Hello, we need help.
We have an 8yr old male, blue heeler (Reef) who we adopted 14 months ago. At the time he lived with a young family and appeared to have been left in the back yard with minimal interaction once young children were born (3 years?). We do not know how much (if any) socialisation Reef had had with other dogs. We had Reef de-sexed (and vac, wormed, chipped) as soon as we got him.
There is just my husband and I in our house, no kids.
Over the past year, we have done basic obedience training with Reef to which he has responded well. However, he has always been a very good guard dog and whenever someone comes to the front door, Reef barks ALOT until he eventually meets them, and then he is fine.
Reef tends to whine and sometimes bark if we come across other dogs while out walking. He is ok with other dogs at the beach; although he is usually very focussed on retrieving the ball and so doesn't pay much attention to other dogs around him. Whenever we are home, Reef is inside the house with us and can go wherever he likes. He is 35kg (not fat, just BIG). The hierarchy in the house is Husband 1, me 2 and Reef 3. BUT at times I think that Reef thinks he is No. 2. He certainly follows Husband around more than me.
Recently, after much consideration, we decided to adopt a second dog. We have 'on trial' a red heeler, Rusty. We think he is about 4 years old and the rescue group had him de-sexed a few weeks ago. He is a very gentle, happy dog. Very affectionate. He is 23kg, so quite small. Rusty is not arrogant or pushy.
We brought Rusty home last weekend and introduced the two dogs at a nearby football ground that neither had ever been to. We started with them on loose leads quite a distance apart (husband with Reef, me with Rusty). As we got closer, Reef started to growl and snarl and eventually lunged at Rusty and bit him. We managed to pull them apart. So, back on the leash and separated we just walked laps of the oval at a distance so they could smell each other etc.
Since we brought them home, it has been very difficult. We have had to keep them separated or Reef growls, snarls and eventually goes to attack Rusty. We have used all of our obedience training to make Reef stop, sit, move away, break his stare, distract him etc.
We have had to set the house up so that Reef has access to an enclosed patio and inside. Rusty has access to the laundry and the backyard. We have a pool-fence style gate separating them and they can see and smell each other through this.
Inside the house, they can now sit quietly just a few metres apart provided there is a baby-gate between them or they are on leashes attached to us or heavy furniture. If they have free rein, they fight. So far there have been three fights that we have broken up as quickly as possible.
When we take them out for walks, they are ok with each other. In fact they can walk right next to each other and are more interested in their surrounds than each other. We stop regularly and just all stand together (husband has Reef, I have Rusty). Husband has also walked the two together without me and without incident.
We had our local dog trainer around who said we were doing all the right things and perhaps to try Tryptophan for Reef. We did, and it didn't seem to have any effect - perhaps it takes some days/weeks to build up in their system?
Today, we decided to try a muzzle on Reef so that the two dogs could be closer together without the risk of Rusty getting hurt. As soon as they got close, Reef tried to attack and Rusty defended himself by attacking Reef. Rusty NEVER initiates the fight, just defends himself. This just seems to be getting harder. So we also put a muzzle on Rusty. They spent quite a long time just sitting observing each other but soon enough they attempted a big fight but couldn't bite each other due to the muzzles. I can't bear to see this happen, it makes me feel sick. I hate the sounds, the aggression and i feel like Rusty is being a crash-test dummy. We broke up the 'fight' with a few buckets of cold water. We were able to all sit on the back lawn at a distance of about 3m. Rusty tries to avoid Reef and walks big wide arcs away from him and tries to be near me (for protection I guess).
Since then, we have separated the dogs for some time out and quiet.
I am terrified that we are inflaming the situation and am seeking any sensible, constructive advice as to what to do next, if anything. Are we fighting a losing battle? As much as we would love to keep Rusty, we want him to have the best possible life and home and we don't want that to be one where he is bullied, attacked or miserable.
Do you think they will eventually settle and get used to each other? What else can we do?
Does it just take time?
Looking forward to your comments.
Rusty.jpg2011_07 Sandy Cape with Reef - 077c-400.jpg