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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fighting females

Jan,
I have two Australian Cattle Dogs, both females, that hate each other.  One is about a year old and the other is about three.  The vicious fighting started last year.  They mean business, and we have incurred several large vet bills because they tear each other up.  The fights seem to be over me; when I show attention to one, the other bristles up, and then they'll just explode into a violent fight.  They get along okay during the day when I'm gone, but they can't be in the house together if I am there.  I have to keep one in the bedroom if both are inside.  I feel like I'm walking on eggshells, waiting for a time bomb to go off.  What can I do?
Lisa

Lisa,
I could give you a long-winded, optimistic reply about how you could modify the behavior over time and get the two to peacefully coexist.  Some trainers would do that.  I won't.  Life is too short, and no one in your household is happy right now with all this tension.  For the sake of everyone, re-home one of the females in an environment that's more suited for her. (i.e., no other females, no cats,  whatever...)

Your situation is not unusual.  You have two strong-willed, same-breed females--tenacious "heelers," no less--and there are serious issues between the two of them.  While the fights probably do start over you, the tension is always under the surface, and you're correct to liken it to a time bomb.  You simply shouldn't have to tiptoe around your own home and dogs, nor should you take the chance that you can affect the behavior sufficiently to make a permanent change.  Certainly there are steps you can do to postpone another violent fight, but the next one could be the worst yet, and will likely occur when you're least expecting it.

Years ago I saw two red female Dobermans, littermates, try to kill each other in my class.  They blew up so  unexpectedly that none of us saw it coming.  The two young dogs had been sitting quietly and obediently next to each other with their owners when they suddenly exploded at each other.  We managed to get them apart, but not before one had torn her sister's ear and left puncture wounds on her muzzle.  The owners then told me this was an ongoing issue; the dogs had hated each other since adolescence, and their fights had resulted in numerous visits to the vet.   We explored various types of behavior modification, ways to mitigate, ways to better expend the dogs' energy, ways to manage them.  Yet I was pessimistic about how much success they would have.  Frankly, I could see the people were not up to the task. It would have been a lot of work, with no guarantees the fights would stop.

Like your situation, each of the dogs was great without the other.  Each was entitled to live a life of peace and low stress, which would not be possible if they lived together.  Careful re-homing may be heartbreaking for you, but it would definitely be in the best interest of the dogs you love.

2 comments:

Luann Combs said...

We have two females that have had similar issues, but not as bad as these in your blog. Scuffles have been over food, and human attention, and sometimes over who-knows what. We had to become stronger pack leaders, and things have improved dramatically. I can now pet our 9yr old Husky/Aussie without our 18mo old Lab getting brissled up and ready for attack. The younger is getting more confident and less fearful. She is learning what is not tolerated. I can see them change their minds and turn and walk away instead of fight. The worst thing was when they were playing last Spring and our Husky bit the Lab. They quickly split up and a little later I saw the wound and took her in for stitches. The Vet said it was an accident type wound. That is the only wound so far and hopefully will ever have. I just want to say that it CAN get better, and takes alot of diligence and patience and situation management, but they are becoming good buddies. Both are spayed. We love them both immensely and would break our hearts if we had to give one up, that is why we decided to work together to try to improve the situation. Good luck to all in similar situations.

Carolyn said...

I have a female that I took to the dog park almost daily for over a year, when she suddenly started jumping other dogs at about 2 1/2 yrs old -- usually females, but occasionally males if they did something she didn't like. She never actually bit anyone, but she sounded very scary (and is 85 lbs.), and I had to stop taking her to the dog park. I took her to a dog behaviorist, and she basically said that it was somewhat common for dog park regulars to start this once they hit about 2 years old -- basically the "mean girl" syndrome. like teens picking on new kids at school. I have since adopted another older female, and at first I didn't think it would work out, but she has gotten MUCH better. I mainly just had to be aware of what might set her off (I can usually tell if she's about to do it), and she has slowly gotten better. I had the same issue with a female foster dog. I went so far as to try to re-home my first dog, and she was all set to go off to a prison program, but I couldn't go through with it at the last minute. So now I just know that I can't foster females and that I have to watch her with new dogs. (Even from the beginning, she never did it with dogs she was already friends with.) I've had the second female a year now, and they co-exist pretty well. It also helps, I think, that I have a male dog as well, and they both love him. So it can get better, but if there is actual injury happening, I really think that most cases will not have a happy ending.