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The Case of Bitch-to-Bitch aggression. Part 1 the Problem

I went to see a case of two fighting bitches and though this extended article is mainly about them, it is also to show you how the system of cooperation between behaviourist and vets should work and how it is actually working now.

A dog with a problem is a patient and so deserves the very best care to cure this. It should not have to suffer experimentation. You might think that this would be easy but this is not the case. This problem does highlight a number of points that are a cause for concern and why there is a need for improving the cooperation to cure many problems. This is why I often advocate owners first discuss their doggy problems with their vet.

It is for this reason I hope to bring together other behaviourists and trainers working here on the Costa Blanca into one group in order to share their experiences and skills. Having such a forum, Vets here in Spain may feel more confident to refer their patients to the members in the knowledge that they will fully discuss cases before there are any attempts to cure the problem.

You would think that would be logical but many believe they are the only practitioners in their area and in many cases will stick doggedly to methods that can be out of date or inappropriate. We are all learning and searching for quicker and more efficient ways of treating pets. This is progress.

Just out of interest, I did surf the Internet to see what behaviourists were currently thinking about curing bitch-to-bitch aggression. I found many of the names still advocating separation as the only method. If this does not work they then suggest re-homing one of the bitches.

This is because behaviourists cannot cure this problem without the cooperation of a vet. The bitch is not in control of herself and the reason for this problem is instinct not logical thought.

One other problem is most vets do not fully study behaviour problems in depth that we have to and so they still propose outdated cures when new cures are currently available. It is so important we keep up to date. For the patients sake there is no place for pre-Madonna's sticking to out of date methods. We must share our skills, education, and experiences.

One practice that is probably part of the problem in this case is for both female dogs and cats the advice is they have their first season or even have a first litter of pups or kittens before they are neutered. This is no longer appropriate yet many vets continue to advocate this advice to owners, as they believe this is correct.

You may recall an article here in the CBN about castration. This was written by David Appleby who is a member of the Association of Pet behaviour counsellors who also wrote the book Ain't Misbehavin. In his article, he states that it is now better to sterilise pets when fit enough for the operation. This is the theory they will not miss something they have never known.

Concerning this case of aggressive bitches how is it they suddenly know how to react and know all the rules that govern this situation? What is it they are reading and where is this information? If you can think that in our old brain as it is with a dog the information regarding survival information is stored like a list of files or folder that can only be opened at the appropriate time by the release of the correct hormones. It is like the Help in computer programmes. When you ask for help it shows only the files appropriate to that part of the programme you are currently using. This is instead of having to read the whole of the help file.

If I use sex as an example, you do not need to read a book to know how. In the cold light of day, this seems the oddest method of procreation. If someone told you, would you believe it? Try explaining it to an alien. So how do we know how to if someone did not explain it to us or we did not read it? Instinct is chemical, hormones generated by the old brain making our body react, and telling us what is nice or bad like the old game of getting hotter or colder.

Have you ever witnessed a dog mating thin air? Why is this happening? The dog has received a scent signal and the brain has reacted to that by sending chemicals that make the dog react this way even though there is no bitch in sight. The dog is not thinking about it, it is only reacting to the generated brain impulses.

When bitches come into season for the first time then they open the file instructing her all that she is suppose to do in relation to her hybrid pack.

First in any pack, it is the rule that only the Alpha female breeds with the Alpha male. All lesser bitches do not. It is the work of the alpha female to control the survival of the pack. She must also ensure he does not mate with any other female so her aggression is in most cases total. She will chase away all male dogs other than the superior Alpha male with a show of aggression.

Her prime directive is she must command all available resources like food so that she can protect her offspring. She must stamp her authority on all members of the pack.

She will become very aggressive to all bitches and expect full submission from them all without exception. If she is the more dominate bitch and is taking over from a previous alpha female she will expect her to submit and will fight her to either full submission, exclusion from the pack or to the death.

This is different as in males who have ritualised aggression. When the alpha male has to control the pack it need the males for hunting so control by injuring lesser males will restrict the packs ability to hunt and so survival is in jeopardy. What ever controls the male this is lacking in the female?

Because of this, it is preferable never let your bitch ever open this file, as it is lethal. The same is for males so why let them know the delights of sex only to have it taken away from them by the vet.

Some research at Edinburgh University showed that if a bitch is aggressive before she is spayed the problem is harder to treat than left un-spayed. Researchers recommended that in this case the aggression needs treating before spaying.

