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This is the second time I've witnessed this happen, and unfortunately this time it was at the shelter I work at. A disclaimer first: I am by no means a behaviorist or dog expert, but I do know a good amount about body signals, warning signs, and displacement behaviors, and I am not the type of person to say things like 'It just happened out of nowhere!'

So the general situation is we 'try' dogs with each other to see if we can pair dogs up in the outdoor runs which they use twice a day. 'Tries' are done with both dogs on leash, penny can and air horn on hand, but basically letting the dogs sniff and greet each other with the leashes slack. This is done with as much prior knowledge and observation of the dogs individually beforehand. I am not in any way in charge of creating pairings or playgroup lists so I can't tell you if there is a formal personality assessment. I imagine logic comes into play, like dogs that are visibly stressed out or reactive in general won't be paired with similarly high strung dogs, or won't be paired at all until they get used to shelter life a bit. But I get the feeling it is 90% 'let's see what happens'.

The specific situation that happened was there were two dogs. Male was a neutered, 90lb pit. Female was a 60lb pit mix that was just spayed and was less perky than usual that day. Both dogs have been in playgroup (mingled and played with select other shelter dogs) without incidents. What happened this time was Male was leashed and held by my coworker in a run. I approached with Female and kept the leash slack. And in the next two seconds (not exaggerating) the following happened: Female approached, both dogs butt sniffed, female mounted male or just stood up on his side, female bit male's face and held on. A few seconds later, male tried to get a hold of female in some way and I think he succeeded. I dragged female back to a wall and tied her to the fence, then radio-ed for help. A bucket of water and airhorn did not work. A second bucket of water made Male let go first, then Female a few seconds after. We separated both dogs and neither seemed outwardly reactive or fixated on the other after this situation. Female was uninjured, Male had a small laceration probably from my pulling the female dog...

My first reaction was to find a break stick, and I was about to use the broken end of a wooden mop handle lying around. But my coworkers said I really shouldn't get that close, so I grabbed the second water bucket and dumped it, which worked... But I was later told that 'break stick' was not something that would be accepted at the shelter as it does not fall under our mission statement. I don't really understand, since it is less of an aversive than penny cans, air horns, and buckets of water. I get the safety concern of getting that close to a dog I don't know very well and being redirected on.

The second thing is, seeing these kinds of fights I feel that in a way they are less dramatic and damaging than the snarly, slashy fights that I think are more common. Two dogs grip and don't let go. Versus two dogs lunging and snapping and making multiple fast points of contact... But in the latter, I've always been able to tell why the fight occurred. Over a resource. Two dogs already giving off tons of signals during their greeting. Lack of space. Etc... In the kinds of fights like the situation I described, either it happens too fast or I am simply not seeing something, but it is as if there are zero warnings. I have a very old thread about the last time this happened and this time was the same... The aggressor simply walked up and decided to bite and hold. Zero sound, no lunging. And in both instances, when the dogs were separated the aggressor seemed very calm and accepting of the whole situation. Compared to a more vocal/snappy fight where a dog is visibly shaken or hot blooded when they are separated. Another thing about both times I've witnessed this, the aggressor had in the past played with or lived with other dogs or even the dog they attacked. So they are not (on the outside) dog aggressive dogs that fixate or even react to other dogs.

Any thoughts on this behavior? I'm starting to think that these kinds of fights are gonna happen, though sparingly. There is currently no protocol for how to separate the dogs, though one coworker suggested 'pushing the dogs into each other instead of pulling, and waiting for the moment where they release to readjust to separate them.' And the other train of thought is 'get a safe hold on each dog and just wait it out.'
 

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Muggsy, my previous dog (100 lb GSD x GR), did not give any warning at all prior to attacking. No growl, no posturing, no snapping, nothing. He would act like he was okay with the interaction solely so he could get close enough to kill. (That was fun when dogs would come running at us off leash and the owner was all "my dog is friendly!" Mine's not.) I eventually learned to read a certain tenseness in his posture when he saw other dogs, but that was about it. He is the only dog I've ever seen act that way.
 

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Could be leash aggression so it isn't showing up in Playgroup. Could be the size of the dogs, some are just aggressive to dogs larger than themselves or only much smaller.

Having just been spayed and still in pain seems a very bad time to test out dog to dog interactions. Its possible the female simply bit an easy target to take out her pain on.

