Why Are My Female Dogs Fighting?
The issue you are seeing is a very common one and unfortunately very difficult to manage. Countless households like yours with two female dogs living together see them get along very well until one or both hits social maturity.
The Effect of Hormonal Changes
Social maturity in dogs is generally reached between the ages of 12 to 36 months, according to the Merk Veterinary Manual.
The hormonal changes during heat cycles and pregnancy can exacerbate things, potentially causing very heated fights even between docile females.
However, such fights may well endure months after heat/pregnancy because they may be competing over rank and breeding rights, especially if a breeding male lives in the same household.
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Natural vs. Manmade Settings
In nature, two females so close in age would not live in such close proximity. Because of this unnatural setting (forced domestic “pack”), you are likely seeing the consequences.
In nature, only one female would breed with the male, and the other would either respect those breeding rights or would leave the pack to breed with another male. According to Gail Fisher, a dog trainer and breeder with over 40 years of experience, “A pack with several adult males and females of the same age would rarely, if ever, be found in the wild.”
This is further confirmed by the Merk Veterinary Manual: “At social maturity, in free-ranging packs, dogs that challenge the established social hierarchy may leave and form their own groups if they do not succeed in altering the extant social order.
This situation may be analogous to one form of inter-dog aggression that occurs in multiple-dog households.
Social maturity is also the time during which problem aggressions and anxieties develop. In multi-dog groups, the highest-ranking animals may be the only ones to breed.”
Social Hierarchies in Domestic Dogs
While dogs are not wolves, we cannot ignore that they share the same chromosomes and that dogs also tend to form social groups.
It is wrong to assume that dogs no longer have rank drive because they are domesticated. According to dog trainer and owner of Peaceable Paw, Pat Miller, “Social hierarchies do exist in groups of domesticated dogs and in many other species, including humans, and hierarchy can be fluid.”
Most Common Causes of Fights
What do dogs most often fight for? Well, we mentioned rank drive, but there are particular triggers that can cause a fight to erupt, such as:
- Hormones, pheromones, being in heat.
- Access to a male or breeding rights
- Access to the owner and fighting over who gets to greet the owner first.
- Access to resources, i.e., food, toys, the owner’s attention.
- Access to privileged areas, i.e., doorways, tight passageways, sleeping areas, feeding areas, and boundaries.
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Alpha Female Dog Aggression
While there is rank drive among dogs, dogs know well we are not dogs and that we ultimately control resources. The dominance myth is hard to debunk: dogs are not trying to climb all over us to assert dominance (as some television shows portray). Rather, they are just opportunist beings that have not been taught better ways.
Lower vs. Higher Rank
There are no black-and-white rules when it comes to establishing rank. A dog may not allow a dog to get near to toys, but then can be totally fine in allowing the lower-ranking dog to get out the door first.
This is why it is often difficult establishing which dog is higher-up rank, thus the need for a behaviorist to assess the situation.
According to Pat Miller, “There are a myriad of subtleties about how those hierarchies work, and how the members of a social group communicate.”
The Problem of Equal Rank
Note that fights are also more common in dogs very close in rank than they are in dogs whose rank positions are clear. Indeed, dogs are by nature conflict solvers.
In her article “De-Bunking the Alpha Dog Theory,” Pat Miller explains, “The whole point of social body language rituals is to avoid conflict and confrontation, not to cause it.”
How to Stop the Fights Between Dogs
When female dogs are fighting over rank and breeding rights, things can get bloody quickly. Also, attempts in separating the two fighting parties could put yourself at risk because of the risks for re-directed aggression.
Getting in between two fighting dogs when they are both aroused indeed, may cause them to bite you as well, a very dangerous situation. Following are some options:
Veterinary Visit/CAAB Consultation
A good place to start is a veterinary visit. If the two dogs used to get along and now they are suddenly fighting, it does not hurt to see if there is anything physically wrong in one of both dogs.
At times, an older dog may be getting weaker, ill, or deaf, and the other dog may perceive this weakness, which is why fighting may start.
Other times, there may be endocrine disorders at play such as hypothyroidism, a know condition linked to behavioral problems.
If nothing wrong is noticed health-wise, the vet may provide a referral to a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (DACVB).
These specialists would carefully assess, evaluate, and ask several questions such as what triggers the fights, who starts the fights, which of the two is trying to establish rank the most, and so forth.
Afterward, they may suggest a behavior modification program if they feel there are good chances of success.
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This is by far the best option if you decide to skip the dog behaviorist route. Do not force your dogs to interact peacefully, no matter how eager you are to get them to get along again.
Many owners of two female dogs have felt tempted to try to get the two dogs to get along only to report back their dogs have gone fought again in a bloodier fight than ever. Letting the dogs ‘work things out’ is risky business.
There are countless stories such as these, which is why I am so concerned and take fights between same-sex dogs so seriously.
Handling this situation in the wrong way may actually cause the fights to intensify rather than subside.
So unless you are dealing with a dog behavior specialist, don’t try anything on your own! The risks at stake are too high, and you may risk your two dogs hurting or even killing themselves while also sustaining serious injuries yourself as well!
So how do you manage the situation? NEVER leave these dogs together without strict supervision. (i.,e. dogs must be leashed and possibly, muzzled).
With management, you are virtually forced to keep dogs separated for life. This means crating the dogs, keeping them in different runs, different rooms, or divided by secure barriers.
You would have to rotate the dogs in your home, allowing one dog a certain time with you and then move to the other, never allowing them to meet in between. Keep in mind that countless breeders/owners have the same problem, and they are forced to keep the dogs separated for life.
Re-Homing One Dog
It is up to you to determine if you want to go the management route or if you would rather save yourself heartaches and re-home one to a family that will keep her as the only dog.
This option is often in the dog’s best interest since she may live in a constant state of tension and fear even if the other dog is several feet away. Such dogs suffer emotionally after an attack.
What About Spaying the Dog?
While spaying both dogs may sound like a possible solution, this may most likely take care of fights occurring due to hormones, but there are no guarantees it may work if the fighting is due to rank drive.
Unfortunately, there are countless stories of bloody fights among spayed females as well!
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My Neighbor Has Female Dogs and They Get Along, Why?
This does not mean you should generalize and think that just because your neighbor’s dogs get along yours will too.
There are so many variables to keep in consideration such as breed, age, temperament, training, level of exercise, management of resources, and so forth.
It is unfair to compare one dog to another because as in people, there are social butterflies and asocial, aloof beings in the dog world as well.
However, even the most placid females known to get along may totally change when they are in heat, and a male is added to the picture!
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