Don’t be lulled into believing that Sofie likes Charles, even just a little, she doesn’t. I know she can really hurt him (55 pounds vs 15 pounds) and I am very watchful. Charles will be with us a year next month and it has been a learning for all of us. Even though all 7 of my animals have all learned to live together, it does not mean they are bonded to each other or are a pack. Sofie would probably throw Charles down the stairs if I wasn’t watching. The challenge I have with the two of them is mostly due to resource guarding.
When a dog is resource guarding there are 3 levels of escalation :
Low level guarding: Dog growls and bares her teeth
Medium level guarding: Dog snaps and lunges
High level guarding: Dog bites
After years of trying counter conditioning and all the lovely things that behaviorists and trainers have taught me to do, I have settled on the following methods to keep everyone safe.
Avoidance – I care less about what causes the behavior and more about keeping everyone safe. Charles eats in a pen (he’s aggressive towards animals and humans). Cats eat up off the floor. Sofie eats with a leash on. (Sofie is not aggressive toward Louise or humans).
Exercise – I try to walk everyone before dinner (never after because of bloat). “A tired dog is a happy dog.” More importantly, I believe that dogs like to work for things and this way they work for food.
Training – I make them all sit/stay when I put the bowls down until I give them the release word (Let’s Eat!). I like to think I have taught them a little control and this keeps them focused on the meal and less on each other. I also have trained them to ‘Leave it!” when I don’t want them mouthing something, whether food or not. This doesn’t change the anxiety or fear-based aggression tendencies but training should always be part of any program.
Don’t feed while humans are eating and don’t feed from your plate. Alpha’s in the wild do eat first and also scraps are just bad for dogs. I lose this battle at home often, so don’t feel bad if you do too. I am better at training animals than people.
In my multi-animal household, I don’t try for bonding or love or anything like that between the animals. The number one rule is to keep everyone safe. I respect that each animal has its own temperaments and quirks. I accept that animals will be animals and I don’t expect them to reason or to change certain anxiety or fear-based behaviors. Never trust that a growl won’t turn into a snap which then turns into a bite.
How do you keep your furballs safe when they are eating?