Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dog pack issues

Having four dogs (all female) can be it's own special challenge, especially when two of them are breed mixes that can tend to have dog aggression issues. Yes, the two I'm referring to in this case are Jessie, and Missy. Jessie is a Chow mixed with who knows what else, and Missy is a Pit/Shepherd mix (we're guessing). I'd love to have them DNA tested for breed, but that's probably another post, and isn't going to happen right now.

So, here's the biggest issue we have right now. Jessie and Missy do not get along so well. In fact, Jessie and Missy fight pretty hard, and it's not the noisy fake fighting that so often happens with dogs, they are out for blood, and have gotten it a few times. If it weren't for the fact that there has been some fairly serious damage, I'd let them have it out, but I am fairly certain that doing so will result in a fatality, if not a major loss of something important. In fact, Missy has already been injured enough to need a vet visit.

They are fairly evenly matched, but Jessie has an advantage, because her thick full hair protects her from teeth, especially since Missy tends to go for the neck. Jessie goes for the face, and that's how Missy would up looking like this:
I think we were pretty lucky that it wasn't her eye that was injured, but it was close. Here's how it looked a couple days later:

Now, you might be thinking that there is something wrong with my dogs, or with me, that causes this kind of strife, but surprisingly, it's not uncommon to have issues when there is a group of dogs. For these girls, the trigger seems to be guarding. Guarding what? Well, me, The Mate, food, Krissie, a coveted spot on the floor... they seem to be able to get going on most anything. It seems that I'm starting to be more aware of when things might start, and can stop it at those times, but if I'm not right there, then who knows what will happen. So, our current solution is that Missy is crated during high stress time (feeding etc), and at night. Luckily, she really likes the crate, and gets her Kong toy full of treats and just kicks back to relax. So that's a good thing.

So, when this first started, we realized we had a few options.

  • We could take Missy back to the place we got her. We aren't terribly happy with that idea, because she risks being put to sleep there. She deserves every chance we can give her.
  • We could find Missy a great new home without another dog who insists on fighting with her. However, we were fairly attached already, and would like to save that as a last resort. But, if it turns out to be best for her, then it's the way we'll go.
  • We could rehome Jessie somewhere else, and let her live out her years as a solo dog. The issue I had with that is in the first place, Jessie was our first dog, and we owe her a happy old age. Second, she can get snippy with people, and I wonder if she wouldn't bite somebody else. Third, she has seizures, and a lot of people wouldn't want a "defective" dog. 
  • We could put one or the other to sleep. We don't want to use that kind of option unless it's needed because their quality of life is horrible, not just because of something inconvenient.
  • We could ask the vet to drug them up to keep them calm. I'm not sure the risk of side effects is worth this one.
  • We could find a way to keep them apart so they don't get the chance to fight. Yeah, that's the option we've chosen.
So, after figuring out how we'd like to proceed, our next step is to get Missy into Obedience training. Krissie will be going as well, since she's at that age where she needs it. Jessie already graduated, but when we talk to the instructor, we may see if we can have him/her spend a little time with all the dogs to see how they interact and offer advice as well. I haven't found a dog behaviorist really close to us, but if the training and other things we've implemented don't help, then I'll look for one. Until tonight, we haven't even had them get past the point of growling, because we've been right there to prevent it, but we did have a near miss tonight. The Mate was petting Jessie, and Missy growled, and all hell broke loose. To stop it, I grabbed his walker, and slammed it between them, with Jessie behind me, and Missy in front of me, and wouldn't let them near each other until everybody was calm. Then we all went to the kitchen and had a session of "Sit" and "Wait" and "Leave It" to distract them. 

On the plus side, as long as we're vigilant in preventing them from getting into it, they have a lot of good times, and really enjoy life, so we're hopeful that they will at least have that. And, Jessie is getting up there in years and slowing down, so the time probably isn't too far off that we'll lose her. I'm really not looking forward to that day, we've had Jessie for going nearly 9 years, and in her own way, she's my favorite. Aw heck, they're each my favorite in different ways. In closing, here's a picture of the four of them at the dog park, playing in the snow.