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Bitch-to-Bitch aggression. A behaviourist view.

This month I have received five problems where bitches became aggressive towards other bitches. It seems they remain so focused on their target, no matter what owners, vets, or behaviourist did, it would not stop them.

Vets will often say it is a behavioural problem, whilst I feel it theirs, as it seems to start at around or following the time of its first season.

In England, most vets that I worked with believed that it was in the best medical health of bitches to neuter them before their first season. This would be between two and six months, when fit enough to take the operation. During this time, such bitch-to-bitch aggression was for me a relatively rare case.

The first case that came to me was of two litter sisters. One appeared the more dominant but they were the best of friends. The owners always preferred bitches because they seemed to lack aggression and have a quieter temperament. Once the apparently submissive litter sister had her first season, she changed and the fights began. The other sister would not submit to her and so the fights became worse with each passing day. Eventually the owners could do no more than keep them separated.

The owners then spoke to their vet and a local dog trainer, but nothing they tried worked. Buckets of water and even an electric collar failed. The vets then suggested letting them just fight it out. Agreeing to this the dog trainer muzzled them both, but the resulting fight produced nothing. They just kept fighting after short periods of rest.

The second case was again from owners who loved bitches and never ever had any problem with any of them. They always spayed their dogs after their first season at the advice of their English vets. Again, here in Spain their Spanish vets confirmed this advice, when one of their two older bitches died and they purchase another young bitch. Initially there were no problems and both were happy until after the new bitches first season. It was then the fights started. The older bitch managed to inflict some retaliatory injury but it was the younger that was creating the most damage. Their vet eventually suggested they would have to find a new home for the younger one.

The third case involved a couple who had an older bitch. When they looked after a friends younger one whilst the owners were in England they found they got on very well together. Theirs was much older but was a little lethargic, which they thought was her just getting older. The addition of the younger seemed to give theirs a new lease of life. Seeing this they thought that, maybe a playmate would be good for her.

A couple of months later they went to the local dog shelter. Here they found a bitch that their dog seemed to like to play with, so they agreed to take her home.

All was well for a couple of weeks and then as the owners returned home one day, as they opened the front door, the new bitch tore into the other with such ferocity that they feared the other was dead.

They immediately took her to the vet, who patched her up and after a few weeks, she returned home. No sooner was she back in the house than the other one charged at her as if demented. The husband managed to grab her and lock her in the garage.

The fourth case that came in was an elderly submissive bitch that had lost her male playmate some six months earlier. A friend of theirs was going back to England and had a younger bitch. Both owners went for walks together and both bitches appeared to get on fine with one another. They kept her for a week, all seemed peaceful, and so they agreed to keep her. A month later, the older one just started growling at the new bitch and week by week, the aggression turned into physical fights where blood was drawn and stitches needed.

The fifth case involved a four-year-old neutered male dog. The owners fell in love with a bitch from their local dog shelter and believed that dogs and bitches get on well together. Five months of living in their home the bitch started small fights with the male. Gradually the fights intensified until the dog nearly lost an eye and a torn ear.

With all these cases, there was one common denominator. With each attacking bitch, the owners or the shelters neutered them after their first season. Whenever I hear of such aggression, I always ask the owners this question.

Usually such focused aggression is only between bitches. In the fifth case, this was towards a dog but this is not so odd. Because he was neutered, he may have appeared to her more like a bitch.

To date such determined aggression never seems to evolve those bitches spayed before their first season. It is for this reason why I suspect that this does have some part to play with this problem.

My feeling was that when such teenage bitches came into their first season, their new hormones opened up the knowledge of how to act like an Alpha. Such alpha bitches controlled the pack and so too its continued future.

The alpha male only uses ritualised aggression to control other males within their pack. To cause them actual bodily harm would only reduce the packs hunting capability and this would be detrimental to its ultimate survival.

Bitches on the other hand have no need for such control towards other bitches. Normally she would offer them three options, complete submission, they got out of the pack and stayed out, or she would kill them.

I, of course, only see the problem ones but I am aware many people keep bitches without any such aggressive tendencies. Even if it is the season that is creating this problem, it does not appear in all bitches. Some will show no change at all, others may show degrees of hostility, whilst a few others show this very extreme and violent behaviour.

Because of the medical benefits and as there is no way of detecting which one may become aggressive, I have always suggested that owners spay them before their first season.

If only it were as simple as that.

To be continued


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