Alpha Female Aggression- Advice Please?

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by lonnyandrinda, Sep 10, 2012.

  1. lonnyandrinda New Member

    I have two wonderful girls that we love, both about nine years old, both spayed as pups, you can see them in my profile picture. Sugar is a mutt mix (maybe lab/pit?) we got as a rescue when she was 11 weeks old- nearly starved to death on the streets as a pup but she pulled through. Izzy is an Australian Shepherd mix, we got her as a companion to Sugar when she was about 4 years old, also sort of a rescue as her family was moving and they couldn't take her.

    Izzy is definitely the alpha female- humping behavior, insanely jealous of any attention Sugar gets, growling at the (shared) food bowl, etc. But lately the aggression has turned severe- in a very scary way. Twice now they have both been at my feet when they just start going after each other, I could barely drag them apart (once about 2 weeks ago and once again today). I had to chain one and then they went at each other again and then I dragged them apart again and chain the other. It drew blood on Sugar both times. I immediately seperated them on leads for a few hours. We have four small children (6, 4, 3, 10 months). I love my dogs and we have had them for YEARS but I will put them down before I let them hurt one of my kids.

    I have been researching what to do about this and according to what I read here:
    I have been making the problem worse by giving MORE attention to Sugar (guess I felt sorry for her for always being the "underdog"). The other thing I am wondering is if their age is adding to the problem, as I have heard older dogs can become aggressive. They are both healthy and active as far as I can tell, eat good, etc.

    The other thing that may be influencing behaviour is we just got chickens in June. I have once seen Izzy show food aggressive behaviour to the chickens when they came to get their daily scraps (just last week). A sharp HEY (that's our 'no' training command) and she snapped right out of it. Both dogs do fine with all the adult chickens. Sugar must be on a lead if we have thunderstorms or she tries to get to them through the coop wire... but that's an entirely different training problem LOL!

    My question is, if I follow the advice in the article and work on REINFORCING their natural heirarchy, will this be enough to smooth things back down? I am a little nervous to be around them with the kids. They are fine when I am not there, the kids can play outside with them, etc, but if I am around the fangs come out, ESPECIALLY if I show attention or there is food about. Should I keep them seperated and chained when my kids are out? This causes digging and barking behaviours because they are lonely and bored. Izzy really seems to be escalating... she is nonresponsive to every dog treat I have tried to buy for her, unless I resort to HUMAN food like bacon! Sugar on the other hand will do ANYTHING for any kind of food.

    So please any suggestions or comments I am open to. You can even call me a lunkhead for making it worse- just do it gently! ;)
    MaryK likes this.

  2. MaryK Honored Member

    First you're not a lunkhead:) And Welcome:)

    Look around the dog behavior posts here you'll find some awesome vids and tips.

    The 'alpha dog' theory, dog at the bottom of the ladder, pack mentality is 'old style' training. It has been totally debunked by science. So forget all that.

    For a start I would keep food bowls totally separate as food seems to be motivating this behavior. And if Izzy prefers human food as a treat, then use it, it will NOT harm her certainly not bacon.

    On page two of this forum

    You'll find very good advice. There may be more and I am sure others will be able to help you.

    It may though need a specialist in this field, it's tricky behavior to deal with, especially with young children around.

    Though if their not fighting when you're not around, it does sound like you need to totally ignore both dogs for a while. You seems to be the 'trigger' - that happened with me once with two females.

    As they are both spayed that's a positive.

    You also say when the chickens arrived this behavior started. Did anything in particular happen at that time? Anything different (apart from their arrival) that may have triggered this behavior?

    If you feel age is causing the problem, then maybe a vet check is in order. My old boy (11.5) gets grumpy due to the fact he has Cushings dis-ease, and he's never had an aggressive bone in his body. That dis- ease does make them ravenously hungry, so food is something I now have to watch. Your dogs will hopefully not have something that serious but they may have arthritis or some other painful condition and we can all get down right nasty if we're not feeling the best or in pain.

