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Barn dogs suddenly attacking older dog: What's going on?

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  • Barn dogs suddenly attacking older dog: What's going on?

    My "pack" of barn dogs has consistently hovered between two and four for years. The two mainstays are neutered mutts that have been together almost since birth. The older one (Patches) is 10; the younger 9. The two relative newcomers are a two-year old white GSx and the neighbor's very sweet pit bull mix who essentially lives here. All males except the GS; all are altered. While the older dogs are, well, older, they are in great health and keep up with the younger ones when it comes to playing and being active.

    Lately, I've been noticing small instances of aggressiveness directed toward the 10 y.o. Patches has always been the lowest member of the pack, but this seemed slightly different.

    Today, there was a HUGE blowup. For some reason I can't fathom (i.e. no food was around, nobody was playing with a toy, I was working with the horses so nobody was getting any special attention), all the other dogs attacked Patches. Like they were trying to kill him.

    Thankfully, I was able to break it up almost immediately. No blood was shed and while Patches seemed shaken, he's physically fine.

    But I can't get the image of the others going after him out of my head. The GS is looking for a home as we speak (she's the instigator), so I have a plan in place to keep it from happening again...BUT what caused it in the first place? Should I be rushing Patches to the vet for a check-up to see if something has imperceptibly changed in his health to make the others turn on him? Are there any plausible explanations for this sudden change in behavior?

    Incidently, while the dogs do live outside, people are around most of the time during the day. They dogs are locked in the garage to sleep at night. So if any incidents had happened before, I'm pretty sure I would have known about it.

  • #2
    With dogs kept loose in a pack situation...this isn't uncommon. Even highly trained working dogs (sled dogs) start turning on the oldest after a time. That's how retirement ages are decided for sled runners...not so much by their physical limitations but when the rest of the pack starts considering them obsolete. Because a pack does not survive/work well when dogs age out...it's not the other dogs being "mean" but their own survival instincts kicking in. Domestic dogs kept in pack situations revert back to pack mentality...their instincts become stronger than their training.
    Dogs kept outside and then away from household rules and humans all night are considered a pack and not really a bunch of pets. At least not to the dogs. Unless they're being worked by humans a good portion of every day following specific protocol and commands...the pack instinct takes over.
    Your older dog may have slowed down just enough for the other dogs to notice...but not enough for you to really notice yet. There may be a health issue not seen yet...there may not. Even a dog's scent changes as they age, other dogs will notice. Being in a pack means the younger dogs will start lobbying for pack positions and will use the low man on the totem pole to practice their bids for alpha on. Low man always gets the most unprovoked knocks...that's nature at work. Any changes in the dynamics or maturity of the pack will affect the low man even if the low man hasn't done anything to "deserve" it.
    This is when the humans have to take over and start managing the pack. Either change their entire daily routines and get them back on obediance schedules...ie re-establish yourself as leader and then lay the ground rules....or you have to separate the old dog and start keeping it protected. Because one attack means another will definitely happen. There were signs leading up to it...which is usually the time to remove the older dog from the pack for it's own safety. The oldest dog was very lucky that it wasn;t harmed so far. Old dog needs to become a house pet...and when outside it needs to be supervised/kept from roaming free with the rest. Because packs can act sneaky...everything will seem fine and they will all turn at once as soon as they can. And the old dog might not survive the next one. Getting rid of the instigator won't work because a new one will take it's place unless their daily routines change.
    You jump in the saddle,
    Hold onto the bridle!
    Jump in the line!
    ...Belefonte

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    • #3
      This happens with my barn cats when one of them is getting sick - even just an off day. The cats pick on the weakest link so to speak. That's when changes in sleeping areas have to be modified at least until the sick or wounded or "off" animal gets back to normal or medical attention has been completed.
      Zu Zu Bailey " IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE ! "

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Zu Zu View Post
        This happens with my barn cats when one of them is getting sick - even just an off day. The cats pick on the weakest link so to speak. That's when changes in sleeping areas have to be modified at least until the sick or wounded or "off" animal gets back to normal or medical attention has been completed.
        Ditto. Our two cats who loved each other dearly suddenly started fighting after four years. I took the "victim" to the vet - he had diabetes and a fatal kidney problem that had still not shown symptoms (he was only four years old). They can smell illness long before we can see it.

