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Hi, I have a dog question that...I am thinking I might take my dogs to a behaviorist, but I wanted to maybe see if there was some advice to be had from other dog owners.

Recently got married, I have a 4 year old miniature (9 pounds) australian shepherd and hubby has a 2 year old female part rat terrier (30 pounds)...we aren't entirely sure what all she has; she was a rescue puppy. The two have previously gotten on totally fine. They loved to go in the yard and run around, sometimes play together, sometimes chase squirrels...would often share the same bed (they had their own beds, and own crates with beds but half the time they would lay on the same one in the living room) and despite my original concern because Zoey, the bigger dog, is a...she likes her way since she was a puppy and she was always quite assertive about it - stealing toys from bigger dogs and such and my dog being smaller I worried about a prey instinct...it never appeared.

Fast forward to recently...we moved off across country into an apartment..aka we don't have a yard. We walk the dogs in the morning, we are always home with them because of the quarantine, there is a great dog park we take them there at least once a day if not two or three times. Hermione (the aussie) has transitioned seemingly with no problem, she has done apartment life before, and despite being energetic she is easy to exercise. You just take a ball with you to the park and she would fetch until she fell over from exhaustion if you let her.

This has been...harder on Zoey. Harder to exercise. Nervous. Seems overstimulated at times as soon as she does her immediately business will just stand there shaking. I had started working with her before we moved because she had never gone to the bathroom on the leash before and she's just generally a much more wary dog than Hermione. She's adjusting, has had one accident in the house but that's it. However, within a couple of days of arriving we started noticing that we felt like Zoey was showing some signs of aggression towards Hermione. They're always crated at night or if we aren't home, but we would just be watching tv and Zoey would walk up and stand over Hermione with a dominant (we felt like) posture. Likes to steal her toys (although frankly she has always just stolen toys just to do it) more than before and would just walk up and lie down on the toy. One night my husband walked around the corner and we hadn't heard anything but Hermione was on the ground and Zoey had her mouth on her.

Tonight we took them to the dog park and I was playing fetch with Hermione...which I usually play fetch and hubby does his best to play with Zoey (we have tried so many toys for her but she's just not interested in them outside) she prowls around the dog park standing guard. Hubby will try to run with her, she doesn't usually seem interested. Point being, she's also receiving attention. Today as I would throw the ball she kept running at Hermione...and then running past her. She's played a little rough like that before where she will just run right into her and that's that she's just being goofy. Tonight she was doing that a LOT. And then I threw the ball to the other end of our 300 foot fenced in area...Hermione ran after it...Zoey ran after Hermione...and full on attacked her. They were both growling, yelping, Hermione was on the ground, we were yelling as we ran and Zoey completely ignored us. I got there first and I swiped at her with the plastic chuck it was holding - I missed but thankfully it was enough to get her attention and she turned and ran off. Hermione seems fine. Nervous, she's been trying to hide behind me all night, but physically fine.

My question...these are both of our first dogs. We are discussing how to handle this...reading online it seems like occasional disagreements between dogs are almost inevitable, but we are definitely trying to figure out if there is something different we should be doing going forward besides monitoring them closer.

Those aggressive behaviors where Zoey stands over her...should that be allowed? It seems unclear on the articles I have read if we should be letting them figure that out on their own or asserting that they aren't allowed to do that. We are planning on doing a "nothing is free" plan where before they get their food, they sit. Before they get a toy, or attention they have to do something. Also, we read about always having one dog be a primary; one dog always gets fed first, taken out first...that sort of thing so they know what to expect. I want to buy a bull horn or something to interrupt them if aggression happens like that outside again. I'm also considering only taking them to the dog park (for now anyhow) separately. I read a lot about toys being a thing to instigate a fight, which seems strange because Zoey has never cared about the ball...but maybe not playing that unless only one dog is present.

Thoughts? We are also probably going to look into taking them to a behaviorist.
 

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You don't say how long it is since you moved, it might help to know. Also, are either or both girls spayed?

But I have some thoughts.

First please don't get a bull horn or anything similar (rattle can etc). Quite apart from the fact that aggression almost always stems from anxiety, it won't just interrupt Zoey, it will also scare Hermione and any other dog in the area too. And that added scare, and increase in fear could easily make the fight worse, not better.

It's impossible to be sure but my feeling is this. I don't think Zoey is dominant, I think she is actually insecure.

The move has apparently unsettled Zoey more than Hermione and is bringing out some anxieties, and that in turn is making her more possessive over anything she has or wants. The incident in the house might have been over the spot Hermione was lying (there is often nothing obvious about what she might want). The toys and the ball are other clues.

I wouldn't leave them to sort it out, that really isn't fair on Hermione and also, the more Zoey gets to practise the behaviour, the more it will normalise it for her.

I'm not sure the Nothing is Free approach will help. For food, I think it is good manners to give a sit first if you want that, but if my dog approaches me with a toy, I'm happy to play without him having to do something first. But what I would do is feed them separately and play with them separately too to avoid flashpoints.

I'd also not leave them unsupervised, unless they are in crates.

Make sure to be giving Zoey plenty of attention, and play confidence building games - this may help give you ideas Building Your Dog's Confidence Up - Whole Dog Journal

Gradually start doing more together, at the park maybe keeping Zoey on a long line do you have control. A long line should only be attached to a harness, never a collar, to avoid trachea damage. If she is running she won't know where the end is and the sudden stop could injure her.

You might find a pheromone product helps take the edge off her stress. These come in a spray (for blankets etc., not for directly on to the dog), a collar and a diffuser. They replicate the hormone a bitch has after having puppies and has a calming effect on dogs.
 

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Joanne, thank you for the tips!

The move was very recent; in the last two weeks and both dogs are spayed.

It makes sense for Zoey that it would be anxiety based. She's a feisty and strong-willed...but then it takes next to nothing to put her on high alert and anxious. It's been a strange mixture to get used to for me because Hermione is a very a confident dog. I don't know if it is genetics, socialization, or some mixture, but it has definitely been a bit of a challenge for me to work on some training with Zoey...aka, going to the bathroom on the leash. Anyhow, you gave us some good starting tips, and that article is really helpful, and I think we are gonna make a list of things and talk to a behaviorist but you gave us some great stuff to do in the mean time.

Thanks!!
 

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If you feel you still need to see a behaviourist, make sure to find someone who uses positive reinforcement and ”force free” techniques. If anyone starts talking about pack leadership or being alpha, walk away - heavy handed techniques will make Zoey worse.

I also should have added a bit about canine body language to help you recognise something brewing before it reaches a crisis point. Dogs give a series of signals that they are unhappy, but unfortunately most people don't recognise them because they can be quite subtle. To begin with there is often wide eyes, lip licking and yawning. There is also muscular tension in the body. Then the ones we sometimes do see - growl, snarl, nip then fight / bite. It's important never to ignore the early signals or reprimand the dog for giving them; stopping the dog from giving them would be like taking the battery out of a smoke alarm.
 
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