More Dogs = More Fighting?

More Dogs = More Fighting? – Phoenix Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist

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Sam Basso
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There are many reasons why dogs fight other dogs. One contributing factor is the number of dogs living in a given home. As a general rule, the more dogs you have, the greater the chance that your dogs will fight, regardless of the breed.

As a general rule, I believe that most homes would be better off having more than one dog. In those cases, the best mix are two similarly sized opposite sex dogs, with compatible temperaments, well socialized, well exercised, and well trained. Dogs are social creatures and they are happier when they have a playmate. I’ve seen this over and over again. Usually the ideal would be two dogs in the home, but of the opposite sex. Opposite sex dogs are less likely to fight over the long run than two males or two females. Gender is determined in the womb, and even if you spay and neuter your dogs, they still are either female or male, and they can tell the difference. Similarly sized dogs also can better handle the roughhousing that dogs do in play or when moving about. When there is a big disparity in size, then there is the potential that the owners treat each dog differently, thus setting up a rivalry, or one dog is intimidated by the other, or that the big dog can more easily bully or hurt the smaller dog. These dogs should also be well socialized, throughout their lives. That keeps their social skills polished. They need sufficient exercise so that they don’t get frustrated or too bored, and to keep them healthy. And they need to be well trained, so that the owners can better manage their interactions, and because well trained dogs are less likely to get in trouble, to fight, or have behavioral problems. And well trained dogs tend to be treated better by their owners and by strangers.

There is a natural mechanism in most higher animals to regulate how many individuals reside in a home range, territory and pack. The more individuals in a given area or group, the greater the potential for food, sexual, or other resource competition. In the wild, the natural way is for any wolf pup to eventually grow up and leave, to find a new home range, territory and pack. In our homes, that can’t happen, so we can set up a situation where the only answer is to fight. Wolves will allow the young to stay for just so long, enough time to grow up and become able to care for themselves, yet eventually they leave on their own or they are driven out. We cause our dogs to fight when we put too many dogs with too many needs all in one place.

There are ways to manage multiple dog homes. Not everyone is going to have the ideal number of dogs for their situation. Some dogs, for example, need more personal space from other dogs in the home, so they will be more likely to be aggressive than other dogs. Some of that is breed, some of that is breeding, and some of that is the individual dog. Certain breeds don’t tolerate too many other dogs all in the same geographic area. I’m kind of that way when I go hiking. I don’t like to hike where there are crowds. I prefer to take the less traveled routes, to be with only one or two other companions, and to not hear the chatter of silly day hikers hooting and hollering in the wilderness. That crowding and noise really irritates me on a day off in the wilderness. So, you have to know your dogs. In addition, there are ways to reduce the competition and stresses in the home to prevent, what I call, “flash points”.

Flash points are those volatile situations where fights break out, such as a bunch of dogs at the front door after the doorbell rings. That can be a flash point for a huge dog fight in some homes. I have developed methods to reduce these tensions. Flash points can also involve things other than fights. For example, stressed dogs can start to urine mark in the home, too. It isn’t unusual for homes with lots of dogs to have a serious pee problem. That’s just a side effect of the stresses of overcrowding and the mismanagement of the dogs involved.

Another factor is the stresses that the humans contribute to their dog pack. A stressed home adds to the stresses of the dogs. I recently worked with a family that has a child with a severe brain injury due to chemotherapy. Because of my knowledge of the brain, biology and such, I assigned homework for them regarding their son, and discussed force free and compulsion free methods of child rearing. The special education program at school wasn’t addressing the issues involved in the home. The overwhelming nature if this child’s needs were contributing to the misbehavior of their dogs.

What I do is assign homework to reduce the overall stresses in the home. I have a specific lesson for that. I liken it to preparing the soil before you plant any seeds. If the soil isn’t right, if the home is stressed, then you won’t get the kind of crop you thought you were planting. Then, I go after the Flash Points. That sometimes is dealing with one particular dog, but usually, it involves working with all the dogs… and all the people. Everyone is contributing to the problem. Once real fighting breaks out, however, it takes a long time to knit all the dogs back together as a happy family. Sometimes it can be done, and sometimes the traumas of the fights have been so severe and frequent that it can never be repaired. It’s much better to deal with this long before you ever get a second dog, not after you have seven dogs and everything is a mess.

So, do more dogs equal more fighting? No, it isn’t like a math formula. But, we do need to take into account the role that pack crowding affects the behaviors of everyone involved, both the dogs and the humans, and even the other species of pets in the home.

So, how many dogs should you get? I’d say work up to two, for sure. Beyond that, then you need to assess your dogs to determine if you should add more dogs, of what type, age, gender and so forth. There isn’t any neat and clean formula. If your current dogs are showing signs of stress, don’t add more dogs yet. And if your dogs are starting to scrap with one another, you may be heading towards a real serious mess in your home. All multiple dog homes could benefit, also, with a consultation by a good dog behaviorist, long before any conflicts arise.

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