No matter how much you try to socialize, train and desensitize your dogs to being around other dogs, sometimes dogs just don’t get along. You may have two dogs who used to get along well, but for some reason, they no longer tolerate one another, or maybe you brought a new dog into your home with the best of intentions, but your resident dog just cannot seem to adjust to the presence of a new dog in your home. It happens more often than you may think and it’s not all that surprising...Most people don’t want to live with every person they meet either!
The bad news is that sometimes you just can’t force two dogs to get along all of the time. The good news is that it’s not the end of the world! You do not have to re-home one of your dogs. A pet is a lifetime commitment; re-homing should be a last resort. Instead, you can help your dogs live a safe, comfortable, fulfilling life in the same home without forcing them to spend time together. Separating your dogs may feel heartbreaking for you and seem like a big adjustment at first, but most dogs get the hang of their new routine quickly and the reduced stress levels will make everyone happier in the long run.
A review of the information on these pages will help you understand why your dogs may not be getting along:
It is important to recognize signs of conflict between your dogs and not just assume that it will get better all by itself. Sometimes this takes the form of overtly aggressive behavior, such as growling and fighting, but you also want to be on the lookout for more subtle behaviors that indicate tension between your dogs. This commonly includes bullying behavior, such as staring with a stiff posture, and not letting the other dog play with toys, get attention or move freely around the home. These behaviors can cause unnecessary anxiety for one or both dogs that could eventually result in fighting or other behavior problems.
Whether or not your dog previously showed this behavior is not relevant anymore. You must take action to prevent fights and maintain the safety and happiness of your pets from this point forward.
DISCLAIMER: Your best bet if you really want to re-introduce your dogs after a serious fight is to find a skilled, qualified animal behavior consultant to help you determine what the source of tension is between your dogs and help you determine whether there are lifestyle changes you can make to minimize the chance of future fights between your dogs. If that doesn’t work, or if the behavior consultant tells you that it’s just not worth risking, it’s time to consider the “crate and rotate” lifestyle.
Some dog owners crate and rotate their dogs – that is to say, when one dog is enjoying free time in the house or yard, the other dog is safely confined in a secure room or crate with something to keep him or her happy and occupied. A favorite chew toy, a bone, a bully stick or other such treats often help the dog that is not out with the humans feel content until it’s his time with the family.
If your dog is not currently crate trained, now is a good time to get started! It is important that you get your dog accustomed to the crate and that you do not use the crate for punishment. Crating your dogs as part of a crate-and-rotate program is not punishment. It is a way for you to protect your dog's health and keep him/her safe. Crating, used properly, can be part of positive, responsible ownership. If you have not previously crate trained your dog, you'll want to review this page:
Make sure you invest in durable crates, as well as durable toys and chew items that your dog can enjoy while he/she is being crated. Remember, you want the dog to view the crate as a positive place, and you also want the dog to easily follow your cue to be crated. If you use the crate as punishment, you will have a dog that resists going into the crate.
Dogs should not be crated for an overly lengthy period of time. Ideally, you will not have to crate your dogs for long periods of time – if you can, let your dog out for a break after a maximum of four hours. If that’s not possible, and you must crate your dog for longer – say, while you are at work all day – eight hours is generally the recommended maximum.
Some owners who crate and rotate also find that it is beneficial to feed the dogs in their crates; feeding in crates not only helps the dogs to associate the crate with something positive (food), it also helps reduce the possibility of a fight occurring over resources (food, toys, etc).
Have a dog that, despite your best efforts, will not tolerate a crate? Try dog-proofing a room in your home (a spare bedroom, a laundry room or some other comfortable living space in your house that has a solid door that you can close securely) as a space in which to keep one of your dogs while your other dog is out with you.
You might also invest in some durable, easy-to-install baby gates. These are available in stores, online catalogs and popular pet catalogs – many have swinging doors so you don’t have to step over them and some can even be screwed into the wall for additional security. Spend some time with your dogs individually to teach them to respect the gates. Don’t let your dogs jump on the gates, push them over, chew on them or paw at them.
Here’s a link to an article on barrier-training your dogs:
Reinforce your dog for stopping and waiting before he/she reaches the barrier. You can do this by rewarding with food/treats, and also by teaching a "wait" cue. Once the dog has waited in place, you can release the gate as a reward. What you are teaching the dog here is that he/she must respect the gate and ask permission to get through. Never allow the dog to nudge or push the gate over; if he/she does, immediately place the dog on the other side of the gate. Put him/her in a sit/stay or "wait" command, then when the dog has demonstrated appropriate behavior, allow him/her to pass through. In addition, do not reward a whining or barking dog by opening the gate for him. The dog should wait quietly until you are ready for him/her to pass through.
