My dogs got into a fight this morning. It was over food. Well, not exactly food, but a daily supplement that looks and tastes more like a treat. It shouldn’t have happened, because we have a routine for every part of feeding time. My dogs don't normally fight, but Bodhi can get possessive over food, so I'm careful. When it comes to this particular supplement, the dogs stand on either side of me, maybe 10 feet apart, and I put the supplements down on the floor at the same time. They eat them quickly and in all these years, there’s never once been a problem. But this morning, Sierra must have left a tiny bit on the floor and not seen it, and Bodhi moved in immediately like the food shark he is.
Mayhem ensued. Teeth gnashed and snarling filled the air. I had already picked up the next supplement to go into their food, which was in liquid form. The plastic bottle was still mostly full. I threw it down between them with the aim of splitting them up, which it did. During that precious second, I grabbed Bodhi around the torso and moved him backward away from Sierra while simultaneously ordering her to go outside. Fortunately, she listened, and Bodhi didn’t redirect on me (he never has). There was no visible damage to either dog.
I did, however, take the precaution of putting the dog door down while Sierra stayed outside. Normally, she drifts in and out at certain times as I prepare their meals. She knows when Bodhi will take exception to her being there during the food prep process and she’s careful about it. But they’d just fought, and dogs’ arousal levels don’t go from 10 back down to 1 in a matter of minutes. I knew they’d both still be amped up and stressed. I know I was.
In people and dogs, when something dramatic like a fight happens, adrenalin floods the system, along with other stress hormones. Although adrenalin levels return to normal in a reasonably short time, the other stress hormones can stay in the system for even a few days! It’s incredibly important to realize that after any kind of trauma, there’s a period of time when dogs may be more reactive to things than usual. They may even react to things that normally wouldn’t set them off. You can see the effects of stress after a fight at the dog park, when dogs who were involved are then that much more likely to get into a fight with other dogs. At home, it’s good to be aware that even for a few days after an incident, your dogs might be more reactive to each other or to other dogs on walks than usual, or less tolerant of having nails trimmed or being brushed. And it makes perfect sense. We all need a cool-down period sometimes! (By the way, if your dogs are fighting at home, my book Keeping the Peace can help.)
UPDATE: As it turns out, Sierra was actually very ill when the incident happened and she ended up needing emergency surgery. This point out the importance of not only being on top of our dogs' behavior but their health as well if they act out in ways that are not normal for them. _________________________________________ You can find my books, seminars (DVD/streaming) and more at www.nicolewilde.com and find me on Facebook and Twitter. And you can check out my digital art here.