    When my old boy gets the grumps (it's not as bad as you're experiencing though no blood drawn) I can calm down both dogs with something like "shush, be quiet boys" or if stronger words are need I too use Hey - then 'pack it up the pair of you' Even if I know who caused the problem, I treat them both the same when it comes to stopping them. No favoritism on the premises it takes two to argue:) But as you've had blood drawn, I would definitely think about a visit to the vets first to check there is nothing physically wrong and also maybe a specialist but do MAKE SURE that they only use Positive Reinforcement methods - do NOT use Millan style methods or allow anyone to do so, these only subdue the dogs they do NOT fix the problem. Further down the track it will surface, worse than before.
    southerngirl and Dogster like this.
  3. Dogster Honored Member

    I agree.(y) The dominance, pack leader, alpha and omega dogs theory makes no sense. It's meant for "old school" training, which in my opinion, shouldn't exist in the 21st century. I think positive methods will help you, negative reinforcement will just make the problem worse. Since treats are very important in Positive reinforcement, I found this video on how to feed treats to a shy or reactive dog:
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  4. jackienmutts Honored Member

    I have absolutely no time right now, as I'm getting ready for work, and only sat to have a cup of coffee for a couple min and just had to pop in. Excellent advice above, you're NOT a lunkhead, please don't feel like one. Dealing with fighting dogs is very scary. Definitely get two food bowls - dogs just shouldn't share food bowls. I don't want to share my plate with anyone, dogs shouldn't have to fight or worry that there might not be enough food in their bowl, ever. What's in their bowl should be theirs - not everyone's. Water is one thing, it can be communal. Food is another. It's personal.

    IF things have been fine up until two weeks ago (so we're talking .. things were fine for 5 years) - then something changed. Can you think of anything? Anything at all that changed in the last two weeks that has prompted things to suddenly cause bloody fights to occur? Could one of the dogs be ill? Several years back I had a situation where my female, after living peacefully with my other dogs, attacked one dog repeatedly (making a long story very short here) - and I found out it had cancer. A year later, that same dog attacked another one of my dogs - and yes, I found out that dog also had cancer. Both dogs have since died -- but once those attacks occurred and they were dx'd, I had to keep them separated (for obvious reasons). Nature has ways of dealing with things.

    All kinds of things can cause dogs to do what they do. I must run - but til later ... think about things in your household ... IF things have been ok between these dogs for 5 years as you indicate (and humping is no big deal) - IF they have not been fighting, has anything else changed in their behavior in the last two weeks? What was happening immediately prior to their fighting? What were the dogs doing, Who was involved?

    Depending on your answer, this could be simple (relatively) - or it could be something a trainer or behaviorist needs to help with. Depends on what all is involved. Please do let go of the Dominance Theory. It truly is old school stuff - altho so many are still trying to hang on to it and tout it as truth. If you look out, the world looks flat too. :confused:

    Until you get this sorted out, I'd try to keep your girls separated with baby gates. It will take the pressure off, keep everyone safe, and you can work on getting peace back in your household. Must run for now, will try to get back to this later. There are a few others who will most likely chime in who will be very helpful also.
    MaryK, southerngirl, rouen and 2 others like this.
  5. lonnyandrinda New Member

    Thank you all I feel much better overall about the situation. That treat video is good, not sure how exactly to implement it or what to do with it, we never have problems with them nipping us Izzy just rarely takes treats and I have always used the open hand method.

    One thing that has always made me nervous about the relationship between my dogs is Izzy is always INSANELY jealous of Sugar, if I call Sugar over for a petting or a treat or food, Izzy is RIGHT THERE, with her muzzle just under Sugar's mouth, and if Sugar makes a move she doesn't like Izzy would give a threatening growl. She has had this behaviour for as long as I can remember, until recently it never escalated to more than growling although I still always stopped her with a sharp, "Izzy, hey!" she will look at me, lick her lips, and resume the position but without the growl (while watching me out of the corner of her eye).

