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Intra-Household Aggression

A German Shepherd and a hound sleep with their heads touching through a gate.
Shadow & Cyan cuddle through an x-pen barrier

Intra-household aggression refers to aggression between pets in the same household or part of the same family. This post will primarily focus on dog-dog aggression cases, but much of the same information applies to inter-species aggression.

Intra-household cases are one of the most emotionally taxing behavior journeys in which to engage. Family members are often hyper-vigilant at home and may find it hard to let their guard down.

They may feel guilty that their attention is now divided, resulting in less engagement with each pet.

Family members may delay or change travel plans or family visits or avoid having company at the house to lessen the risk of management failure. There may be conflict between family members due to the stress of the aggressive incidents or about how to move forward.

Family members may be traumatized from witnessing or breaking up dog fights. They may have sustained injuries breaking up the conflicts. They have likely seen the animals they love hurt one another, or one hurt the other, sometimes very severely. They may not understand why and feel quite out of control.

Two dogs in matching jackets focus on their handlers in a wooded setting
Conrad & Emerson at a training session with their parents.

Families working through intra-household aggression must have strong support for themselves. While some family and friends may not understand what they are going through (which can be incredibly isolating), others may be able to listen, empathize, and offer other forms of support.

Finding an individual and family counselor, or speaking with a veterinary social worker, can be incredibly helpful in maintaining their wellness. Folks may find support through social media or support groups.

Support can be practical as well. Bringing in a dog walker, using well-vetted daycare, or having one of the pets stay with a friend or boarding facility for the short term can offer much-needed relief to the humans in the household.

Accessibility to such resources will vary significantly from case to case. Co-morbid behavior concerns, financial constraints, and geographic location influence the available options.


Defining Success and Understanding the Options in an Intra-Household Aggression Case

Defining a successful outcome, and understanding the potential outcomes, is an integral part of any behavior modification plan, but especially so in an intra-household case.

A baby gate is pictured, and a break stick hangs on the wall
Management and safety tools include baby gates and break sticks

A behavior consultant or veterinarian can help the family to understand their options.

Options in behavior cases include:

  • Long-term management

  • Management and behavior therapy

  • Rehome one of the pets

  • Behavioral euthanasia

None of these choices are easy, nor are they made lightly. Only the family can decide what is right in their unique situation.

Understanding the variables affecting the situation can help a family to make an informed choice.


Variables to Consider in an Intra-Household Aggression Case

World-renowned aggression expert, Michael Shikasho highlights eighteen variables to consider when assessing an intra-household case. I'll talk briefly about each below.

Bite Levels

One of the first factors in assessing a case is considering the level of conflict in which the pets have engaged, historically.

Using the Cara Shannon Bite Hierarchy for injuries inflicted on dogs we can assign the injuries an objective rating that gives us information about the potential damage a dog is likely to do again in future incidents.

When considering this variable the lower the bite level, the better.