Fighting the mother-in-law’s… dog

Q. I have a large male dog and so does my mother-in-law. They have a history of fighting: both dogs and my husband needed medical treatment after the last fight. We keep them separated, but would like to be able to put them and my mother-in-law’s two female dogs out at the same time. The dogs aren’t aggressive in any other way, except with each other. Lately, we have been thinking of buying muzzles for the males and letting them get used to one another, hoping they won’t be able to do much damage with the muzzles on. What do you think? Is there any solution?

A. What’s going on here is aggression used to gain dominance: Both dogs want to be the boss of the backyard.

If the dogs only fight with one another, then this is a battle between them over territory. As long as they share the same space, even with muzzles on, they will continue to fight. And if there are bitches in the area, they’ll fight even more. After all, they’ve got a “rep” to protect.

This fact doesn’t make their aggression acceptable.

Putting muzzles on them won’t work. They’ll still go after each other, and muzzled dogs can still inflict injury.

If neither of the dogs will be used for breeding, seriously consider having them neutered. Many dog owners consider this a drastic step, but it will curb the dogs’ aggression. And really, unless the dogs are purebreds with papers, breeding shouldn’t be considered.

If you choose not to have them neutered, or if they still show aggression after the procedure, you’ll have to keep them separated. When one male goes outside, the other must stay inside. Of course, the guy stuck inside will go nuts if he knows his arch-enemy is running around “his” territory, so draw the shades and close the doors until it’s your dog’s turn to go out.

In the meantime, distract your dog’s attention by increasing the frequency of his training and play sessions. The truth is, you’re the boss, not him. He must learn to obey you and not leap forward into a fight. Your in-laws must do the same with their dog. Aggression of any kind should not be permitted.

Originally published March 18, 2002.

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