    Also, I was feeding from seperate bowls, but as Izzy is not really a "foodie" dog, she doesn't eat hers right away but I have had times in the past where she will keep Sugar from eating- even though she doesn't want it! She would just lay by the bowl and growl/snap if Sugar tried to come eat. This lead to me seperating them when feeding so I could be sure Sugar was eating. Anyway I figured why am I bothering with two bowls, they come and go to eat over the course of the day. But they are back to eating together now. I will go back to separate dishes.

    I cannot recall the exact circumstance from two weeks ago, except that it was outside at my feet while I was carrying the baby (this is usual for when we are outside) and seemed jealousy-induced toward Sugar although I was not giving attention to either dog at the moment. I immediately took Izzy over to a tree and tied her to our emergency lead. Yesterday's fight was again outside at my feet, actually between me and a visitor while we were standing close together talking. Izzy did her usual warning growl and then it was chaos. I took Sugar over to tie her up and Izzy attacked her again so I took her straight to the other lead and tied her up as well. I would not normally have tied Sugar (as she did nothing wrong) but I did not know this visitor and wanted to make sure she wasn't nervous about still being in the yard after the fight, plus just then my 6 year old tripped and got a bloody lip so it was all I could to at the time to contain the problem.

    I do not feel the chickens in particular caused any problems, I was just trying to mention anything that had happened recently to change their routine/ attention level from our family. Same with the "snapped at a chicken" incident, I don't know that it is significant in and of itself just part of the big picture.

    Healthwise, they are getting older (9) and outdoor dogs which I realize reduces their lifespan. We were told that when Izzy was about 2 years old she was hit by a car, messed her jaw up a little. She has a tender spot on her jawline I am careful not to touch or she will yelp. Perhaps as with humans arthritis tends to set in at old injuries, and she is starting to feel pain there. Hm. She is due for a vet visit.... maybe that should be my next step. Sugar just got back (had something stuck on a tooth and we had to have it surgically removed- she is a compulsive chewer) with a clean bill of health.

    Besides the seperate food bowls, and perhaps a vet visit, what else can I do? How to I encourage/treat for good behaviour in this case?
    MaryK likes this.
  6. Amateur Experienced Member

    Good time to explain this all to your vet. It will give you a chance to eliminate some possibilities ( health problem) and discuss their behaviour with the Vet.

    WHen Izzy comes over to invade your space with sugar I would immediately get up and walk away. In my opinion, if you can prevent that situation you also prevent the outcome. Izzy should never be allowed to position herself in Sugars space when exhibiting "aggressive/jealous" behaviour. Spoil Sugar separately, give each dog a separate special time when it is just them alone with you.

    Personally I would not free feed ( free access to food bowl). I would feed them separately and whatever they dont eat in 15 min (or whatever time you feel appropriate) pick up the dishes. Your dogs wont starve, they will soon learn that food time is food time. Plus even though you are busy you may want to hand feed izzy --- but she must do something ( sit, down, paw etc ) for each kibble -- google nothing for free. This could also be your special time together.

    Unwanted behaviour gets no attention - walk away ( unless of course you have to rescue someone. I have been known to say "that is unacceptable behaviour" to my dogs in hopes that they understand they get no attention when I say that, due to what they did.

    I am sure you already know this but I would also never leave your kids alone around your dogs until this gets settled. My policy is trust no dog entirely.

    good luck

    Feel free to correct me people.... as I have never had to deal with this problem to this extent.
  7. MaryK Honored Member

    Excellent advice Amateur. Also, I re-read your first post and then the second. You say you had the baby in your arms (10 months) this too could be a trigger, new baby obviously takes more of your time. Just a thought but Izzy could be jealous of the the fact that you're even busier than usual. I would follow Amateur's advice, and make sure that Izzy and Sugar each have separate 'special times with you'. And if possible, I realize it would be difficult, with no one else around. Just some 'one on one me time'.