        Comment


        • #5
          Can he become a house dog instead of a farm dog?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by SteppinEasy View Post
            Patches has always been the lowest member of the pack, but this seemed slightly different. Today, there was a HUGE blowup. For some reason I can't fathom (i.e. no food was around, nobody was playing with a toy, I was working with the horses so nobody was getting any special attention), all the other dogs attacked Patches. Like they were trying to kill him.
            That sucks. Dogs squabble a lot, but serious attempts to kill should not be taken lightly. Natural or not, it's a nasty situation to have to handle. I think that it's worth a vet visit for Patches. It might just be age-related, ie, the other dogs are moving as a pack to oust overall oldest/weakest dog. But age could be a more direct cause, too. For example, if Patches is developing some arthritis, being bumped accidentally by a higher ranking dog might hurt him enough that he reacts with a snarl that the other dogs won't tolerate.

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thanks, guys, for the thoughts. Patches is now removed from the pack indefinitely and will be going to the vet soon. I would LOVE to make this guy a house dog (he used to be one but detested it in his younger years), but my Great Pyrenees house dog would kill him simply for commiting the sin of existing. Despite years of obedience training and being a certified therapy dog, she's still a bit on the "this is my house and no other animal shall ever darken the doors" side, alas. I'm looking for a new home for Patches...he's extremely cute, well-behaved and quiet, so our local dog rescue group has high hopes they can post him on their website and find an elderly person to spoil him.

              One other question, though...he and the other mutt have been together for a lot of years, now. Should I be trying to find them a home together or separately? They've never had a problem with one another when it's just the two of them, but...?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by SteppinEasy View Post
                .

                One other question, though...he and the other mutt have been together for a lot of years, now. Should I be trying to find them a home together or separately? They've never had a problem with one another when it's just the two of them, but...?
                I'd wait to see what the vet has to say first.

                We experienced this with our dogs. Two of the dogs had been together for about 8 years. The third was a pup. The younger of the original two started attacking the older dog - and not lightly attacking. We took the older dog to the vet and it turned out she was much sicker than we ever realized (we knew she had slowed down but at 12 years old and being a big dog that wasn't surprising) and she had COPD. In our case, we elected to manage the dogs and kept the older one separated from the other two at all times.

                The older dog hung in there (with lots of meds) for one more year.

                It is not uncommon for dogs to turn on the sick/weak members of their pack. It is all about keeping the pack strong. It isn't a breed thing, a training thing or a reflection on you as an owner. It is just pure instinct.

                Best of luck with whatever course of action you go with.

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                • #9
                  They're driving him out of the pack and may kill him.

                  They may sense that he is weak, just old, or is sick.

                  The only way to stop the inevitable is to remove the old dog from the pack.
                  Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
                  Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
                  -Rudyard Kipling

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                  • #10
                    I'm going through this now with my senior (12) dog. So far I can control it, since I'm the alpha bitch. Julia is coming close to the end of her life, and the other 3 bitches know it.

                    You do know that horses do the same thing in a herd situation. I've got an old, blind, deaf mare who has to be separated from the younger horses at all times or they run her off. Her companion is my 25 yo gelding, and they do just fine together.
                    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                    Thread killer Extraordinaire

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                    • #11
                      Please don't take this the wrong way, but this really is a pet peeve of mine. Why do people keep taking in dogs when (clearly!) they have no business doing so?? You can NOT save the world, folks. When people see my peaceful little trio (2 dogs, 1 cat) they always want to "dump" another animal on me. I know what my household can handle and the rule is that one has to leave (die) before another comes in. I've fostered enough pets for a few days/week at a time to realize that any more will upset the delicate balance and there is NO way that I'd get rid of a pet that I've had for several years just because a new one comes along and wreaks havoc. That just breaks my heart to think of your dog now being shuffled off to someone else, even though I'm sure it will be a good home. (I would hope)

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                      • #12
                        If you are rehoming your newcomer anyways, can you ask your neighbor to keep her dog home for a while? Patches won't live forever, and I'm guessing that he and 9 year old will co-exist just fine. I hate to see a 10 year old dog sent to a rescue, it is so much harder to find a home for a senior. Your neighbor should understand that the younger dogs are giving the senior a hard time and that things need to change for a while so that the older dogs can have some peace.

