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Everyone in my immediate family has male dogs: my parents have a 4-year old boxer, my sister has a 2-year old mini pinscher/terrier mix, and my wife & I have a 12-year old pug. All 3 dogs are neutered and have been for some time. The boxer is a rescue, but has lived with my parents since he was about a year old. The pug is also a rescue, but that was 11+ years ago.

When we get together, we like to include the dogs as much as possible, but we rarely get all 3 dogs together as it becomes a chaotic mess with 2 young high energy dogs and a 3rd mellow, older dog. Generally speaking, everyone gets along fairly well in pairs.

The boxer is usually very protective of the smaller dogs (or anything smaller than him, such as toddlers). However, the boxer and the pug have a recent history of rough play (not quite "fighting" as I would define the term). Specifically, while the boxer and pug (and their respective owners) were living together for a few months, the boxer grabbed the pug by the neck scruff and lifted him in the air on 2 different occasions. After the first incident, the dogs were separated but were slowly reintegrated a few days later. About a month later, the 2nd incident happened. The pug was physically shaken after the 2nd incident, so the dogs were separated permanently the same day: the pug was sent to live with my in-laws until we moved back to our house after a month.

Since the incidents, we've avoided getting the pug and boxer together. In the meantime, the boxer and the mini pinscher/terrier mix have continued to get along with no incidents. Given there has been no sign of aggression from the boxer prior to this toward either dog, or since together the mini pinscher, we have considered trying to reintegrate the pug and boxer for short durations.

What is the best way to accomplish this?

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Without knowing exactly what preceded each episode of neck shaking, this requires a little more caution in how this needs to be approached. If you had defining incidents that precipitated the behavior, these behaviors could be monitored, but in this case, all behavior needs to be monitored.

As you have successfully reintegrated them in the past, I won't focus too much on that, as opposed to preventing the neck shaking from reoccurring.

Reintegration:

  • To begin with the dogs should be safe to reintegrate on leash, by being in the same room for periods of time while under the supervision of their owners. This allows them to get used to being in each other's company without any more aggravating behaviors.

  • Gradually allowing them supervised time off leash, in each others company. Offering plenty of praise and distraction. The idea being, they will learn to be in each other's company without being focused on each other and even forgetting about each other.

Prevention:

  • The best way to prevent the neck shaking or other aggressive behavior is to nip all rough play in the bud. The dogs need to be allowed to meet and greet, the investigative sniffing, and can be rewarded for good behavior by being allowed off leash together. However any sign of rough play, mouthing, jumping on each other, the pug jumping up at the boxer, the boxer pawing the pug, any growling, must be met with firm vocal chatisation from the most suitable person present; there and then. A firm, deep and bellowing No! with the accusatory finger pointing at the offenders with continuous eye contact until the offenders (I put them in this basket together) both posture submissive stances with the owner.

  • Generally the adult mot likely to achieve an effective result in discipling dogs in this way, will be the one who will naturally react quickly to handle the situation, so it is not even something that needs to be clearly defined, who does the disciplining, but that there is some sort of consensus and consistency in how the dogs are disciplined.

Possible causes:

  • Dogs will naturally wrestle for dominance within a household, usually the hierarchy of dominance is established early on and this tends to remain the status quo (unless more dogs are introduced), however it does not prevent the lessor ranking dogs from wanting to push the boundaries from time to time, and in some cases the established hierarchy can be a little shaky and enforced without a convincing submission from the under dog.

  • As a general rule for desexed males the older dog will be the most respected, a female will tend to boss over the males. I have noticed that the desexed males will tend to have more flux and tousles over dominance. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, usually this is not an issue, unless one dog decides he no longer wants to defer to the older dog. This is what I think may be happening here.

Solutions for dominance:

  • As the boxer is the offending dog in this case and the younger and so, most likely, more trainable dog

  • Your parents could try practicing a few techniques to reduce the dominant features their boxer is displaying. Although it is a good thing for a dog to be protective of it's humans, a dog can become a little overprotective, which can result in some over zealous or aberrant aggressive behavior. These are some simple techniques that can be used explained in thiese posts How can I stop my dog jumping at the table and mouthing my fingers? and here Why does my dog act differently outside the house?.

  • It is worth mentioning that this is not outrageous behavior by dogs, by any means. Dogs can be prone to friction and they can't argue it out.

  • Given your only want to bring the dogs together for 3-4 hours and that in the past, they had been together for a prolonged period before this neck shaking occurred, I'd be quote hopeful that you could integrate the three dogs for family gatherings, but I would not leave them unsupervised.

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