As long as Dave and I have been married, we have lived with between seven and twelve dogs (it was kind of a Brady Bunch situation). For the most part, we have been very lucky and had dogs who all liked or at least tolerated each other. Earlier this year, our luck ran out when Wally and Gromit started having serious fights. Initially, the trigger was bitches in season but things deteriorated to constant animosity.
Our initial response was to institute a separate and rotate policy to keep everyone safe while we made decisions. I know that there are many households who have this policy in effect all the time, but the risk of a management fail (Dave’s 3 year old grandson likes to open gates….) and the tension caused by this was not a long term solution.
The first decision was to neuter both dogs, but to collect and freeze semen first. PBGVs are not a breed with a large gene pool and I didn’t want to take future breeding options off of the table. Fortunately, I have a great reproductive vet and the cost and viability of frozen semen has improved a lot over the years. This process did take some time, which luckily also allowed just enough time for Gromit to get his second major and finish his championship.
I was well aware that neutering at ages 7 and 5 was not likely to be a quick fix, but since both boys were worked up to the point of being non-functional (and in Wally’s case, self injurious) when faced with a bitch in season, I felt like things could only get better. In fact, things improved a lot. Both boys are now able to behave normally in the house and even train and compete while my girls are in season. Previously, I would have to pull from trials because they were not able to function normally. After neutering, we were able to have both boys separated by a single barrier without fence fighting.
Reintroduction between the boys has come in phases and is still ongoing. Here’s where we are and where I plan to go next. I have spent a full month in each phase. I always tell clients that if done well, behavior modification is boring and uneventful and have tried to follow that advice and not rush the process. Prior to beginning I conditioned both dogs to accept wearing basket muzzles comfortably.
Phase 1 was having both dogs muzzled in the room with me when I did office work. This is a quiet time of day and no other dogs were around initially. I started with 5 minutes and increased the time daily in 5 minute increments. Eventually I added other dogs, but not the whole group at once.
Phase 2 was both dogs muzzled outside with most of the other dogs. This is a higher arousal scenario, but also allowed a lot of space to avoid each other, which is generally what they do. I started with 15 minutes and increased the time daily. This started at a quiet time but progressed to include the time when we are moving dogs around, which tends to be a more exciting time.
Phase 3 is where we are now. I added having the boys muzzled in the family room at night when we are watching TV. All of the dogs except Chili are with us at this time. It’s generally a very quiet time at the end of the day, but there are a lot of dogs in a smaller space, which is why I left this to last.
January will begin Phase 4, which is re-starting Phase 1 without muzzles. There haven’t been any fights with the muzzles on, but they provide a level of safety and allow us to proceed more confidently. We may also use muzzles for safety in some settings, but I would love not to have to use them daily indefinitely. I don’t plan to try to introduce any other male dogs to either of them- getting along with each other is what I need. It’s highly likely that we will try to remain a female dog only household in the future, but the boys are part of the family and I’m glad that we are able to keep the pack together.