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Dune, any post that starts off with "Please don't take offense, but..." probably is going to cause someone to take offense. But I guess your comments give me the opportunity to explain the situation more fully lest anyone thing this is a case of an owner getting a shiny new toy and wanting to get rid of the older ones.

                          The "new" dog is one that I picked up half dead at a truck stop a year ago with the intention of taking her to the vet, keeping her a week or two after that until I could find her a good home and then that would be that. Best laid plans and all that.

                          The dog cost me over $2000 and two months rehab to get her healthy...and then my mother's health deteriorated to the point where that was all I could think about...and then my mother passed away and I've been embroiled in getting her estate settled, rehoming my horses, etc., etc. etc. Not to mention coping with that small little thing called "grief." The months just kept passing with the dog not finding a home. I even advertised her on the Giveaways forum with no responses.

                          The older dogs were my parents' pets, long before I moved in. With both of my parents gone, these dogs now have two options when I sell the farm: they can either be PTS (which I am willing to do if no homes are found) or they can go to new homes. Coming with me is impossible because the Pyr doesn't deal well with "invaders." She is the ONLY dog I actually own.

                          As far as the rescue is concerned, they will NOT be taking physical possession of the older dogs. They are simply listing them on their website so the dogs have a chance to get a new home. Again, if none are found, they will be PTS.

                          If no home has been found for the younger dog by the time I leave, then she will go to the rescue. She has a good chance for a home, so that seems feasible.

                          Pony89, I WISH my neighbors would keep their dog at home!!! Long story, but take my word for it, it's not going to happen. In fact, the rescue has asked me to take pictures of this dog so they can post him on their site, too, because they're afraid of what will happen to him once I leave and there's no one left to feed him.

                          Really, I'm a responsible owner. No intentional hoarding on my part. But sometimes we have to deal with what life hands us, too many dogs and all.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            wow, steppingeasy, you are way more gracious than I.

                            First off, let me say my condolences for losing your parents. I just went through that myself, and settling estates and grieving are not pleasant experiences, rather take step by step.

                            With that insight, I also wonder how the dogs are responding to your mother's loss. I know one of my dogs had a very difficult time with my mom's passing, and she only lived with us for two years, but enough for my dog to form a deep connection.

                            So, that change in pattern, heirarchy, etc affects the dogs as well.

                            I wish you luck, you sound like you have things very well under control, and take care of yourself as well.
                            save lives...spay/neuter/geld

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Ditto

                              Originally posted by pony89 View Post
                              If you are rehoming your newcomer anyways, can you ask your neighbor to keep her dog home for a while? Patches won't live forever, and I'm guessing that he and 9 year old will co-exist just fine. I hate to see a 10 year old dog sent to a rescue, it is so much harder to find a home for a senior. Your neighbor should understand that the younger dogs are giving the senior a hard time and that things need to change for a while so that the older dogs can have some peace.
                              In all fareness to your older dogs, rehome the younger dog and tell your neighbor to keep hers home.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                opps!

                                Originally posted by SteppinEasy View Post
                                Dune, any post that starts off with "Please don't take offense, but..." probably is going to cause someone to take offense. But I guess your comments give me the opportunity to explain the situation more fully lest anyone thing this is a case of an owner getting a shiny new toy and wanting to get rid of the older ones.

                                The "new" dog is one that I picked up half dead at a truck stop a year ago with the intention of taking her to the vet, keeping her a week or two after that until I could find her a good home and then that would be that. Best laid plans and all that.

                                The dog cost me over $2000 and two months rehab to get her healthy...and then my mother's health deteriorated to the point where that was all I could think about...and then my mother passed away and I've been embroiled in getting her estate settled, rehoming my horses, etc., etc. etc. Not to mention coping with that small little thing called "grief." The months just kept passing with the dog not finding a home. I even advertised her on the Giveaways forum with no responses.

