My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Multi-Dog Management: Tricky Triggers or “Where did THAT come from?”


Suddenly your normally calm dogs erupt into a squabble. Why? Everything’s been pretty normal… or has it? Learn to anticipate tensions by understanding how changes in weather, schedule or health can ignite a group of dogs.


Okay, weather doesn’t really trigger aggression (although it is possible some arthritic dogs are grumpier about being jostled in rainy weather) – but what can trigger it is the change in exercise patterns which weather can bring on

Been rainy for a week and you and/or your dog are not duck-like; winter cold/ice has kept you all indoors for too long? Just like people, confinement with others + lack of physical exertion can bring out the worst. We call it Canine Cabin Fever.

If weather is affecting things, then get the proper clothing, gird your loins and get outside while upping the mental demands and structure inside.

Health – The Dogs

Like us, dogs who are sick or in pain are crankier than dogs who aren’t. So if your adult dog “suddenly” starts being snappy with other dogs he has previously gotten along with, consider taking it to Indy Veterinary Care (learn more here) or a clinic that is local to you for a full check-up.

Hypothyroid (low thyroid) is so common now that it should be a standard test in any adult dog who develops a significant behavior problem.
Seizures can cause aggression – both in the seizing dog and in dogs around the seizing dog. Years ago, my Australian Shepherd Caras had petit mal seizures (hypothyroid related) and one of our other dogs, a rescue Doberman Pinscher, would get confused and excited. He would dart in and out, prancing and whining. Aggression was not far behind so we made sure that when we left them alone, the Dobie was always crated safely away from Caras.
Intact female aggression fits under this heading as well. Bitches with puppies and bitches who are having a false pregnancy can all exhibit perfectly normal maternal aggression for the first few weeks. But if it is extreme, aimed at human family members or outside your verbal control, it moves from normal into abnormal and you need help! (And also, please reconsider breeding this bitch; who needs more of that in the world?)

Health/Stress – Yours

If you are sick/ seriously stressed, your absence (physical, mental or emotional) can create a gaping opening at the top of your household social structure which your dogs may attempt to fill on their own.

Add to this that many of us naturally want more nurturing during such times and turn to our dogs for extra cuddles, conversation, and couch time, and you have a recipe for an eruption.

If you’re physically ill, can someone exercise your dogs for you? If not, some time with wonderful chews (such as those available at and feeding on food dispensing toys can keep everyone calm and occupied for a little while. Sure, it’s not the most fun ever, but frankly, you’re not having the most fun ever either. They will survive.


Food can affect aggression? Oh, yes it can – in two very different ways.

“Wrong” Food

The “wrong” food for a dog may not be a bad food at all, but if a dog is sensitive to certain ingredients, it could trigger behavior like restlessness, crankiness, itchiness and more. We’ve known dogs who were sensitive to flax seed and flax seed is in some very high quality foods. Just like the rest of us, doesn’t matter of lobster is a high price food, if you’re allergic to it – it’s a problem.

Improved Diet

Now, let me be very clear; I do not believe that food causes aggression, not at all. What I have observed in a handful of cases is that the increase in energy and vigor which can happen with an excellent diet can heighten tensions between dogs. A reactive dog can become more reactive, an energetic dog more energetic. A dog who is being heavily managed in a family group can be tipped over their inner edge by a diet upgrade.


This complex and painful time can be made worse by your dog (or dogs) falling apart. Why does that happen? Often it is a combination of the “top dog” leaving the group (the husband/partner moving out) and you being an emotional wreck. “Leadership” is usually far from your mind, instead you want extra cuddling. Or, in setting a new course in all your lives, you react to your partner’s distant ways with the pets by heaping on the attention (you’ll show them what love is!). However you pass through this time, your dogs can see a gaping hole at the top and start jostling for position.

New Activities

When you come home from a dog class with one of your dogs, crate your student for a few hours. Also, you may need to crate or gate your other dogs away from the door so you can escort your student to their resting area without interference.

We are now suspicious that – like a winning athlete – your dog’s hormonal levels may shift upward during and after a successful class. Then, when you return home, the other dogs there smell that change and act assertively to bring the levels back down to “normal” (put’em in their place). It’s just a theory for now, but one that explains this interesting and wide spread phenomena as well as why the higher-status dogs jump the lower ones upon their return but not vice-versa.

by Sarah Wilson

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