Fighting Border Collies

I'm sure that in my ignorance I was guilty of escalating a problem between my dominant Border Collie bitch and lower status male (same age, same size). However, the female does not seem to know when to stop either with him or with the one percent of other dogs that she doesn't like. She doesn't seem to observe the submissive gestures of the other dog when they relent although she knows how to show submission to more dominant dogs immediately. My question is how much blood shed do I allow before stepping in ? (When my friends 2 Rotts come to stay we muzzle her female and my female and the big male is dominant enough that he rules. Do you think this helps the dogs to adjust to one another's company safely or do you think we should just not bring them into our environment?

Ugg. I did a consultation on this exact same scenario recently. Their Aussie was killing their smaller mixed breed - dislocated hips twice ($500 bucks a pop), shaking by the scruff, flinging it to the ground, then standing over top of it while it slowly choked it to death. They couldn't afford any more vet bills.

After a short time over at their house, it became very obvious who was the cause of the problem - *them*... not their dogs. It was exactly as I expected - Breaking up the small squabbles prevents the dogs from establishing their hierarchy - working it out for themselves. You may stop it now but the next time, when your back is turned, the more dominant dog will take that opportunity to REALLY put the other dog in its place. They had inadvertently and with the best of intentions, set their dogs up for disaster.

I brought one of my super dominant bitches along with me and let her demonstrate how dominance/submission works (I can always count on her for this :-) and explained to them, as it happened, what was going on. At one point, the dogs went face-to-face, up on hind limbs, with a flurry of fur and a chorus of shrieks and yelps. The owners freaked. I pulled them back and said to wait a second. The fight was over in about 3 seconds. The owners were breathing in a panic and trying desperately to hold back their feelings. They thought my dog had killed theirs. At that point I told them to go over and to feel their dog - to look for blood or any other signs of injury. They did and I pointed out to them that their dog's fur wasn't even wet with any slobber, let alone blood. The dogs hadn't even really touched each other. They were amazed. They had, from day one, broken up the stalkings, growls, circling, scuffles, etc. of their two dogs, thinking that the bigger one would kill the smaller one. In effect, they sealed their own fate and made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For the rest of the 2 hours, my dog and their dog had an uneasy truce, with intermittent growls and the like, but in relative peace. They were truly amazed. This was an understanding of dog behavior that they needed a long time ago... they could have avoided the need for the costly vet visits. But.... what could be done now? Here's the 12-step program.

1) Feed the dominant dog first.
2) Do not come down on the dominant dog for displaying dominance.
3) Do not coddle the subordinate dog when the dominant dog shows dominance.
4) If one of the dogs has to be banished from an area (they separated the dogs during dinner but did it the wrong way), banish the subordinate dog, not the dominant dog. The dominant dog should be allowed to remain near you.
5) Supervise "dominance" sessions. Since you can't let them alone without bloodshed, allow them to do short mini-sessions of submission/dominance displays with the dominant dog on a leash. Do *not* use a muzzle (most of the dominance displays are done with the face and mouth).
6) Call the dominant dog away from the situation before it gets too physical. Distract it, do not say "No" or give any other negative reinforcement. If anything you should be giving positive reinforcement for displaying dominance without too much aggression. However, the best way is simply to distract the dog to something else (displacement).
7) Increase the time of the sessions before calling off the dog.
8) Increase your dominance over the subordinate dog. The dog needs to learn not to mess with those in charge.
9) Separate the dogs when you can't supervise.
10) Let the dominant dog do things first - go through the door, load into the car, get let out of the crate, go to the bathroom, etc.
11) Learn how to recognize dog dominance and submission behavior.
12) Hope for the best.

It's not too late but you may have dug a deep hole for you to get out of. Don't be afraid to call in a behavior professional if you need help - especially to help you recognize how dominance works. It's gonna take time and lots of patience. If you do it right, you won't have to worry about your dogs after a couple of weeks.

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Page last updated April 1, 1997. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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