                                The older dogs were my parents' pets, long before I moved in. With both of my parents gone, these dogs now have two options when I sell the farm: they can either be PTS (which I am willing to do if no homes are found) or they can go to new homes. Coming with me is impossible because the Pyr doesn't deal well with "invaders." She is the ONLY dog I actually own.

                                As far as the rescue is concerned, they will NOT be taking physical possession of the older dogs. They are simply listing them on their website so the dogs have a chance to get a new home. Again, if none are found, they will be PTS.

                                If no home has been found for the younger dog by the time I leave, then she will go to the rescue. She has a good chance for a home, so that seems feasible.

                                Pony89, I WISH my neighbors would keep their dog at home!!! Long story, but take my word for it, it's not going to happen. In fact, the rescue has asked me to take pictures of this dog so they can post him on their site, too, because they're afraid of what will happen to him once I leave and there's no one left to feed him.

                                Really, I'm a responsible owner. No intentional hoarding on my part. But sometimes we have to deal with what life hands us, too many dogs and all.
                                I should have read all the postings first. Sorry for your loss. I can see the need to rehome now. Good Luck

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Muleskick View Post
                                  In all fareness to your older dogs, rehome the younger dog and tell your neighbor to keep hers home.
                                  Yes, I kind of agree with this.

                                  Rather than "re-homing" (I guess that's the new term for giving away?), the older guys, why not take the younger dog to the rescue NOW. You've done enough for her.

                                  And tell your neighbor that you can no longer tolerate the spats between dogs, and if she doesn't keep her dog at home, you will assume she doesn't want it, and let the rescue have it as well. And follow up. Then the two older dudes will have a place to themselves, and peace will reign.

                                  Really, why should the old guys be killed (PTS, indeed....) and the younger ones remain....the old guys deserve a peaceful life-end home....I'm sure your parents would agree with that.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I have heard from breeders of larger dogs that it is not totally uncommon for the up and coming to attack the older dogs, to the point of death.

                                    Comment

                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Originally posted by Kyzteke View Post
                                      Yes, I kind of agree with this.

                                      Rather than "re-homing" (I guess that's the new term for giving away?), the older guys, why not take the younger dog to the rescue NOW. You've done enough for her.

                                      And tell your neighbor that you can no longer tolerate the spats between dogs, and if she doesn't keep her dog at home, you will assume she doesn't want it, and let the rescue have it as well. And follow up. Then the two older dudes will have a place to themselves, and peace will reign.

                                      Really, why should the old guys be killed (PTS, indeed....) and the younger ones remain....the old guys deserve a peaceful life-end home....I'm sure your parents would agree with that.
                                      Um, Kytzete, please read my posts more carefully. I simply CANNOT keep any of the dogs in question. The older dogs can stay here until I sell the farm and move in the next couple of weeks, but after that, what exactly, would you like me to do?

                                      Yes, I will kill the older dogs before I will leave them in an uncertain situation. The statistics indicate that older dogs have very little chance of finding new homes, even with the rescue listing them on their website. The rescue is maxed out on foster homes and while they are willing to take the younger ones because they can place them quickly, they don't want to take the older ones. Would you rather I drop them off at the pound?

                                      And as a caregiver for over SEVEN years without one day off or an offer of help during that time, I find it extremely offensive that you would presume to tell me what MY parents would have wanted for their pets!

                                      One day, everyone in the world will face hard decisions they never anticipated they would have to make. It's best that we all remember that and learn to go first for compassion rather than judgment.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Alagirl View Post
                                        I have heard from breeders of larger dogs that it is not totally uncommon for the up and coming to attack the older dogs, to the point of death.
                                        It isn't just larger dogs. Case in point: http://www.agilitybits.co.uk/books/clunes.htm This gentleman had to rehome one of his cocker spaniels for the same reason. The younger cocker started attacking the older, infirm cocker.

                                        It is just one of those unfortunate behaviors that is hard for people to grasp because we tend to care greatly for older infirm people. (Some)dogs are more interested in survival and pack strength...

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