    I too never free feed my dogs. Treats are of course different but ONLY if they do something to earn them, like sit, or any trick, doesn't have to be a difficult one.

    Maybe, if you have time, teach Izzy some tricks or just work with her a little on the ones she knows, same with Sugar but of course NOT together. That could be your 'me time' with each dog.

    Agree, never leave dogs and children alone together, it's not a good mix no matter how well either are trained. Children learn the world using their hands and often teeth and dogs do not always appreciate that factor. Not saying your children would deliberately hurt a dog though but it does pay to be careful.
    lonnyandrinda and Dogster like this.
  8. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Good advice above, esp the part about not leaving the dogs alone with your kids. It sounds like Izzy has become very possessive of your attention, but I wouldn't want to run the risk of her deciding that ok, today I want the attention of (pick a child) ... and when that doesn't happen, begin a fight with Sugar (cuz she walked too close) and have a small child in the middle. Only a bad outcome there.

    As to the food thing ... does Izzy guard food around you/people, or just around Sugar (and the chickens)? Does she care if you're near her food bowl, and can you put your hand in your bowl while she's eating? If she doesn't have food issues around other people, but only around Sugar, then not necessary to hand feed - but if she's a food-guarder in general, then yes, good advice to hand-feed. Not sure (unless I missed something and need to re-read) if she's 'guard-y all the time or not).

    You said you've heard older dogs can get aggressive - not at all. True, if they're in pain, or yes, they can get "grumpy" - as older humans can. The tolerance for being 'bothered' by children, puppies, commotion, etc can sometimes be too much - but this doesn't sound like a case of "older". You have so much going on here, I'd highly recommend you seek the help of an on-site positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist. Someone who can actually come to your home, see your set-up, kids, situation, and work with you and the dogs. It's so hard to have dogs who are fighting and drawing blood, kids who run the risk of being hurt, 4 small children, and chickens, be "invisible" on a forum, and try to give advice, hope it works, and more still, pray no one (dog or child) gets hurt. Something is causing Izzy to escalate - but what? Maybe it's finally all too much - not sure.

    It sounds like they're totally outside dogs. Is your yard fenced? If so, is there any way you could yet again split the yard with another fence to separate them so they each have their own areas, with the ability to roam freely (unchained)? Again, that would take the "guarding you" pressure off, cuz no matter where you or Sugar were, Izzy wouldn't have the opportunity or need - she'd either be with you, or not be able to be with you ... and the same with Sugar - but they wouldn't be together. And let me ask you this .... when YOU'RE NOT in the picture, are they friends, or are they doggie roommates? Meaning ... are they two dogs who are just always together, no matter what? Or are they two dogs who share a yard? Just wondering.

    Just wanted to throw this in fwiw - as to treats, loads of us on this forum use human food for treats, esp when we are training something hard and need something of really high value to the dog. I use packaged treats for some things, and for hard stuff I use chicken, hot dogs, cheese, I make little 'meatloaf' meatballs, all kinds of things. You have use whatever inspires your dog.

    Truly, I'd give a lot of thought about getting a professional in to assess your situation and help you. We'd be happy to help you find someone, just let us know where you are. Maybe others will chime in with more thoughts. You have a very volatile situation there. I just worry about kids and dogs getting hurt.
  9. Amateur Experienced Member

    agreed with all things said ... just a point -- dogs usually have good bite inhibition- even when fighting. It may sound like they are killing each other but it could be just a tif and settle it themselves ... but seeing as how izzy has drawn blood - something IS wrong and you need to take this in hand now -- which is what you are doing.
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  10. MaryK Honored Member

    Yes absolutely right Amateur. When my late dog Tiger Lily would 'see off' her Brother Zeus, who was attempting to 'share' her food, it sounded like the Godfather of all dog fights yet never once did she 'lay tooth' to him. Just a good 'run around the kitchen' and then all would be quiet - with Zeus fleeing into the sitting room for a bit of peace and quiet.
  11. lonnyandrinda New Member

    Wow so much to absorb, thank you everyone. Let's see what the questions were still... As far as I know she doesn't have a problem guarding food from anyone but Sugar, even lets the chickens eat her dog food but did snap once over table scraps for the chickens. So I don't think she is necessarily a guarder always. But I will spend some time with her tomorrow and see.

