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I have three dogs and I can say that they get along very well 99% of the time they are together (which is technically most of the time).

Sometimes they start a fight out of the simplest thing that might tick them off one time and it might not tick them off the other, so I did a little research and concluded that the ideas that I was considering to be the problem were mostly it, the triggers for that reaction are described here and they make sense.

My question is:

How should I react to this? I figure it's a bit normal that we as humans tend to tense up when your best friends all of the sudden lash-out at each other... My usual reaction was to yell at them to get their attention and carefully break it up withing being accidentally bit or what not.

They've never made themselves bleed or anything that rough, but I don't know if I should continue to yell and break it up or let them handle the dispute as long as it doesn't get too violent? ...And please don't take me wrong, I do not condone any sort of dog fighting or anything like that, but I'm realistic about the fact that they are still animals (as much as we love them) and I might be getting in the way of something that comes natural to them?

Let me specify that they do this 1% of the time so it's been probably 2, 3 occasions in a 2 to 3 year span, and as soon as I break them up I don't separate them into different rooms or anything like that, I just standby ready to see if they still feel aggressive against each other but it's usually the other way around, they'll be licking each other's scuffle wounds.

Just as a final note for what it's worth, they don't always lay down in the same place, we leave the doors open around the house so sometimes one is in another room; so I guess what I'm saying is that it's optional to them if they want to be together (they usually are).

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Aggression in a dog is usually not a natural behavior but an attitude and frame of mind within the dog that they learn as a potential way to deal with a situation that they find highly uncomfortable. When feeling uncomfortable with a situation a dog usually lets out a number of warning signs to let others know that they do not like the situation, such as averting gaze, growling, baring teeth, hair standing up, body tensing up. When all else fails the dog may resort to a corrective nip or even a full out attack. This is normal behavior for a dog.

Abnormal behavior is if the dog is so used to his warning signals being ignored or so used to being in generally uncomfortable situations that the dog quickly goes from giving no warning at all to full on attack mode. The dog learns that aggression is the only way to deal with what makes it uncomfortable.

A truly aggressive dog is not calm, is excited, their tail may even be wagging. They look at who they are attacking or about to attack with an intense predatory gaze, they intend to kill or be killed. When attacking or being held back from attack you may hear them whine or yelp and get increasingly high pitched. Trying to physically hold them back may cause them to turn on you and attack you. If your dog is in this state of mind ever then immediately try to remove the dog from the situation until it has calmed down. Do not try to yell or provide corrective action to a dog in this state of mind, you will only foster and encourage the aggression. Furthermore if your dog ever gets in this state around humans then you should absolutely never allow this dog to be around children without a muzzle.

You need to determine if your dogs are truly trying to hurt each other or if they are just engaged in excited play. Growling while rough housing is normal, but high pitched barks and yelps are usually a sign that they aren't playing anymore.

They lick each others wounds when they have exited that state of mind because dogs ALWAYS live in the present. What happened in the past doesn't really matter anymore, in the present they are hurt and they are a pack so they will tend to each others wounds and may take a nap together like nothing ever happened.

I think because you have trouble pointing out a single cause for these outbursts, because they don't exhibit aggression towards humans and because these incidents are relatively rare that the best thing to do is immediately remove them from this situation when it occurs until they have calmed down. Do not yell and do not do anything that might get yourself hurt. Try to pick up on aggressive cues before an outburst and correct the dog exhibiting aggressive warning signs before this happens. Also correct the behavior of the other dog if you see it is doing something that is inadvertently antagonizing the other. They will both learn to trust you more by doing this.

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  • By the time I finish yelling "hey!, stop it" and clapping my hands loud the battle is mostly over, so it's a 2, 3 second thing. I usually pickup on all the cues and I don't let it escalate but there's times such as these that it just catches everyone off guard and we couldn't tell where things went wrong from one second to the other. Thank you for your contribution.
    – sulfureous
    Nov 6 '13 at 1:17
  • @sulfureous If that is all the more it is then I don't think you have an aggression problem. Dogs will sometimes correct each other in short bursts like this. There is a lot of back and forth communication through body language and signals that can go on in mere seconds. Aggression is something very different. Nov 6 '13 at 2:41

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