You have three or four dogs in your home, and everyone seems to get along quite well, until one day a minor tiff turns into an all-out dog fight with fur flying and blood everywhere. That’s what nearly happened in my household very recently.
Until about a month ago, all four of my German Shepherds–three bitches and a dog–played together, although one of the bitches, Gretchen, was separated from the other Shepherds when not playing during the day and night. She was crated in the house, while the other three dogs stayed on our enclosed verandah.
Then Gretchen went on heat, which surprised me because I expected that she would go on heat at the same time as her dam and aunt. For convenience, I kept her completely isolated from the other dogs until she came off heat. One evening I let her out to play with the other three dogs, whom she got along well with in previous encounters. Athena, the aunt, who used to dote on her, summarily attacked her most viciously. Fortunately I saw what was about to take place and intervened.
It was then that I realized that life would not be the same in my household among my dogs again. The puppies have reached sexual maturity and are now competing with the other dogs for food, attention, status, and mates. In a recently published paper titled Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs, the researcher, Petra Mertens (2006) points out that although bitches from the same household tend to go in estrus at the same time (which is what I expected at my house), a few higher ranking bitches will enter estrus earlier. Given Mertens’ research, could Athena construe Gretchen’s early heat as a shift upwards on the social scale for Gretchen?
I am not sure why Gretchen went on heat before the other dogs. This is her first heat at nine months. Was it because she had been separated from the other dogs and only allowed to play with them for a few hours each day? My Pomeranian bitch, who is also separated from the big dogs, does not go on heat at the same time as the other females. Was Gretchen’s heat a result of the Early Neurological Stimulation exercises that I did with her and the other puppies shortly after birth?
I don’t know if I will ever have the answers to these questions, but one thing’s for sure: if you have puppies in a house with adult dogs, you must pay attention to the group dynamics. Once those puppy papers burn, around the time of sexual maturity, puppies that were once loved and protected by the adult dogs will become the target of aggression.
Mertens, P. (2006). Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs. Theriogenology, 66, 606-609. Retrieved from http://www.Sciencedirect.com