    She and Sugar are much more in the roommates category. Sugar would love to be friends- Izzy not so much. They do occasionally romp together, but more often Izzy stays near the house and Sugar will take a jaunt or run to chase a car or biker along the fence. We have 2/3 acre yard, and they have fenced access to probably 1/2 acre. It is large enough they are comfortable with their space and have several favorite spots to lay when it is hot/cold. If a child leaves a gate open accidentally they usually stay in the yard (at our old house 5 years ago this was NOT the case- Sugar used to be an escape artist). Izzy is a homebody, a "people" dog. So much so she can be obnoxious- this is probably to an extent my own fault for not training her better, I have been working on this but it has been ongoing since we got her. The people who had her before were very much in love with her- not that you shouldn't love your dog but they would let her in their face/on their laps and she is NOT a small dog (35 lbs or so). One thing we have been working on is to get her to not be in our faces all the time. For example, if I sit in the grass she comes straight to me and puts her nose in my face and wants to stay there. This used to happen even if I had the baby in my lap. This particular behavior is one I have been working to break and she is making good progress. I can finally sit in a chair without her thinking she has to be in my lap, and sometimes in the grass for a few minutes, too. But it leads credence to the theory that maybe she is a little jealous of the baby. I think from the suggestions she needs something to DO and some EXTRA ATTENTION and this area would be a great place to start some reward training. Also the suggestion to ignore her when she tries to dominate Sugar's time- maybe I just need to abruptly go back inside. Maybe she will learn that acting that way loses all human attention. I think after that I would have to put Izzy on the lead to spend time with Sugar, but would that be problematic? I don't see how to get time with Sugar without Izzy horning in. It is so hard to be one person in situations like this! Hubby works nights so I feel like a single mom sometimes LOL! Dealing with kids, dogs, chickens, yardwork, housework, errands... phew now dog training, too.

    We actually did discuss splitting the yard but the only good place to do this would only allow one of the dogs a MUCH smaller space- maybe 20 ft x 30 ft? Sugar would probably dig her way out in an afternoon, and Izzy(who likes to be by the house and underfoot as we are in/out all day long between chickens, garden, yardwork, and play)would bark incessantly. Those are their behaviors when they are tied to leads, I imagine a confined space would lead to the same behaviors.

    Anyway I really do appreciate the suggestions, they have given me a much better handle on what is going on and what I can do with it. I am not adverse to having professional help although I would like a little more time to work on this myself now that I am armed with some ideas. But of course with prices on everything going up and only one income and four children money is always a consideration. We are in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I love that everyone is so willing to pitch in ideas here. It is very encouraging. As you can tell I do care about my dogs and want to find a way to work things out.

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  12. MaryK Honored Member

    You're making progress great! I haven't too much time at present, but one thing I would like to say is I think that using the lead on Izzy when you want 'me time' with Sugar would cause problems. Dogs attitudes can change completely when on a lead and with one dog on and one dog off, I do foresee jealousy rearing it's ugly head there. "Hey why am I on the lead AND NOT getting any attention either while she's enjoying ALL your attention just you wait until I'm free again I'll show you.?" Is it possible to close off the smaller area put Izzy in there and use that just when you're having 'me time' with Sugar to keep Izzy from being in the way? Plus give Issy a Kong Toy if she's confined in a smaller space, (the black ones are excellent for big dogs/chewers) filled with something really delicious to play/chew on while she's in her 'pen'. That way she will not feel resentment or jealousy, she'll come to think of you being with Sugar means treats and a good time for her. Plus you will feel easier knowing she's happy and safely closed in.

