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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all, I really need some help here and I apologize in advance for the novel that follows:

I want to start off by saying that Charlie (our St. Bernard/Border Collie mix of almost 3 years) has been an absolute joy. I love this dog. He has never really displayed aggressive behavior, except once when he acted out at the dog park when a particular dog kept nipping at him for about a half hour straight. Charlie's reaction was short and to the point with no one getting hurt. It was basically just a snarl and a soft bite to the other dogs neck. Charlie has been great with other dogs, kids and people in general.

Enter Twister - We got him at 8 weeks old back in June, so he's about a 4 month old Black Lab/Mastiff mix. Charlie was great with him right off the bat. Super gentle, caring, would lay next to him and teach him to play tug of war. When Twister got a little bigger, they started wrestling, but it's never escalated to more than that.

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been multiple incidents that look quite scary to my wife and I. The first couple of times, it took place near the food bowls. Twister found out that he probably shouldn't try to steal Charlie's food, but again, no one was hurt, Charlie just made a quick statement. I read online and spoke to my vet and that seemed like normal pecking order behavior. The younger dog needs to learn the rules of the house. The more I read, the more I found people saying that as long as the actions of the younger dog are directly affecting the older dog, and the older dog is not breaking skin, it's ok for the older dog to correct the behavior. I don't know if that's correct or not, so comments are welcome.

This morning was scary. I was about to walk out the door for work when all of the sudden Charlie had Twister pinned to the ground by his neck. Twister was yelping and Charlie was growling and shaking Twister. We pulled the dogs apart, but Charlie was not eager to stop. We crated Charlie and looked over Twister, there were no visible cuts and Twister did not react to us touching the areas that Charlie targeted, physically he seemed unharmed. This led me to believe that this was a pecking order scuffle, but it was scary nonetheless. They've probably had similar scuffles about 4 times, and each time Twister is scared of Charlie for a bit, but they end up playing again in the next couple of hours. Same goes for this morning, my wife reported that they were playing again about an hour after the incident.

My question for the community is: is this normal behavior or do we need to correct it? Charlie has not harmed Twister, but he has certainly displayed his dominance. My theory is that Twister is growing every single day, and that is probably intimidating to Charlie, who has been the one in control. I love Charlie so so much but I can't stand to see the aggressive behavior, it just doesn't feel safe and puts that image in the back of my mind every time I introduce him to new dogs, kids, or people. Please help me determine if this behavior is just scary to the human eye, but normal for dogs. Or if the behavior needs correcting. I am happy to provide more info if needed.

Thanks in advance!
 

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Sounds like normal dog behavior. The older one is just training the younger one. No blood no foul. Unless you see it escalate I would let them work it out. Getting in the middle confuses the older dog. He is taking care of things you don't have to.
 

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Dogs don't really relate to one another in a true "pecking order" fashion where one is in charge (some people use the term "dominant") and one is lower on the totem pole, so to speak. Instead of seeing it as a boss/in charge and a lower ranking dog, I'd urge you to view the relationship between the two more as the kind of relationship two small children would have.

One child is OK with certain things, but when it gets out of hand (play gets too rough, other child tries to take something that's theirs) they get upset and lash out. Depending on the social skills of the child doing the lashing out (in this case the older dog) that might look like them crying, or it could be them throwing a tantrum but not actually hurting the other child, or it could be them smacking the other kid, or in some cases it might be a true intent to harm the other child for whatever offense they caused. Some of these options are a more socially healthy and safe way of conducting themselves than others.

In terms of speaking specifically about dogs...

Not all adult dogs are good with small puppies. Many well adjusted adult dogs will give younger puppies what is called "puppy license" which means they can do a whole lot of inappropriate things and the older dog will still correct them fairly gently, whereas if an adult dog did those things they'd snap at or bite them. Some adult dogs absolutely hate puppies and will hurt them. Without meeting the dog and evaluating which category your adult dog fits into, I am honestly a little bit weary to say "no worries, no harm done; no blood, no fowl".

I will say- a normal correction from an adult dog to a puppy can look and sound very scary without actually being a dangerous situation. At the same time, repeated corrections will eventually escalate. If an adult dog is constantly having to tell a rude puppy to back off, and the puppy isn't listening or learning, eventually the adult dog is likely to run out of patience and actually hurt the puppy and/or actually go after it. Below, I'll put a few examples of what I would consider healthy corrections of an adult dog to a young puppy.

