Monday 15 September 2008
Gracie Harold from Shankill, Co Dublin with Kensington, her six year old male Golden Retriever. Her two dogs started to fight, after two years of easy companionship
Kensington was the first dog to arrive in the Harold household. He was a relaxed, easy going puppy, and he has matured into one of those individuals who gets on well with everybody. He loves human company, and he has always been friendly to any dog that he meets out on walks or visiting his home.
When Kensington was four years old, the Harolds decided that it was time for him to have a live-in companion. They had always wanted two dogs, and Kensington was such a friendly animal who enjoyed company so much. They had heard that dogs can become good friends for each other, and how it is important for owners to remember their dogs’ social needs. There were stretches of the day when all the humans in the household were out, and it seemed sensible to have two dogs with each other as company rather than one dog getting bored alone.
Boulie, an Old English Sheepdog, was introduced as a puppy, when Kensington was four years old. The two animals got on well together from the start. They did everything together – even sleeping in the same basket, lying tangled up with each other. They were fed in separate bowls, but often they seemed to enjoy eating from one bowl together, then moving to the other bowl to share it as well. They even groomed each other, each dog licking the other’s face affectionately. The two dogs lived as good friends, enjoying going on walks together, and spending nearly all of their time together. There was never any sign of conflict – the dogs seemed to be born companions.
Two weeks ago, for no obvious reason, Boulie and Kensington stopped being friends. The two dogs had been left alone together, as usual. When Gracie came home, Boulie rushed out to greet her, but there was no sign of Kensington. She went to look for him in the back garden, and she found him lying still on the grass. At first she thought he was dead – he was motionless, and barely breathing. As she spent time talking to him, he began to come around, getting up slowly, and beginning to respond to her with a laboured wag of his tail. Gracie could see that he was covered in bruises and grazes, and when she checked Boulie, he had a few marks on him as well. It was clear that the two dogs had been through a major altercation, and Boulie, as the younger, stronger dog, had come out on top.
Kensington had been badly shaken and was physically battered, grazed and bruised, but there was no serious damage. He rapidly returned to his normal cheerful self, and by the next day the two dogs seemed to be getting on well together again.
The Harolds hoped that the incident had been a one-off episode. Perhaps a game had accidentally got out of hand. To be safe, they stopped leaving the dogs alone when they went out. The animals seemed fine when people were around, although some of the closeness had left their relationship. Gracie noticed that Kensington growled threateningly at Boulie on a couple of occasions when the younger dog moved into his personal space, but there were no more fights.
After two weeks of peace, the Harolds decided that it was time to try to get back to the old routine. There was a window of half an hour when everyone would be out of the home, and they decided to leave the two dogs together alone in the back garden, as they had done previously.
This time, the fight was so severe that their next door neighbour heard the commotion. The sound of dogs barking and snarling alerted her, and when she looked over the garden wall, she could see Boulie attacking Kensington repeatedly. As before, it ended up with Boulie standing over Kensington’s prone body.
The neighbour alerted the Harolds at once, and they rushed home to sort things out. This time, Kensington had a few more injuries, with bite marks on both sides of his head and ears, and a torn lower eyelid, as well as more bruises and scrapes all over. He was lucky not to be more seriously injured. Again, Boulie had escaped with barely a mark on his body.
The Harolds have now accepted that, sadly, the two dogs cannot live together any more. Boulie has gone to a sanctuary and is going to be rehomed. He will make a lovely pet for someone – he is a relaxed, human-loving dog, and has never growled at anyone. Dogs look like adult animals by one year of age, but they don’t reach “social maturity” until they are around two years old. Boulie, at two and a half, was trying to assert himself in his social world, and clearly Kensington was not happy to stand entirely to one side for this upstart. This was the root of the fighting, and no amount of training would be able to restore the earlier social harmony. Male hormones do have a lot to do with aggression between dogs, and if both dogs had been neutered when they were young, it is possible that they might never have fought. But once serious animosity has started, it is very difficult to stop it from recurring.
Kensington will be very happy as the sole dog in the household. Some periods of quiet aloneness in the garden suddenly don’t seem like such a bad thing.
+ Dogs can be excellent companions for each other but it does not always work out well
+Male dogs are more likely to fight if they are not neutered
+Once conflict has started in a house, it is very difficult to resolve