Could have been a dog that was seriously punished for showing dog aggression or reaction and learned to hide it. I know one dog who ended up PTS because he had been ecollar trained aka shocked into submission for dog aggression so he seemed outwardly relaxed. Until he had a chance and attacked a passerby dog and a human got bit in the event.

I wouldn't call the white and hold type fights less damaging at all compared to the snarly lashing fights. Less dramatic maybe but potentially very very damaging. Since you were able to break it up with water and an air horn, it indicates it wasn't as serious as it could have been. There are some good videos online about how to properly use a break stick and limit redirection, that can be an only real option if one of the dogs latched on hard. A friend and i broke up one pit vs pit fight a few years ago where it took maybe 3 seconds and one hard bite for the one dog to put major puncture wounds in the other dog's neck. Luckily missed the arteries and trachea but the bitee needed drains put in and several weeks care at home.
 

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With the break stick, do they actually know what you mean by it?

When I first heard of them I presumed it was some sort of stick you'd hit the dog with or something before it was explained to me.
 

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I went to a JRT specific show and witnessed a fight when a dog snapped his thin show lead. Neither dog was anywhere near each other (probably 30ft away), they were not allowed to meet or anything. The dog who started it was posturing a little at other dogs, but not barking or carrying on or anything. Very subtle "I'm the king here" kind of behavior. The dog who was attacked was timid and nervous about being there, not paying attention to any other dogs. When the attacking dog snapped his leash he ran straight to the timid dog, grabbed on to his neck and held on. Both dogs were picked up and had to be physically pulled apart. The timid dog never fought back or did anything. There was zero noise.

That's the only time I've seen a fight like that with zero warning and zero posturing. Mostly I've seen dogs make a lot of noise but not really mean it. I personally find the silent attack and hold fight much scarier - to me those are the dogs looking to kill. The fights with lots of drama and flashing teeth seem to be more of a social ritual type of thing.
 

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With the break stick, do they actually know what you mean by it?

When I first heard of them I presumed it was some sort of stick you'd hit the dog with or something before it was explained to me.
Yeah that.

Or, you could just bring in some plastic tent stakes and say that they're for sticking between the dog's teeth if you have another latch-on incident like that, and never call it a break stick :p.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Yeah they do know. And I didn't raise the question to the entire shelter/boss... But my coworker made it sound like even suggesting it would put a black mark to my name. Huh.
 

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Josefina has issues with other females, as long as the other female is non combative or "submissive" (loaded terms I know, but I dont have another way is describing it), then everything is hunky dory, but if they try to dominate HER, than well, the fight is on. She has no issues with males, dominant or otherwise and if a male snarks at her she defers to him, heck, she puts up with crap from Lincoln that I know she would kill a female of the same age for.

Her problem is that she will be very stoic and unreadable until I guess she can't take anymore and she will lose it, she was a orphan with no mom, so she never learned how to use "just enough" force to get her point across, she either avoids or goes for broke when telling other dogs off.
 

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Luna has a general low-ish tolerance for obnoxious adolescent bs. Puppies she's okay with, but if an adolescent is being an idiot she will tell them.

Or if an adult does something she considers rude. (humping, for example)

If they don't listen to the "hey, you're being an idiot, eff off" correction she isn't hesitant to defend herself if it escalates, but she's only ever had a verbal argument, never any physical harm done. And even then once the other dog was under control she immediately removed herself from the situation and didn't continue to engage.
 

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That's the only time I've seen a fight like that with zero warning and zero posturing. Mostly I've seen dogs make a lot of noise but not really mean it. I personally find the silent attack and hold fight much scarier - to me those are the dogs looking to kill. The fights with lots of drama and flashing teeth seem to be more of a social ritual type of thing.
It's a display meant to put off more serious fighting. It's basically the same as cats fluffing themselves up to look bigger.
 

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It's a display meant to put off more serious fighting. It's basically the same as cats fluffing themselves up to look bigger.
Exactly. At least the dogs are communicating with each other "Get out of my face!" "Only if you get out of my face!" and then they resolve things and move on usually without too much damage.

The silent attacks aren't meant as posturing or communication, they are just meant to seriously injure or kill.
 

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Exactly. At least the dogs are communicating with each other "Get out of my face!" "Only if you get out of my face!" and then they resolve things and move on usually without too much damage.