1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e_YYh6uQS4
Here's an example of a very, very patient adult dog trying to make it clear to the puppy that he is not interested in playing. The puppy is persistent, ignoring all the adult dog's signals he doesn't want to engage (head turns, looking away, wide eyes with the whites showing, a tight mouth, physically getting up and moving away from the puppy, eventually turning his entire body away from the puppy). At a few points, he even goes over to the people in a way I would consider asking them to intervene and make the puppy stop. At around 2:00 he finally loses patience and gives a warning bark, a warning growl, and snaps and lunges at the pup, who finally gets the message and yelps and runs away. He might have made contact with the puppy given the yelp, but he doesn't chase after him and the interaction is over once the puppy moves away.

Here is an example of a situation that could be OK, or could be really not OK depending on the adult dog. It looks likely that this is just a warning growl and the Rot isn't going to bite the puppy, but this kind of situation can escalate quickly and isn't one I would EVER let happen unless the adult dog was my dog and I knew that they would NEVER actually bite after the warning growl: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPCtU9ODTJs

2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYKKLOwBFMQ
This is a very well adujusted adult dog stepping in and letting a puppy know that kind of behavior will not fly. It uses the least amount of force it can and it just sort of a "knock it off" type of reaction.

3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7O_ikEs12k
Not a puppy, but the black and tan hound looking dog is telling the elkhound looking dog that that kind of play is not ok. Again, very little use of force, just saying "nope, too rough, knock it off" and the other dog backs off.

4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGG-rkVHpsc
Again, not a puppy, but another good example of what I would consider a "normal" correction between two dogs.

What would I consider a safe, normal correction from an adult to a puppy? I would prefer a dog to correct a puppy as gently as possible, or at least to do so without actually go after the puppy, and as soon as the puppy eases off the adult dog should too. I don't mind snapping, lunging towards, or growling or barking at the puppy. What I am definitely not OK with is chasing after a puppy, pinning, or making hard contact. If a dog does these things, I would consider them "not trustworthy" and only allow them around the puppy when I am there to supervise. I'm also not as concerned with the vocalizations of the puppy- some pups over react and will yelp/screech at anything. I also expect a great deal of warning from my adult dogs before they reach the point where they snap.

What I would focus on in this kind of a situation is making sure that it never gets to the point where your adult dog feels he has to correct the puppy. They should not be left alone together, ever, even if you're just going into the other room for a second. When they are being fed, the puppy should not have access to the adult dog's food. If that means feeding them with the pup crated, so be it. Allowing the adult dog to teach the puppy the puppy shouldn't be in his food is how you create a dog who is an escalating resource guarder towards other dogs.

If he was truly pinning and shaking the puppy while the puppy screeched, that is not as safe correction from an adult to a puppy and I would not treat him as "perfectly trustworthy" moving forwards.

If the puppy absolutely cannot be trusted not to pester the adult dog, I would consider tethering him to you or having him trail a leash and setting up the situation so when you need to you can step in and move him away form the adult dog.

Again, allowing an adult dog to correct a puppy is only safe to do when you know that the adult dog is absolutely trustworthy. Given your description, I don't think that is the case. A scary sounding snarl and snap is one thing, but if he's pinning and shaking the puppy that is not safe. He should ease off when the pup yelps and not chase when the puppy retreats from a correction.

I would urge you to also look into dog body language and calming signals, as well, to better understand the non-verbal conversation happening between your dogs and to know when it is time for you to intervene.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you so much for the advice and examples. It saddens me to say that it sounds like Charlie is not trustworthy at this point and we have and will supervise the dogs more closely and keep a closer eye on body language.

The strange thing to me is that Charlie actually initiates play-time quite a bit with the puppy, even soon after one of these scuffles have taken place. If he really is annoyed with the puppy's behavior, wouldn't he be avoiding him rather than approaching him? Could this be a deeper rooted issue than Charlie being annoyed? I want to emphasize that he has never done anything more than what is displayed in the videos you shared to other dogs, he's never chased them down or pinned them like he did with our puppy. They truly act like best buds 99% of the time, which makes this hard to make sense of.
 

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Hope I don't come off the wrong way, but I find people think they have a wonderful dog - until they make a major change to the environment. Is Charlie the issue - or is twister? Likely it's twister.

Couple of questions for you.
Do you think Charlie is a good mentor dog for twister? Puppies need to be taught by a dog - to be a dog. That normally comes through socialization. Begs the other question....

What has Twisters life been like since you had him - does he run the parks too? Does he get to meet lots of people and dogs in different environments? Or does he typically stay on his own turf?
 

