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I've recently assisted to 3 dogs (not blood borthers, but they live, eat and play together everyday) fighting in a way that in my opinion was clearly leading to one of them being killed by the other two.

I'm curious as to why does this happen, specifically

  • Why didn't one of the dogs give up to the other 2, thus ending the conflict?
  • Maybe it coudn't because of the number of dogs involved, i.e. more than 2?
  • If 3 (i.e. 2+1) is the critical aspect, then what makes dogs different from wild animals? Conservation experts all agree (as far as I've understood by watching loads of documentaries and personally speaking to some conservation guides) that animal fights (for territory or for mating) generally resolve without deaths. I mean, take a pack of wolves. If the alpha was attacked by, say, 4 beta (? sorry for the terminology, but you get what I mean) wolves, I assume it wouldn't stand a chance. But the point is that such a thing just doesn't happen, does it?

I've been told the brawl in question was not at all the first episode, even if it happens rarely indeed.

So I thought of my father, who was a dog trainer in part of his life, and I remember among other things, one point he made:

  • 1 dog is not a pack,
  • 2+ dogs are a pack,
  • 2 dogs will not naturally fight to death, as the clash will make clear which one is dominant, often even before becoming physical clash (this exclude the patological scenarios that the dogs have been abused and trained to fight),
  • but given 3 dogs together, it can happen that a clash will result in the death (or serous injury) of one of them, as most likely 2 will form a pack against the other.

I pretty sure about my dad claiming the first 3 bullets above, but I might have a distorted memory of the 4th one. I also remember that the 4th bullet scenario can happen as a consequence of human interaction (a dog is petted and another becomes jelous, ...).


Anyway, going to the real life scenario, yesterday I was at a friend's house with more people, and assisted to a quick escalation of violence between 3 Jack Russels (some possibly cross-bred with something else, I don't know).

At the moment this happened, the owner and I were out of sight of the 3 dogs, say ~10m away, when we suddenly heard the dogs barking and his girlfriend shouting them to stop. From that moment, everything happened so quickly, with us rushing though those 10 meters, and my friend sticking a kick¹ somewhere in the dog brawl.

The result, for a second was that the 3 dogs were separated, but my friend didn't manage to grag 2 dogs out of 3 and lift them up (also because he's got the left arm plastered these days), so the brawl started fiercer than before, and I have a clear picture in my memory of one of the dogs being attacked by the other two. Blood was flowing, and the lament I heard was far from being the one you hear from dogs playing together.

Here we are probably barely 10 seconds in the fight, when I decided to try help, by grabbing one attacking dog and pressing with my fingers its cheeks in between its teeth to induce it to release. The result was that I ended up with a finger in between the jaws of the dog. Luckily it's "just" a small dog, and part of the pressure was on the face of the other dog, so my finger is still in place :D

From that moment I'm not sure how we managed to separate the 3, I just remember my friend holding 1 of the dogs with his only functioning arm high in the air while kicking the other two.

This last part, where the fight was easier to stop when one dog was taken out and only 2 were left, is kinda consistent with the second bullet point above.


(¹) I mean, literally like you wanted to score a goal from the half-way line of the soccer field.

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    Welcome to pets.SE! In your long text it is hard to find the important information. Maybe you can add a "one paragraph shorty"? Age of dogs, how they stand to each other (same home?), gender and neutered/spayed, history (rescues or similar) Dec 3, 2023 at 18:46
  • Unfortunately I don't have that info, except what I mentioned, that is, they live, eat, and play together every day.
    – Enlico
    Dec 3, 2023 at 20:34
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    My uncle currently has about 6 dogs at the moment - and they're from 3 different age groups and they all get along. On the other hand, a previous pair of 2 seperately adopted dogs would get into very violent scuffles. Its hard to generalise and it depends on the dogs and the environment
    – Journeyman Geek
    Dec 4, 2023 at 8:15
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    There's a lot of flaws in the premise of this question. Your observation of three dogs fighting doesn't mean that they never fight in groups of two (they do), or that they always fight in groups of 3+ (which would make businesses like "doggy daycare" impossible).
    – Allison C
    Dec 4, 2023 at 15:01

1 Answer 1

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In all honesty, this sounds unhealthy. I don't mean that one dog has an illness, but unhealthy behavior as in bullying, gaslighting and other antisocial behaviors we see in humans. And the worst thing is that the dogs aren't even at fault.

If dogs grow up with little to no influence from humans (like street dogs in some parts of the world), they behave much like wolves. There are certain behaviors wolves exhibit that dogs don't - and vice versa - but the social structures would be similar. A pack of wolves and dogs usually consists of a father, mother and their offspring and very rarely are animals accepted into the pack that didn't grow up there. As long as there's enough food for everyone, real fights are extremely rare.

The misconception of dominance fights stems from a very early study about wolves that was extremely flawed. The scientists put wolf cubs from different families into an enclosure and observed them without human influence. Since this was not a natural pack, there was a lot of aggression and fighting and thus the myth of the "Alpha wolf" was born, but this experiment had nothing to do with social interaction in a natural wolf pack.

What you describe is somewhat like that flawed wolf study, but with human influence added into the mix. These 3 dogs probably didn't grow up as a pack, but where added to the family one after another. Depending on where and how they experienced the first 6 - 8 weeks of their lives, they did or didn't learn proper social behavior and inter-dog communication. They may also have had very different experiences with conflicts and violence throughout their lives that ultimately changes their reactions in a fight.

If a dog is always punished for growling (which is part of natural dog communication and actually a way to avoid violence), it may skip the growling and attack without warning first. If a dog learns that humans hurt them, they might become more timid to avoid fights, or they might learn to bite harder to win the fight before humans can intervene. If dogs are kept in a space too small to avoid each other, small disagreements may escalate into conflicts. All of that is either directly or indirectly caused by humans.

And probably worst of all: By outright kicking his dogs in the middle of a conflict, your friend was most likely the one factor that escalated this fight. Try to remember how it felt when you fought as a child in kindergarden. Slaps with open hands where one thing, but as soon as the first one took up a stick to whack you, you took a stick of your own to whack back just as hard. Any increase in pain dealt to one opponent leads to an increase of pain dealt back. Just stepping on a dog's paw in such a heated situation can escalate the violence.

A human can cause severe bruises and bone fractures by kicking hard enough "to score a goal from the half-way line of the soccer field." Even if your friend doesn't kick when he has both arms available, if causing pain is hiss usual reaction to any fight between the dogs, he is the one who taught them to bite harder than natural.

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