The Truth About Owning a Dog
Our family has always had dogs. We grew up with dogs, often rescuing them from the side of the road. Our dogs were always treated like family and we never gave a thought to dogs not liking one another.
What happens when you adopt or buy (from a breeder) that one dog that just does not fit into your "pack"? Well, that's exactly what happened to us and we learned many things along the way.
We had an established pack with 2 dogs, Bauer, the alpha and Layla. Layla learned everything from Bauer because she was 6 weeks old when we brought her home. There was a very clear order to things, although we didn't realize that until later.
When Layla was nearly 3 years old, we introduced a new male puppy, Apollo, into the household. Bauer established the boundaries, began teaching and we realized the puppy was going to need more obedience training than we had needed to provide with the others.
While our other two dogs were both reward based learners and eager to please, our new dog did not operate in the same way. He would do anything I asked for a treat, or play time or whatever reward. However, once the reward was gone, there was no incentive for him to behave.
Over time, Apollo's behavior placed a stress on both of the other dogs. Bauer was becoming less tolerable to the puppy and no longer wanted anything to do with him. Layla was still playing with him but not as often.
We sought out a trainer with behavior modification skills and dealing with multiple dog households. Apollo did very well in training. The weekend Apollo was set to come home, Bauer was diagnosed with a late stage heart and lung illness. He passed away 3 days later, before Apollo came home.
That weekend we brought Apollo home. He was now 9 months old. It was amazing how much he had learned and how calm he was. We were excited for Layla to have her playmate back, knowing that now she would establish alpha and we would need some time for them to adjust without Bauer.
Little did we know that Bauer's death had changed everything. Layla refused to have anything to do with Apollo but she also wouldn't take over as alpha. She just began to retreat to her crate rather than deal with him wanting to play. So, as dogs will do, Apollo began asserting his dominance. He would grab her and pull her which created problems.
We worked with the trainer to help Layla. She was stressed and becoming aggressive where she had never been anything but sweet. I kept them both active together and apart, giving each their own time.
Resource Guarding Can Include You
Apollo had always been prone to resource guarding over toys. As a result, we removed toys unless we were playing with only one dog at a time. However, I never considered myself as one of his possessions.
Many breeds of dogs are protective of their owners by instinct. They will protect the entire family in their home but often a dog will imprint onto one person in the family. It isn't always the one who feeds the dog. It may be the one he spends the most time with or the one who gives him lessons or who asserts authority over him/her.
In our case, I was the one who did all of these things due to our work schedules. As a result, each of our dogs has bonded with me, but are equally loving to my husband and son.
Apollo was no different. He was loving, playful and protective of all of us. However, he began "guarding" me as a resource and this is when we knew we had to make some changes.
How did we know?
1. He would literally tear his crate apart to get to me if I was spending time with the Layla and not him.
2. He would jump Layla if she sat next to me and he was close by.
3. He would become a barricade between me and Layla.
4. He would start to circle her if she got under my feet.
What did we do?
For awhile we tried working with Apollo. Finally, it was obvious that there was going to be a dog fight (near me) and someone would get hurt either breaking them up or trying to move out of the way. When two large dogs fight, having it take place at your feet or right beside you is a recipe for disaster.
It was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make regarding a dog but we knew we had to find Apollo a new home while he was still a puppy. Fortunately, we have stayed in contact with many other dog owners and one with a background in training took him in for us.
He may need to be the only dog in the family and it will be important that he receive attention from both owners so that he doesn't begin to guard one as his possession and see the other as a threat.
Apollo is happily adjusting to his new environment and new family. Layla is back to herself, guarding the home, working on activities like her nose work and adjusting to being the only dog in the pack.
We were often asked during our situation:
- How do you know he wasn't just a bad dog? First of all, I don't believe there is such as thing as a "bad" dog. I think bad breeding can lead to some issues in a dog's temperament but that wasn't the case with our dog. He came from a highly reputable breeder who prides herself on following up on each and every puppy, its care and any issues. Furthermore, he is a wonderful, loving dog who greets people with hugs (literally) and kisses once he is given the all clear that he is allowed to do so.
- Won't this work itself out in time? No. If anything it will only get worse and it will lead to a dog fight. At the time we made the decision, the two dogs had not fought hard enough to cause damage but that's because I was constantly watching and aware. At some point, there would have been a major fight.
- What caused the major change? Losing Bauer so suddenly absolutely had a major effect on this entire situation. He was the one that kept them all in check. The younger male did nothing without his approval. In addition, we were grieving his loss and so was our female, who had known him her entire life. It threw everything off.