Friday, November 8, 2013

3 quick ways to keep your dogs safe when you're not there to supervise

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier sharing a bed

Most of the time, having two dogs is pretty peaceful. My two love one another, and they are even starting to snuggle regularly, which is something I thought would never happen (see my mournful thoughts about that particular topic here).

But any two dogs can get into a squabble, and if one party won't back down, the fight can escalate until one dog is either injured or killed. It sounds unlikely, but these fights can even take place in dogs that have previously spent their lives together in calm companionship. (See this blog entry for a particularly heartbreaking example.)

It might seem depressing to assume that two dogs will always come to blows when left alone, but there are some things we humans can do to reduce the changes of something horrible happening to the wee ones we care for. I'll list them in order of safety, from least safe to most safe.

1. Train the dogs to share, and ensure that they never roughhouse in any way.

Some would claim that teaching their dogs that any sort of rough play is unacceptable can keep them from getting into a tangle when the people aren't around. If the dogs know that they must share, or the consequences will be severe, they might not even try to start something with another dog. In time, they might even forget that it's an option.

I've tried this with my dogs (see a previous post here), and my success has been a little mixed. On the one hand, my two are much less likely to get into a fight in front of me, since I started insisting that all aggressive snarling and growling was forbidden, but I've never been able to keep my dogs from doing a little rough play. And at this point, I'm not sure that I'd want them to be polite with one another 24/7.

My high-energy dogs need to burn off a little steam from time to time, and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to run, jump and play. They like to wrestle with one another, and they seem willing to back off and let the other win from time to time. Here's an example of the fun they'd miss if I banned all rough play.

Sinead the Boston terrier standing over Liam the pug

Sinead is winning here, and they look like they're having a great time.

I think training has a place in ensuring that dogs learn how to settle their differences without flying off the handle, and training can help to ensure that dogs at least begin to get along when people are out of the room. But I don't think training will help to prevent a squabble when the dogs are totally alone for a long period of time (like an hour). There are just too many variables, so this remains the least-safe option.

2. Pick up most dog toys. 

Dogs have specific toys that they seem to gravitate toward, and some are willing to fight to the bitter end to keep the other dog from even touching those items. In this house, high-value toys include:
  • Nylabone keys 
  • Hear Doggy whales 
  • Small, red balls (I have no idea why) 
  • Kongs filled with something tasty, like peanut butter
  • Rawhide anything
As mentioned, training can keep dogs from fighting to the death when you're standing right there, but these toys might be the prompt for a squabble when you're gone. In addition, some fights can even start when there's no high-value toy at stake. For example, one party might want to play while the other is sleeping. This sweet image, for example, might have turned into a fight if Liam wasn't willing to give in and play with persistent Sinead.

Boston terrier and pug playing

If I can't be there to supervise, all high-value toys are put in a toy box with a lid, so neither dog can start a rumble. If I do leave low-value toys out, I ensure that there are at least four available. That way, there should be no resource guarding. It's not the safest option, but it's a start.

3. Keep one, or both, dogs confined. 

When it comes to the safety of my dogs, I don't think you can ever be too careful. That's why I keep one dog confined in a crate when I go out for more than about 10 minutes. Since Sinead is smaller, and she likes to be in small, cave-like enclosures, she's the crated party. Liam is in his bed in the same room, and I keep the door closed.


A crating setup like this allows both dogs to be in the same room together, so they can continue to bond. But, they can both have access to treats and toys, to help them pass the time while I am away. I know they won't fight, because they can't reach one another, but I know they won't be lonely, either.

To me, this is the safest, best option. If you have another technique you're using with your dogs, I'd love to hear it in the comments section.


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