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Friend or foe?

Published: 
Sunday, July 15, 2018

This series of articles will cover inter-dog aggression. Readers must understand that these articles are for guidance only. Aggression between dogs is a complex psychological condition requiring a professional dog behaviourist to evaluate and treat each case individually. In this second (and then third) articles of the series we will assess how and when inter-dog aggression develops.

Inter-dog aggression is fighting between dogs living in the same household. In human society, it is often said that “we can choose our friends but not our family.” While dogs are social and live in groups, in a free-ranging environment a dog would be able to choose which group to live in and to leave those groups where he is not welcome. This applies to humans as well—most of us would not be able to live peacefully with a group of individuals that someone else picks for us. Most of us cannot even live harmoniously with our own families! However, we expect our dogs to do just that—live with friends that we pick for them, but some dogs will simply never be friends.

The natural dog pack consists of strong individuals and weaker members. The strong protect and guide the rest. Size is not necessarily an indication of strength in some cases—many dog owners are familiar with the tiny yappy fluffy dog who “rules over” the massive docile St Bernard! However, there is generally a parental figure (sometimes two—a male and a female) who takes charge and who the rest follow. At this stage, we must address the “alpha” concept. Sadly, many dog breeders, trainers, and owners still buy into the “alpha” myth. This outdated idea that there is a dominant male and/or female who aggressively keeps the rest of the pack in submission has little scientific data to support it. People who breed and train dogs often tolerate and perhaps even encourage aggressive behaviour between dogs because they think it normal when it is not. Rank is never absolute, and it is never taken—it is conferred by others. We will come back to this in a later article to this series and show you how you, as a dog owner, may be contributing to your dogs’ fighting.

Dogs have two developmental stages of maturity. The first is sexual maturity and this is when a dog becomes physically capable of reproduction—the testicles in the male descend and the female goes into her first heat. On average this happens at around six months of age. The second is social maturity which is when a dog becomes an adult, which occurs between 18 to 24 months of age. The period between sexual and social maturity is when a dog tries to challenge his owners and other dogs, similar to a teenager testing the boundaries set by his parents. It is during this period that an owner may first notice signs of aggression between the dogs.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018

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