named Jewel that I quickly dubbed “Wicket” because she looked just like an Ewok. We made our way down to an adoption event in Palo Alto on Saturday, with Nicky and Ash in the car to meet her, should we think she had the right temperament.
When we realized we couldn’t find Jewel in the outside pens, we went to talk to someone about her (since Brandon had been emailing with someone), only to find that the reason she was away is that she was highly aggressive with other dogs. Knowing Ash like we do, we decided to check her out anyway, and… yeah, no, there was no way. The rescue recommended another dog, however, named Sadie, who is a 1yo whippet/shepherd mix and was both child- and dog-tested. Brandon and the kids walked her, and that was great, and her introduction to both of our dogs went swimmingly. She is a beautiful brindle color and was really sweet with a playful personality, so we decided she would be the one for us — even after we had a long talk with the adoption coordinator about the increased exercise needs for this breed. Brandon had to take the kids to swimming, so I stayed with her to fill out the paperwork and buy the appropriate supplies. We bonded as she constantly stole treats from the boxes that the store had foolishly placed at pet-head-height :)
When everyone arrived back, we took a photo together as a family and then piled into the car. Actually, at this point, Brandon took Katie to the bathroom, I got Max to his seat opposite me on the side of the car where I was loading the dogs, and put Sadie in first, with Ash to follow. They nearly instantly got into a roaring, screaming fight. I didn’t know who caused it, so I yanked Ash back, told Max to get out of the car as quickly as he could (he was crying but he was too far for me to reach), and we waited for Brandon to come back. He ended up riding home in the back with her, and I had our other two in the front.
If I could describe the rest of the weekend that we were home with them, it would be this:
Nicky was generally cool with Sadie but she would push him and he would respond by showing teeth, growling, and removing himself. She tried to play bow to him but generally he is too old/deaf/disinterested to want to play.
Ash was territorial about everything: food, toys he had never seen before, Nicky, me. Initially he would fight with her and we’d pull them apart fast enough that it was not too bad. The fights started to ramp up, however, so that he was cowering under things and ambushing her, growling from a distance, and the like. She injured him on the first day.
Sadie was generally great but pushy. She is bigger than Ash and would not defer, nor would he, and she eventually got to the point that she was aggressively going after him as much as he was, her.
I emailed the rescue a few times:
date: Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 8:48 AM
subject: sadie update, question
Sadie had a great first day and night with us. :) She is a really awesome pup! I do have a question, however, mainly to make sure that we’re doing the right thing with her and our pre-existing guys.
Ash, our schnauzer and resident alpha, and she, are trying to determine their pack order. (Our cockapoo is super submissive and apathetic so he’s no problem.) She is now acting more as the aggressor towards him and it has escalated enough that she’s drawn blood from him twice (shallowly). We immediately separate them when this happens, but they are often seeking each other out and circling each other growling, which has been escalating more often than not, so they are definitely not capable of being left together alone at this point (which is reasonable and something we can deal with without issue). It’s territorial for sure, because it usually arises over food or a perceived shared toy. Ash has started to figure out that he’s not going to win in these situations because he hides behind us.
So, last night, she slept up front with Brandon, the guys slept with me in the back, and this morning we’re continuing to work on it. I would love any tips you have to help them through this process so there is no more injury :)
(Example: right now Sadie is throwing a ball around to herself, and Ash is staring at her growling, which she responds to by either ignoring him or barking and leaping across the room to bite him.)
Thanks! Feel free to call us!
I called Spencer, since he’s a dog trainer, and he walked us through some exercises. She was SUPER fun to play with, and we did a lot of that.
date: Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 8:28 PM
subject: sadie: we need help!!!!!
So to review, our current pet setup is Nicky (13 yr old cockapoo, submissive but not the point of peeing on things when he gets scared), Ash (11 yr old schanuzer, extremely territorial and definite alpha), and now Sadie.
Yesterday, things were pretty good at home but Sadie and Ash quickly started to get into it. The two triggers were food and toys, even though Ash had never been territorial about the toys in the house. Sadie easily outsizes him and drew blood twice in shallow cuts.
Our solution has been to separate them for meals (which we’ve been doing from the beginning since we knew Ash was like this about food already), sleeping them apart, and today, by removing all the toys. We’ve been separating them when either of them growls and also worked on introducing them to each other outside, doing the “two people walking, give treats if they pass well” thing.
