Aggression in Housemates

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There are few things more difficult to manage in a multi-pet household than aggression amongst housemates.  Not only is it dangerous for the pets who are aggressive towards each other, it is dangerous for the people in the home, and for other pets.  Well-intentioned people often try to break up fights, and get seriously injured in the process.  And sometimes, the extra stress of living with housemates who hate each other can lead to other pets also starting to fight.  I dealt with this myself for a long time, and it is not easy to perfectly keep the aggressors separate or to know exactly every trigger that will set them off.  The more often pets fight, the shorter their fuse, and it can get to the point where nobody has to actually do anything at all, they will see each other and attack.

 

If you do have pets that fight each other, it is best to separate them, possibly forever.  That means not even being able to see the other animal, because just being seen by the aggressor can cause fear in the victim as well as feelings of aggression in the aggressor.  This is especially true with cats.  You do this for the safety of the animals and the people in the home.  If it is just 2 pets that are fighting we usually recommend rehoming the victim and treating the aggressor with behavior modification.  Sometimes it is best for the aggressor to be euthanized if the safety of people or other pets in the house hold can not be adequately guaranteed.  Rehoming an aggressive animal is only recommended with FULL disclosure of the animal's aggression.  

The second step in treating aggression among house mates is to schedule a behavior consult ASAP.  These are often very complex situations and may not involve only the animals who are actually fighting.  Sometimes the aggressor and the victim are not clear.  The early signs of aggression are subtle and are often missed or ignored.  

The absolute worst thing to do is nothing, hoping the animals will work things out themselves.  Talk to us or one of our recommended trainers, Melissa Lucas of Come Sit Stay in Sanford or Abby Ganin-Toporek of Sandhills Dog Training in Southern Pines right away.  

 

 

This video is my own home.  All 3 dogs are on the sofa, 2 of whom- Sirella the rottie and Annika the husky curled up in a ball- are completely comfortable.  Natasha is NOT comfortable with this new situation.  We had just started allowing Annika on the sofa.  Natasha had been asleep and just woke up to find Annika a little too close for her comfort. 

 

Notice how Natasha's ears are in what I call "Great Horned Owl" position, out to the sides, or flat against her head.  She is licking her lips a lot, and I assure you there was no food present.  Towards the end, she starts licking and scratching herself.  The lick-lipping and scratching are both called Distracted Behaviors.  Natasha is putting on these behaviors in an attempt to be "normal" but the behaviors are out of place.  It's like someone who can't stop giggling when they're nervous.  

I did desensitize and counter-condition Natasha to accept Annika when Annika is laying on the sofa with her.  In fact they now sleep together on the sofa all night.  Whenever Natasha was calmly laying next to Annika, I gave her some treats.   I also had to keep Annika from staring at Natasha, which makes Natasha very uncomfortable.  I did that just by calling Annika to me whenever she was staring.  At first I had to keep Annika on a leash because she wouldn't come to me when called, and I had to use it to gently guide- not pull, tug, yank, or drag- Annika towards me.  For treats of course:)  Eventually Natasha understood that I would intervene whenever Annika did anything to make her uncomfortable.  And Annika now understands that staring is impolite and doesn't do it any more.  

What I did not do is wait until Natasha was so uncomfortable with Annika being close and staring at her that she escalated to growling or biting.  I didn't let them "work it out" themselves.  I made sure that the things that made Natasha uncomfortable stopped ASAP.  After all, Natasha was here first and she deserves to be happy too.