Please keep in mind that baby gates should never be used as a way to separate dogs when you are not supervising them or are not present in the home. Most big dogs can knock down or chew through a gate. Gating can help create separate areas for the dogs so that each can be "free" in the home without a crate, while giving both dogs their own space.
Remember, while your dogs are loose, it is important to know where they are, have the barriers in place prior to letting them out, and to remove all potential items that could trigger a fight: food bowls, bones, favorite toys, etc.
You may find that your dogs need to be crated and separated in different areas of the house. If your dogs are unable to be in close proximity without being agitated, separation via both crates and different rooms may be necessary. If your dogs can tolerate being near each other and not show signs of aggression or anxiety, you may be able to crate them individually but in the same room. If you have a dog that guards the crate (i.e., is possessive of his/her space), it’s a good idea to separate them in different rooms.
Depending on your household schedule and routine, you will need to come up with a system that works for you. If you have other household members (roommates, family members), you will also need to take their schedules into consideration. It is important, too, that once you have figured out a system, that everyone in the household is "on board" with it.
It may take you weeks or months to get a routine that works for all involved. Once you establish that routine, stick to it. Dogs like routine, and will learn the "system" faster if you are consistent. Developing a consistent routine can include: identifying which crates you will use for which dogs, identifying where the crates are, determining which rooms they have access to, having scheduled times when they are out, having scheduled feeding times, etc.
If you have more than two dogs, it will be important to determine if any of them can be grouped together appropriately. Knowing which dogs can be rotated with each other will also be an important part of the routine. You may find that your dogs need to be rotated separately for all activities including feeding, exercise and time with you, or you might find that if you have multiple dogs, a pair may be able to be exercised together or spend time with you together.
Additional considerations for maintaining dogs on a crate-and-rotate system include obedience training and adequate exercise. Dogs trained in basic obedience can be easier to manage. Exercise helps keep your dogs fit both mentally and physically. It also burns off excess energy, thereby reducing anxiety and tension.
It is extremely important that your dogs become obedience trained. If you can take each dog separately to a class or work with a trainer, that will help them and you establish a safe routine that is followed easily. You can do lots of in-home training as well; there are many great resources on the web, for example:
NOTE: You do not need to use a clicker to follow many of the training plans on the above sites. The clicker is a reward marker; much like your voice saying "yes!" or "good dog!" You can just substitute your voice for a click.
Some commands your dogs should be able to follow consistently, which will allow for an easier crate-and-rotate routine:
- crate command such as "kennel" "crate" "go to bed"
- "leave it"
A healthy dog needs exercise! How much exercise each individual dog needs depends on his/her personality, metabolism and fitness level. As a general rule, each dog should get a minimum of 30 minutes a day. There are lots of ways to exercise your pit bull:
- Is your dog a retriever? Playing fetch or Frisbee is a great exercise activity!
- If your dog doesn't know how to retrieve, now's a good time to teach it!
- Long walks or if you are a jogger, take the dog running with you!
- Consider purchasing a K-9 cruiser and taking your dog bicycling you!
Mental exercise can also tire a dog out while giving him/her something to do, a chance to learn, and also have positive interactions with the owner. Consider doing short training sessions with your dog(s). Practice some obedience or teach a new trick or task. Remember that dogs learn best if the sessions are short (5-10 minutes) and upbeat!
If you do find that you have to change your dogs’ routine, the most important thing you can remember is that you must be patient with your dogs while they learn to adjust to the new lifestyle – any change to a dog’s routine is likely to cause some anxiety and stress, and your dogs may be whiney, mopey or confused while they figure out the new rules. It’s important to stick to the plan, be consistent, and not to add to this anxiety by being short-tempered or anxious yourself – remember, your dogs are relying on you to set the tone and help them feel at ease with the new schedule and routine.
If you lose patience, try giving yourself and your dogs a little time out – put both of your dogs away in their crates or secure rooms with a delicious chew treat, and then take some time out for yourself. Go for a walk, go to a movie or go visit a friend. Give yourself time to adjust your own stress response to your new routine and in no time, crate-and-rotate won’t seem like such a daunting prospect – it’ll be second nature!