Mrs "Z" from Germany has the problem that her dogs always bully a guest dog which stays with them while his owners are on holidays. If she intervenes, everything goes back to normal again - but only until the guest dog again invites her dogs to play, then the others immediately start to bully him again. The well-known dog trainer and book author Clarissa von Reinhardt ("Animal Learn") analyses the concrete situation and gives tips on how to solve the problem.
Mrs Z asks: "We have three Rottweilers, all of them neutered or spayed, which live together in harmony in the house and train on a dog training site once or twice a week. There is Frodo, 5 years, leader of the pack, Antonia, 10 years, taken over from her previous owner three years ago, and Ali, 23 months, from an animal shelter.
We occasionally take in three different guest dogs (always one at a time) for a few days. Whereas two of them cause no problems whatsoever and integrate harmoniously into the pack, this is not at all the case for the third one, a neutered male Terrier cross which attended puppy and junior dog school together with the same-aged Ali. If the two youngsters play together or with other dogs, everything is hunky dory. However, if Frodo, the leader of the pack, joins them, our Ali gets really rough, egged on by Frodo. This will go so far that the game degenerates into a hunt, the guest dog being the prey. Then our two male dogs loudly attack him and have a go at him until he frantically snaps around him. He does not get a single hair ruffled, but it obviously stresses him. When I separate them by giving my two dogs the appropriate command, they let go of him and we can continue our walk. However, it takes less than five minutes before this dog invites my two dogs to race again, and the same thing starts all over again.
I have currently solved the problem by offering a "substitute prey". One of the dogs grabs it and the others chase after him. When they catch the prey, they scrabble for it. In that way, the "prey" is more interesting than the guest dog. A second solution is to make the leader of the pack, Frodo, walk by my side, which he happily does. Antonia is not interested in this circus, she stays out of the way of everything and does not participate in the bullying either.
When and how do I best intervene? I feel sorry for the guest dog, but after all he does not let go either. As soon as I have "rescued" him, he invites the two others to play once again - just that this usually once more gets out of hand. All other aspects are very harmonious. Eating and sleeping together is no problem either. How do I manage to prevent this one dog from being bullied again and again?"
Clarissa v. Reinhardt: "Dear Mrs Z, as you yourself realised correctly, the game between the dogs obviously becomes too heated, so that the guest dog gets bullied. As regards the problem you described, there are actually more points to consider:
First of all, I would think about whether you taking in guest dogs is really good for your dogs. While some dogs are not too bothered about other dogs that are not family members "visiting" from time to time, for most dogs it is a strenuous experience, especially if there is already an established social order amongst several dogs in the household, which now becomes disrupted. Observe your dogs closely and do not underestimate this problem.
Then it must be taken into consideration that you have Rottweilers whose playing behaviour is naturally rougher than that of, for instance, Cocker Spaniels or Poodles. When Rottweilers play they make much use of their bodies, giving the odd push or shove, all of which is not meant to be harmful but can be frightening for another dog, especially if he has to deal with two of them. The guest dog is a Terrier cross - and Terriers tend to heat games up much faster than other breeds. So, all factors combined, this is quite an explosive constellation for a game. Particularly with regard to this aspect I think it is risky to introduce a substitute prey. The already wild racing games heat up even more if a desirable prey is involved. You wrote that the dogs then also scrabble for the prey. In the heat of the moment, this scrabbling (i.e. very rough playing) can very quickly turn into a serious fight.
One motivation for dogs' playing behaviour is to "request" social integration. This might be the reason why your guest dog continues his invitations to play despite his being bullied before. So, if you continue to take in guest dogs, I would advise you to take the dogs separately for walks. For example, in the above described case, I would go with Frodo and Antonia first and afterwards with Ali and the guest dog. From time to time you can change the constellation, for example Frodo and the guest dog, and Antonia together with Ali, so that the "youngsters" occasionally have to deal with the older ones as well. I would absolutely avoid prey games. I wish you and your dogs beautiful winter walks and all the best!" Clarissa von Reinhardt
I am the founder of the dog school concept "Animal Learn" in Germany and have run my own dog school since 1993. I have made a video about Calming Signals with an introduction by Turid Rugaas and am in demand as a guest speaker both in Germany and abroad as I specialise in behavioural disorders in dogs.
You are welcome to visit my web site - www.animal-learn.de
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