It amazes me that we have lived with dogs for tens of thousands of years and many of us still don’t realize that dogs don’t think the same way as humans. I’ve recently heard stories of two-dog families where the dogs occasionally get into squabbles. Okay, squabble is too soft a word, the dogs fight! Dog fights can be dangerous for not only the dogs but for the person who tries to intervene. Unfortunately, our human brains tell us to yell at the dogs like they are children to stop fighting (or to stop a fight that’s about to occur). Or old-style dog trainers still recommend squirting water in the dog’s face if a dog growls at another dog. Both of these methods are counter-intuitive and counter-productive to rectify the situation.
Why? First, let’s discuss the yelling. When dogs growl at each other, it is a sign of anxiety for some reason or another. Anxiety is fueled by adrenaline rising in the dog’s body. To stop a dog fight, it is necessary to bring down the adrenaline and calm the anxiety. But the screamers that we humans are, here we come into the middle and add more adrenaline to the situation by yelling. Yelling and other out of control behaviors such as clapping can make matters worse. Yes, it may stop the dog fight from occurring temporarily in some cases. In most cases, it escalates the problem. But you haven’t done anything to prevent the dogs from fighting in the future by yelling at them. You’ve just caused the dogs to associate more unpleasantness when they are near each other. The same goes for the water bottle. The dog is thinking, “hmm, whenever I come near Fido, I get squirted in the face, so Fido must be bad.” Yes, this is the way dogs think. It’s all about association.
If you want your dogs to get along, the key is positive associations with each other. We want our dogs to think that “good things happen” when they are near each other. So instead of yelling and banging, and reinforcing your dogs’ opinion that whenever they are together they get screamed at, try working with the dogs in short training sessions using high value treats. Get some canned chicken or really good food that they normally don't have. Calmly and happily ask the dogs to sit and feed them the treats. With time and effort, the dogs should come to associate being together as a good thing!
And if your dogs have a habit of growling at one another, remain calm and quietly redirect one of the dogs to another behavior. As an example, pick up a toy and get the dog interested in that instead of the other dog. But by all means, keep the energy level down so that you aren’t fueling more adrenaline. If your dogs continue to have issues, seek help with a qualified behavior specialist.