The silent attacks aren't meant as posturing or communication, they are just meant to seriously injure or kill.
Buddy and Josefina have those sometimes, but they always resolve it, I try not to get involved.
 

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Exactly. At least the dogs are communicating with each other "Get out of my face!" "Only if you get out of my face!" and then they resolve things and move on usually without too much damage.

The silent attacks aren't meant as posturing or communication, they are just meant to seriously injure or kill.
Kabota has done this twice. Both times he was rushed, in the dark, while on leash, by an off leash, much bigger dog (a mastiff and a GSD). Both times the other dogs barked back once, then backed off and showed appeasement behaviors. Then Kabota got really interested in sniffing something over there. The owners were upset with Kabota, but all the dogs calmed right down.
 

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My dog doesn't give much of a warning before attacking, so it does seem like "It came out of nowhere!". By that I mean more that her warning signs are not easy to spot if you're not looking and it's seconds between the first warning sign and her ready to act. She makes no effort to defuse the situation. There is no air snap, no growling, or other behaviors where another dog would be given any opportunity to back down. Her posture becomes stiff, there is a quick curl of the lip, and that's that she latches onto the other dog and will need to be pried off. I don't trust dogs like this around other dogs at all. In a way, I find it much scarier than a dog who has a lot of warnings signs and puts a lot of effort into the "show" of a fight.
 

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A dog that attacked Charlotte at a dog park years ago, and is what I personally think was responsible for her fear aggression and anxiety towards other dogs now, gave no warning. It simply walked up to her and grabbed her. It was really bizzarre.
 

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Personally: Strongly averse to dog aggression; have dealt with a fair amount of dog on dog aggression in boarding kennel.

I had a Rotti owner / friend advise me that such things will happen, and that a cattle prod is much more effective, and easier to keep on hand, than a bucket of water. Not advocating this. But it might be worth considering as a fallback in a shelter environment.
 

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I have also experienced a couple of those fights when testing new dogs in playgroup (although thankfully I'm not in charge of breaking them up, being a volunteer and not a staff member - I just bring the dog and then stand around as an extra hand if needed) IME experience, the sole predictor to those kinds of fights is whether or not the dogs are.... stiff during the initial interaction. I'm not even sure stiff is the right word. Tense? Tight? Still? Basically, the less movement the more likely there is to be a fight. I only bring it up because you don't describe their body language prior to the incident, only that they were sniffing. Even tail wagging isn't a sign of anything - the only tail signal that has been shown in research to be associated with one identifiable "emotion" is the circle-wag, which only happens in the presence of things of which the dog is very fond.

Shell pointed out likely triggers though - being in pain, size, previous history...

The other thing is that stress can do weird things to behavior - it can both repress behaviors and bring out new ones, and for dog in a shelter environment I don't think there's a way to tell which unless an owner history is available. I have seen dogs be totally fine in play group over multiple days or even weeks and then one day... they just aren't.
 

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Personally: Strongly averse to dog aggression; have dealt with a fair amount of dog on dog aggression in boarding kennel.

I had a Rotti owner / friend advise me that such things will happen, and that a cattle prod is much more effective, and easier to keep on hand, than a bucket of water. Not advocating this. But it might be worth considering as a fallback in a shelter environment.
Cattle prods are the last thing that a shelter with a public face and reliance on donations would want to use. I know in my city people get extremely upset at any mention of any dog suffering in any context, regardless of what the situation actually is. Condoning the use of a cattle prod, even in an emergency situation, is just asking for a public-relations nightmare.
 

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A dog that attacked Charlotte at a dog park years ago, and is what I personally think was responsible for her fear aggression and anxiety towards other dogs now, gave no warning. It simply walked up to her and grabbed her. It was really bizzarre.
This is what happened to my dog. I will never take another dog to a dog park. At 10 months old, Alice was at the park and out of nowhere two Great Danes rushed her and had her pinned to the ground. She was never the same after that. I still took her to the dog park for a few more months until I realized that now SHE was dangerous to other dogs. She has had fear aggression towards other dogs since then. It has become less severe over the last few years, and now there are a few select dogs she can play with just fine (family member's dogs), but I cannot trust her at all around strange dogs if she is unleashed. She goes right for the kill and there is almost no warning.
 
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