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Family Fights - Part Three

The third in a four-part series on managing and reintegrating pack members after a fight - setting them up for success. By Sara Reusche


Over the last couple weeks, I've discussed the recent issues between my two dogs, Layla and Trout. After the fight, both dogs had injuries that needed time to heal. They also needed some time to heal emotionally, though, as both were frightened and on edge.

Management during these weeks was critical. By keeping the two dogs separate from one another, we avoided further confrontations and were able to set them up for success. As the days passed, both dogs were able to relax and began to show interest in interacting with one another again.

The first week was spent in total separation. We divided our house up into separate areas using baby gates, exercise pens, and closed doors to keep the dogs apart. Our kitchen became one zone, the upstairs another, the living room and den two more. Because our house has such an open floor plan, it took some creativity to divide it in this manner. While it was an inconvenience to navigate the various gates and ex-pen panels, I really believe that the complete separation was the best thing we did for both dogs.

Remember, it takes 72 hours on average for stress hormones to return to baseline after a big event like the fight. The physical stress on both dogs' bodies from their injuries, as well as the stress of wearing e-collars, also contributed to keep their overall stress levels high. Trying to reintroduce the two dogs right away would have been like throwing a match onto a puddle of rocket fuel. They were already keyed up and on edge, and we needed to give them the time and resources to decompress.

Knowing this, we immediately plugged in our DAP diffuser on the main floor of the house. We made sure both dogs got lots of individual attention and that we were switching them out of various areas in the house regularly. We provided the best pain control possible to make sure their injuries weren't preventing them from resting comfortably. Once Layla's leg was able to hold her weight, we began walking the dogs on short jaunts multiple times a day, letting them stop and sniff frequently to unwind. Our goal was an atmosphere of support and calm.

We used additional management tools, such as tethers and crates, loosely as needed. For the most part, we were able to confine the dogs in rooms rather than in crates. However, there were definitely times when tethering the dogs on opposite sides of the room, such as when I was working in my office, was helpful in keeping them safe while still allowing them to both be near me, where they wanted to spend time. I managed this by attaching short 4-foot leashes to each dog's collar, then placing the handle of a leash on the doorknob opposite the side of the door we were on and closing the door on the leash. I also attached leashes to sturdy furniture, such as my large desk.

We also revisited muzzle training. Layla was already 100 percent comfortable wearing a basket muzzle prior to this incident, but Trout has always been a bit more skeptical about any sort of equipment, even balking at her regular collar and harness.

At least once an hour when I was home, I worked with Trout and the muzzle, until eventually she was comfortable taking treats out of the basket and having it fastened around her neck. Muzzling the dogs prior to interactions served two purposes. It obviously kept everyone safe, but it also allowed the humans involved to relax since we knew that nothing too horrible could happen. Since dogs pick up on emotional cues easily, setting everyone up for success by keeping the interactions relaxed and positive was especially important.

With management in place and both dogs comfortable with the routine, we were ready to begin the training process.

Next week, I'll cover the training and behavior modification exercises that we employed to reintroduce the two dogs to one another. I'm happy to report that, other than some lingering weakness in Layla's hind leg, both girls' injuries have completely healed, and they're back to coexisting well.

To read the additional articles in this series, use the following links:

Sara Reusche, CPDT-KSA, CVT, ANWI owns Paws Abilities Dog Training, LLC in Rochester, Minnesota. Sara has ten years of training experience. She became a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in 2005 and a Certified Veterinary Technician in 2006. She writes regularly for Dogster and SitStay.

She has contributed to the Rochester Womens Magazine, the Wagazine, the APDT Chronicle of the Dog, and was the 2008 John Fisher scholarship award winner with her article about using the Premack principle, Lessons from Layla. Sara speaks at a variety of locations across Minnesota, including at colleges, community centers, veterinary hospitals, and pet events. She currently spends the majority of her time working with serious behavior cases and has a special fondness for reactive and anxious dogs.

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