Squabbles at home? If you have more than one dog then there is always a possibility that there may be some sort of squabble or indiscretion between the dogs. This is obviously more likely to happen in multi-dog families where good dog management is essential.
Observing body language and controlling tense situations
It is advisable to keep a close eye on the dogs when friends and other people visit. Or when they are interacting with each other and with unfamiliar people, so as to defuse any potential indiscretion or over-excited behaviour. By observing their body language you can step in before any threatening behaviour can escalate.
Generally, a threatening dog will stand up and forward to try and look larger than they are. Their ears will be slightly forward and their tail raised and often swinging back and forth. They will make direct, strong eye contact with their adversary. If you see any of these signals being displayed by any of the dogs, you need to immediately redirect their attention. You can do this by calling them away in a calm non- threatening voice or using a cue command like “enough”. Clapping your hands or blowing a whistle as a distraction is also quite effective in redirecting attention. Remember to praise them when they disengage from the unwanted behaviour.
Breaking up squabbles
It is most important to consider your own safety if a squabble occurs. Firstly try calling them off using a firm but a relaxed calm voice “come on guys, that’s enough ….” and clap your hands. Avoid shouting and excessive chasing around the dogs. If the dogs disengage their behaviour praise them also in a calm voice.
Should the squabble continue, throw a dog blanket or large towel over the dogs and then pick one up. If you are concerned about a possible outburst, it may be useful to keep some blankets or towels around the house for quick use in the event of an incident.
As soon as you have stopped the squabbles place each dog in a separate room or area, for a timeout or calming down period. This will teach them that squabbling is unacceptable.
If any of the dogs display any unwanted behaviours, place them in a separate area or room with no verbal and as little as possible physical interaction. This is to avoid any possibility that they may misinterpret your actions of putting them in time-out as your approval rather than punishment. Allow them time to calm down. This will teach them that the behaviour was unacceptable and unrewarding.
If time-outs are used consistently and in the same manner each time the unwanted behaviour is displayed, they will learn to avoid that particular behaviour as it is unrewarding to them. When you release them from the time-out area, watch for any signs that they may try to continue with the improper behaviour. If they do, simply place them back in the time-out area. You can continue to do this until they display the desired behaviour on being released. The length of time that they spend separated depends on the severity of the incident and on how quickly they calm down. Start with about five minutes.
Please note, if you use time-out for destructive behaviour, you must catch the dog in the act as disciplining them afterwards will have no effect on this behaviour
Regular exercise is extremely important for a dog and will help tremendously with both physical and mental stimulation which in turn will help to limit the potential for any indiscretions. Walk them as often as possible and try to vary the route or location. A simple drive in the car will also help to give them stimulation. A well-stimulated dog is less likely to display unwanted behaviours.
By Gordon, Trainer at DogtownSA