    If you think she's not a food guarder, may be an idea to give both dogs one when they're alone together. But definitely keep a special one, special treats, just for Izzy when working one on one with Sugar - you do need to make Izzy feel special when she's locked safely away.

    I totally get how busy you are, felt exhausted just reading all you have to do. And yes, professional help isn't cheap, so if you can resolve this issue without resorting to that it will save you a lot of money. Use it though as a last resort, if needed.
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  13. Amateur Experienced Member

    good idea to give a kong when paying attention to the other - if that kong is considered a real treat. Can one dog stay outside while the other gets attention inside ?

    Going inside is great to take away the attention ... but stay away only for a short time and come out again -- if she does it again - leave -- you want her to associate the behaviour with you going inside not just that your time is up and you had to do something else Do this frequently and be consistent as she has to put two and two together.

    With regards to the baby -- is there a certain time with the baby that the dog/dogs can share in ? I.E. when reading a story/bottle feeding/ putting baby to bed .... can the dog lie next to you ( if you feel safe doing that) or at your feet - so again associating the baby with something nice and quiet -- just an idea

    just an added thought - - do the dogs each have a "special" spot to go inside like a dog bed or something - where one could be trained to "stay" while you deal with the other or both "stay" while you deal with the baby ? Reward them for quietly staying on the bed too by walking by with a treat and a pat on the head .
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  14. lonnyandrinda New Member

    Great ideas. They are getting along much better already. I am careful to make sure they both get praise and attention whenever I step outside (when they are being good), stop all attention when misbehaving, and took a good long training session yesterday while baby was napping using roast fat trimmings- working on "lay down" command. They did great taking turns and both loved the attention and the unusual treat. Even tossed a few pieces to the chickens but they were so busy waiting for their own they didn't even care. Sugar was already starting to get it by the time I ran out- not Izzy but she's not as quick to learn as Sugar. I wasn't sure how it would go with both of them at once but as mentioned putting Izzy on lead might only make problems worse, and it actually went really well- I just moved fast so they didn't have to wait long, I'm assuming as they get used to the pattern of one then the other they will "get it" and I can do these training sessions together at least some of the time. But next time I go for dog food I will get a Kong, that way I can use it for when I need one-on-one session time. We had one years ago, can't remember what happened to it, Sugar probably destroyed it.

    I do put the baby down on the ground next to me and help her "soft" pet, this has only been possible maybe the last month or so since I started working hard training them to stay out of our faces- too scary for her and I don't really want them licking her all over her face.

    Perhaps all along I just had let life get too busy and hadn't noticed how much less time I was spending with them. It looks like maybe Izzy just felt so starved for my attention she wanted ALL of whatever I was willing to give, she is being much better behaved now. I also have gone to the timed feedings in two seperate bowls, so the food issues are gone. I think too I will only toss scraps to the chickens when they are contained in the chicken yard so there is no temptation for the dogs to go through the scraps, no fighting that way and they are getting treats anyway from our training sessions so they shouldn't feel deprived anyway.

    Thank you so much everyone for your help and suggestions, I will try to check back ocassionally and update how things are going. I will be working on teaching my "old dogs new tricks!" :)
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  15. MaryK Honored Member

    That's fantastic news, so happy that you've resolved the issues. Yes, I think you have nailed it with Izzy that's for sure. And agree, don't toss scraps to the chickens other than in their own enclosure. Do pop back, realize you're very busy, but we would all like updates on your progress:)
    Dogster likes this.
  16. Dogster Honored Member

    That's great!!! Glad things are working out!!!:) Keep at it, and keep us posted!!!:D
    MaryK likes this.
  17. southerngirl Honored Member

    I'm so happy to hear they are doing better. Great job. Please keep us posted on their progress.
    MaryK and Dogster like this.
  18. Amateur Experienced Member

    Sounds like things are going great - hope it continues.
    We all get busy and sometimes forget that others don't understand what is going on.
    Keep the peace Izzy !
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