This is not the case here. The family had two bitches one older and spayed. The older was the dominant bitch and the other younger accepted this without problem. Neither was or is normally aggressive. The owners intended to spay the younger bitch but the vet suggested the owners leave this until after her first season. This ran contrary to the owner's beliefs but that was the vet suggestion and how do you argue the point.

As you can now understand, once her oestrus cycle commences then it all started to go wrong with the younger bitch demanding her position be recognised. She had now read the file and was following this to the letter. There was no compromise but the problem was the other bitch was not going to accept this at all. Confrontation commenced and was brutal if the two ever looked at one another.

The younger bitch wants total submission from the other. This meant she expects her to roll over, lie on her back, curl in her legs and tail then lie still with the other bitch pinning her down with her jaws around her neck. Not a pleasant site to witness so the owners split up the dogs and to give them their due this is the still the standard method favoured by many vets and behaviourists.

I must disagree and had a look to see what the view was of Roger Mugford about such a situation in his book “Dog Training the Mugford Way” he writes "Try not to separate the dogs more than is necessary since the first seconds of a reunion are also usually the most dangerous. Try to develop a bond between them during play and walks together."

When a pack separates every time it comes back together again then dogs that are interested in their hierarchy need to confirm their position every time. You may not recognise this and sometimes a simple pat on the head will suffice but in this case, there are two bitches and two puppies as well as the family consisting of husband, wife, and two teenagers, one boy and one girl. The young bitch is now highly motivated by instinct in its hierarchal position.

One of the suggestions put forward by the vet was to have let them sort it out in the early stages and this would have probably resolved itself. This is a good idea in theory and works better for males.

Many owners who do try separation only find that the aggression builds up and becomes worse.

In this case, in may have worked at the outset then they would have had to take the looser to the vets. The owners just want to see things back to as they were. Is this not a reasonable request?

Many years ago two boys caught fighting would be taken to the gym where they would don boxing gloves and under the supervision of the PT instructor be allowed to sort the problem out. We now know that just one blow to the head can produce damage to the brain on both sides so we now know this is no longer adopted as a solution.

The problem here the bitches were separated for two months waiting for a previous behaviourist to visit them. One of his suggestions was to purchase a male dog and another would be to have to find one of the bitches a new home. Just as a test I did introduce Winston to the pair and the young bitch's instinct instantly recognised he was castrated and not a suitable male. She immediately growled him to go away and he did, poor Winston.

I let the dogs meet whilst on their leads and though compressed air would stop the aggression, it was only for a moment. Sexual matters have a survival priority so they would show aggression again as soon as they looked at each other.

This problem has two items that need correcting. One is to calm the aggression but as this is hormonal generated, I cannot help by myself. I also need a qualified vet who also has skills in behaviourism to help cure the problem.

The second problem is that they are learning response aggression and so even if the vet can reduce hormone using either hormone therapy or by spaying. With separation the bitches have learned to hate each other so much, they may well continue to attack one another following the treatment.

Last week I wrote about a dog that only knew aggressive guard dogs barking at him so he responded in like manner and this continued even when it came to Spain. However once having met Winston it learned that not all dogs are aggressive and calmed down.

This brings us back to why separation is not a good idea. They have learned their response to meeting one another and each feeling their rank is not recognise this is generating more and more aggression. If the vet were to either inject a hormone to simulate spaying or to actually spay her, they will still attack each other because they have learnt to hate each other so much.

If we need any proof of this type of learned response, I took a dog back to a particular place the other week. Though the dog had not seen this person for over six months as soon as he saw them he showed major aggression towards them. During this time, this dog has not shown any sign of aggression towards any other person.

With this in mind, I took the two bitches for a walk and so long as they did not look at one another, they were fine. Back at the home, I muzzled them and let them wrestle to see if the older bitch would submit to the younger but she would have none of it. They wrestled until tired and stood looking at one another but the following day it was back to trying to fight again.

I also suggested they eat together but on safety lines so they could not fight. I also suggested they sleep near to one another and to keep changing the beds over to confuse their scent and so they must learn to live and sleep with each others scent. You will not fight yourself.

It was also important that when separated they are in an area of boredom and that no one should even recognise the existence when separated. The idea here is that only when they together are they recognised and that nice things happen like the owners fussing them and having nice food.

The owner's vet had also suggested that a Vet in Alicante had more knowledge in this field. I agreed, as I felt sure this was a hormonal problem and they phoned the next day to make an appointment.

In the next article we will see how they get on.

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