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Use the tools you have at hand. Baby gates are your friend. Teach your to dogs to respect the gates and then you can separate them when needed. If you haven't take dogs to obedience school. Best thing I ever did.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Didn't come off the wrong way at all. I thought Charlie would be a great mentor, if I didn't my wife and I wouldn't have jumped into getting another puppy. From day 1 Charlie was great. He was patient and playful and really gentle. This has only happened recently a couple of times.

Regarding socialization, we do as much as we can. There are a lot of dogs in my extended family and we've made sure they have both met all of them multiple times. We also take them to dog parks and Twister has been good with other dogs. He displays impulse control issues like most puppies do, but we watch him like a hawk when he is interacting with new dogs and intervene when he's clearly annoying others. He has also been absolutely great with people, especially young kids. He's definitely seems to prefer people over dogs. Socialization is the key focal point for our training, because we want our dogs to be able to interact with anyone and have confidence that they will never hurt anyone, human or dog. This is why this is especially concerning to me...If I can't trust my dog to behave safely with one of his own, how can I trust him to behave safely with others? I went from being 100% confident in Charlie's behavior, to being about 80% sure...just enough to shake me.
 

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Take twister out to the park alone, take him to friends alone, socialize him alone for a while - have someone else take Charlie elsewhere. It could be that Twister is getting dependent on Charlie. Charlie could likely use a break from the pup, he shouldn't be sole mentor.
 

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Given that Charlie is initiating play, it sounds like he's a normal young adult dog who enjoys playing with other dogs, like engaging with this puppy when he's being good, but then gets frustrated and lashes out.

I look at it similarly to how I'd look at children. Sometimes, a 5 year old and an 2 year old can play really well together and the 5 year old is patient and understanding. Sometimes they play well until they get overstimulated and one gets hurt. Sometimes a 5 year old is not a trustworthy playmate for a kid that young. You wouldn't consider the older kid to be a "bad" kid because he didn't play well with the younger one, and you wouldn't consider the younger kid a "bad" kid for not being able to play well with the older one. Instead, you would consider two children of that age who play together without an adult ever having to intervene to be fairly exceptional in their relationship.

Most adult dogs are going to need a human to step in at some point when they are living with a young puppy. Puppies push buttons and press issues, which leads to an older dog snapping. Sometimes- especially as the puppy gets closer to 5 or 6 monnths of age- the adult dog gives out corrections to the puppy that are too harsh or less than safe. That's fine- it wouldn't change how I related to that dog except that I would now know I need to be the one who is telling the puppy when he is too rough or rude (mostly by ending the play session and separating the dogs when I start to see the adult dog is getting annoyed/close to snapping) instead of letting the adult dog do it.

In my life, I would say I have known 17 dogs well, being owned either by my family (3 of them), by close family friends ("aunts" and "uncles"), or by neighbors that shared a yard with us, and belonging to a wide range of breeds/mixes/types (Terrier Mix, a Dalmatian, Golden, Lab, Pointer/Spaniel mix from hunting lines, Boston Terriers, Corgis, a Cattle Dog mix, a Border Collie/Lab, several Poodle mixes of varying sizes, a Toy Poodle, and a Maltese, among others). Of those dogs, I would say I trusted 2 of them completely with puppies- one was a Chocolate Lab, and the other is my childhood dog/parent's dog that I think is a Lab/BC/Terrier mix. I say this to illustrate my point- very, very few dogs are what I would consider 100% trustworthy with puppies, and over whelmingly those dogs are trustworthy because they were either accidentally or purposefully socialized extensively with puppies through their whole life. The Lab I'm thinking of grew up in an area where, within her life, every single house on her block got a puppy a year or three after her owners got her, and several members of their close family also got puppies when she was young, so she spent a lot of time around puppies as a younger dog. With my childhood/parent's dog, we sent her to day care starting at 10 months, and the day care happened to get a lot of large breed puppies in. When she was young, her play style matched a lot of the puppies', and as she got older they realized she never got aggressive with the pups and so used her as they "puppy nanny" dog. She literally used to let puppies chew on her face and ears without being upset about it, and in the time I lived with her with my very rude Boston terrier (from when she was 11 weeks to 11 months), she never once corrected her with more than a growl.

Pretty much- don't take this to mean anything about Charlie's over arching personality or his long term relationship with Twister. Charlie just shouldn't be allowed to be the one to set play boundaries for the pup. You need to do that by communicating "play like this and if ignore him telling you to leave him alone then you stop playing and spend time behind a gate/in a pen for a little bit".
 
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