Pack Order: A Hard Lesson in Dog Behavior
On January 15, 2016, I witnessed a vicious attack of the family's Pit bull mixes upon a third member of the group. This article addresses dog behavior with respect to the importance of understanding pack order and the circumstances that may have contributed to the death of Brindle, the family's Pit bull-German Shepard mix.
My first encounter with the animals in 2013 is described in another hub: Unusual Housemates: Three Pit Bulls.
It is my hope that in presenting this experience,some wisdom will be gained by readers, especially those considering adopting dogs from any animal shelter.
The Family Dogs of the Past
In growing as a child, we had a number of family dogs, but never more than one at a time. My father said that a dog needed one master and children spoiled a dog. If a dog began wandering from our farm, he had no qualms about shooting the animal. He knew that once a dog began to run, it would begin grouping with other dogs of similar persuasion and form a pack. Their behavior would then revert to those of their ancestors, wild wolves, and livestock would then be in jeopardy from the pack.
Was known to bite my toddler brother
Tore wings off goslings out of boredom
Somewhat nervous, always keeping around master's legs
Loyal, playful with kids, good guard dog
These are the family dogs I remember. These were all male except Boots. All dogs were outdoor dogs and never allowed in the house.
My father had his own collie dog Andy as a boy. The two were inseparable, and the dog would always obey my dad's commands to fetch a cow, even if the cow kicked Andy. My dad said he cried the day Andy died.
After I left the farm, my brothers owned what I think was a retriever-terrier mix. She was good at keeping the unwanted rodent population on the farm in check.
I don't recall any of our family dogs ever bothering the barnyard cats. If such an occasion arose, the victim cat would always scale the nearest tree, which were plentiful enough on our farm.
If you're going to save a dog from a shelter, do so with the intent of providing leadership for the dog, not because you're feeling sorry for it or it's cute. Choose only one dog, especially if you have no or little experience with dogs.
Hindsight about the Subject Dogs
- Kodiak (part Mastiff) and Qinling (part Terrier) had bonded prior to Brindle's arrival
- Brindle was at least 10 months old when acquired
- The dogs functioned as indoor house dogs until shortly after my grandson's birth
All three dogs had been neutered when young, but Brindle's operation occurred at a more mature age, and so he still exhibited mating tendencies toward Qinling, the only female of the three.
Factors I Felt Contributed to Aggression
The transition to outdoor living for the dogs resulted in less human interaction. With the arrival of a new baby, there simply wasn't as much time for meaningful human play. The dogs experienced greater flea problems and were bathed irregularly. There was less time for leashed walks in the neighborhood, an enjoyable event that allowed the dogs to experience smells and sights beyond their domain.
On at least one occasion, a feeding time was neglected, and the dogs went without a meal. There, too, was perhaps a misunderstanding about the amount of food necessary for outdoor living, as the dogs became more active and at least once were put into the garage because freezing temperatures were predicted. (Chilly temperatures naturally demand more food calories to maintain body heat.)
The Scenario at the Time of Attack
I had just adjusted the amount of food for the dogs based on the small print on the dog food bag. The dogs even had two extras added: rice and baby food meat (my daughter had decided to delay my grandson's meat intake and allowed the dogs to have some with their food).
Qinling and Brindle had finished eating, but seemed to want more food. Kodiak always took longer, so I offered a handful of food to the other two by placing the bits in their bowls. Then I went to get Kodiak a double handful because I figured he'd probably want a little more also. Just before I was able to put the food into Kodiak's bowl, he headed for Brindle's bowl. Brindle approached his own bowl, but Kodiak growled and attacked. A relentless fight ensued. Qinling decided to side with Kodak.
Kodak had a firm grip on Brindle's ear, while Qinling attacked Brindle's left front leg. I commanded, "Kodiak, stop!" repeatedly to no avail.
I tried throwing the dog's drinking water on the skirmish in an attempt to end the fight, but this did nothing. The two dogs began dragging Brindle on the grounds without release.
I got more water and threw it on the dogs. Continued fighting.
I continued uttering the command to stop and even grabbed Kodiak by the scruff of the neck, but nothing would make that dog release Brindle.
I then talked by phone to my son-in-law and daughter. I had never in my life witnessed such behavior in domestic dogs in my life, I explained, "Kodiak and Qinling are killing Brindle!"
The owners had no suggestions. My only recourse was to continue throwing water on the fight in an effort to end it. (Had I possession of a shotgun at that point, I would probably have used it on all three dogs--that's what Dad would have done.)
Being religious, I called to St. Francis, who was known for his power of calming animals (he once spoke to a wolf that had been eating the children of Assisi and ended the wolf's attacks). I even tried to pull Kodiak by his tail to get him off Brindle, but Kodiak's grip was relentless.
Knocks to Kodiak's head with a plastic bucket and then a metal duster also proved fruitless. The thought of calling the Department of Animal Control did enter my mind, but I reasoned that by the time they answered the call, the trip would have been in vain.
Finally I gave up. My 12-year-old granddaughter wanted to help because she liked Brindle and deplored the fight, but her father by phone had forbidden her to go outside and I supported that decision. In fact, I decided not to go outside again myself, as I was quite disgusted with the dogs and could have further risked being attacked myself.
After the Fight
The fight finally ended. In my state, I had no reliable sense of time, but it seemed about 12 minutes had passed.
Kodiak even approached Brindle, who was lying on the ground, as if to say, "You put up a good fight, buddy."
Qinling looked for water to drink, but I had thrown all of it on the dogs during the fight. She casually ate the handfuls of food remaining in the three dogs' bowls.
When my son-in-law arrived, he did his best to tend Brindle's gash in his leg. (According to my granddaughter, Brindle also had eye injury.) Apparently, Brindle's bleeding was difficult to stop.
I asked to be taken to my home, and my granddaughter went to her birth mother's home.
Brindle died under the comfort of my daughter's hand a day later, and my son-in-law buried the animal in the front yard. His resting place is marked by a poinsettia plant.
A Lesson Learned
As friendly and well behaved as these animals seemed to be shortly after my arrival, these dogs behaved in a manner unfitting for family dogs.
My daughter later explained that this was not the first time such fighting occurred. Brindle, she said, was challenging Kodiak's leadership, and it was on such occasions that Kodiak would attack him. According to my daughter, this would occur about once a year and even happened while the dogs were at a vet's clinic.
The dogs were not my responsibility, but having been raised on a farm, I naturally care for animals. Perhaps if I had waited and offered Kodiak a second helping first, the incident might have been avoided. Even if pepper spray had been available, I might have been able to end the fight.
Though I believe animals don't have free will, I advised my daughter that none of us were at fault--the dogs had done this on their own. ***
© 2016 Marie Flint