However, they are getting worse. Sadie is trying to dominate Nicky and that would be going fine, except Ash is also territorial over Nicky, and their fighting is getting much more intense, and they are getting harder to separate. Ash has a sizeable gouge out of his shoulder now and he’s both scared of her (barking and growling from protected areas, shaking when he sees her) and reactively growling when he sees her, so we are keeping them separated. Sadie is happily uninjured and seems to be inquisitive and happy, although she’s a little barkier.
Both of our kids are fairly freaked out by the fights (our 4 yr old is bursting into tears now).
I’ll be staying home with them tomorrow but I really could use advice on either someone to bring in to help us all, or by having someone visit. If you could call myself or Brandon we would really appreciate it.
At that point I started calling trainers. On Monday I worked from home, and played with her a lot in the backyard. Ash was shaking and scared of her from the moment he woke up. Later in the morning, I had both of them outside (partially because she is so tall that she kept jumping over the gate I was putting between them), and they got into such a huge fight that I was barely able to separate them. Ash has a flank that is bruised and battered, and has 5 different bloody gouges. Finally, one of the trainers answered, and came over at 2. After talking to her, when she told me about the bite laws in CA (which are markedly different than those in WI — you are essentially required to report any bite that requires an ER visit, the dog is quarantined on-site for 10 days, etc), I instantly said that Sadie had to go back.
I called and emailed the rescue again and it turned out I had been sending my emails to .org (like their website) instead of .com. D’oh. They had a family in mind and Brandon drove Sadie to them in San Francisco while I sat there crying because Ash was so hurt, and I felt like a failure. The family has three sons and a big house in Tahoe, so that’s good.
Anyway, the trainer sent us a great email.
Hi Alison and Brandon,
I wanted to check in and see how you all are doing this morning. If you would like more feedback on what we talked about yesterday I would be happy to talk to you.
I know it’s a hard decision. If you are having second thoughts I would be happy to go over what it would take to keep Sadie. If you want me to watch the dogs together I would be happy to do that too, but that has already been done and it’s appears it’s the resource guarding, interaction styles and refusal to defer, that is increasing the tension and the problems and they now have some fear and aggression toward each other.
Sadie did not “listen” to Ash’s warning signals. (If I heard you correctly, you said he gave them) (BTW you never want to punish a growl. That does not mean you want your dog to growl, but the growl tells people and dogs to back off and if the growl is gone the dog just goes to the bite) I don’t think Sadie is used to being around a dog that resource guards and separation would be a must as well as training Ash not to guard people and objects. Also Sadie did not defer to Ash, nor Ash to Sadie. Both dogs kept up the fight until you intervene and you almost couldn’t break it up. Young children trying to take care of the situation could be quite dangerous, so the dogs would need to be separated all of the time until things can be worked out and even then, once you have see aggression there is always the possibility that you can see it again if the “right situation” occurs. Also Sadie does not respect Nicky and the signals to stop playing and leave me alone. This is not unusual for a younger dog, but she has not learned how to modulate her behavior when playing with certain dogs. (perhaps just older dogs). She was offering play behaviors that were appropriate should the other dog want to engage. Nicky and Ash get into fights occasionally but they are more like good friends arguing. While it looks serious, no dog is injured and it is over soon and life goes on as normal. You do have to be careful with treats around Nicky and Ash due to resource guarding of treats. Both of your dogs are older and need to be protected from young dog energy. Think of grandparents and young children energy. My dad always said “love to see them visit and love to see them go” The children/dogs can exhaust the older animal and the older animal does not have the same energy or need to play. The older animal exercise needs are different, play needs are different, interaction needs are different.
Breaking up a dog fight
Here are some ideas on breaking up a dog fight. BTW they usually
sound worse than they end up being.
1. You need to make sure children are safe
2. You need to make sure you and other adults are safe
3. you can toss a coat/sweater etc over them to distract them.
4. you can make a loud noise, throw water over them. Open an umbrella with eyes painted on it.
5. you can stick something between them.
6. you can bounce a tennis ball near them to get their attention – not good for a resource guarder
7. One trainer I know throws a tennis ball at the dogs.
You also don’t want to pull them away because if one dog does have a
good hold on the other the bite can become a tear and harder to fix.
What happened with the tick? [Ed: there was a tick behind her ear when she came home with us; it looked so much like a skin tag that it took me repeated inspections to realize that it was, in fact, a tick, and we removed it when she was here.]
If you have any questions please let me know,
This morning, Ash was super stiff from the pain, and shaking out of fear. He seems calmer now but we think that we’re going to probably not be able to get another dog while he’s around (and I’m okay with that).