This is a difficult introduction for me to make. I may end up reposting most of this on one of the behavior boards, as I don't know how much attention the "introductions" board gets, and I really need some outside input.
First, this is going to be a long post. I apologize, but I don't know any way to truncate what is going
on in my home.
I have owned APBT and AmStaffs for 11+ years. In that time, I have shown dogs to UKC Grand Championships, Agility and Obedience titles, owned Therapy Dogs, Canine Good Citizens, and worked in herding, weight pull, and flyball. I have fostered 15+ APBT. I have been a Veterinary Technician for 10 years, and have been training dogs for 7 years, largely due to the struggles I had with my first dog and the issues he had with respecting commands of people other than myself. Just to elaborate, this dog is Genghis, who I will speak of later in this post. Genghis was always incredibly obedient to me, but would ignore other people who told him to do something. He would not heel for anyone else, and would not give up a rawhide or toy for anyone other than myself, although he never showed aggression toward any human. If someone asked him to give up a valuable possession, he would merely avoid the interaction, and if confronted, he would hold on to his toy or rawhide, but allow any human to take it from his mouth by force, just not drop it on command. I never worried about aggression toward people with this dog under my watchful eye, but I also acknowledged that without proper training and leadership, he could have easily been a problem. During this time, he lived with a 4 year old child and never showed any aggression. He tolerated (and seemed to enjoy) the constant ear pulling, laying upon, and torment that any small child shows a dog in their household. When my step-daughter slept, Genghis was always at her side, seeking her out if he wasn't there when she first fell asleep. He truly loved her company.
At one of Genghis' first dog shows, he was aggressed upon by another dog in his class. He had never shown any propensity toward inter-dog aggression, but did attempt to defend himself at this affront. I was bitten by the other dog in trying to break up this fight, but it was very minor, and I didn't even notice the bite until after our class was done and we ended up in the winner's circle.
After this issue at the show, Genghis became somewhat difficult with other adult male dogs. I was always able to control him on leash, and he completely ignored other male dogs at shows, even when they were nose to rear in the ring, but he was never again reliable in a dog park situation. I worked very hard at desensitizing him to other male dogs off-lead, but to no avail. He never showed any aggression with female dogs or puppies. I fostered many female dogs and puppies in the years that followed, and had no problems. I have had two other personal female dogs, and all of the dogs could eat together and share toys and rawhides. I have also fostered several male puppies through their adolescence with no issues. The problem appeared to be only with male dogs that were already adult when Genghis met them. My dogs largely eat a raw diet - very few things hold the value of a piece of raw meat, but the dogs have never fought over this or anything else.
Earlier this year, the police came upon a puppy (about 12 weeks old) who was emaciated and frostbitten, chained to a fence behind a drug house they broke up. The female police officer attempted to keep this dog herself, but was ultimately unable to, and contacted me. I took this puppy in, originally as a foster, but planned to keep him after a few weeks, as he meshed so well with the "pack" in my home. I named him Cash (after Johnny Cash). There were absolutely no indications of aggression on anyone's part until very recently. From January to August, all three dogs got along without incident. Cash was just neutered, in the hope of helping his aggressive reaction toward Genghis.
I also have a female APBT, 7 years old, named Mina, who ruptured a disc in her back about a year ago, and is now paralyzed in her rear end. Mina had extensive reconstructive surgery, but it was unable to restore function of her rear legs. She is incredibly functional with her two working legs, to the point of being able to climb stairs and get up onto couches and my bed. She has always been the dog who would "belly up" or at least very willingly give her rear end to other adult dogs she met, and occasionally, to very "alpha type" human men. She has always accepted her part in my rotating pack as the most passive adult dog, but she is also a wonderful "mother figure" for puppies. She gets along very well with all other dogs, and has always been my "demo dog" in my obedience classes. Mina showed great tolerance for puppies in my "kindergarten" classes and was always introduced as a neutral adult dog in even my toy puppy classes. Mina was a star in obedience, flyball, agility, dock diving, and therapy work. That has all changed since her paralysis, but she continues to be an ambassador and is wonderful with humans of all sizes and every dog she meets. Mina has a cart for journeys outside of the home, and loves being able to go to the dog beach and play fetch. (Did I mention she has an insane ball obsession? She really thinks she's a Labrador).
So, just a recap - in my house right now, we have Genghis (11, MN), Mina (7, FS) and Cash (11m(ish), now MN)
In the last 5 weeks, there have been a few small skirmishes. The first issue was when we had a BBQ and a large bag of raw chicken was dropped on the ground in front of all three of the dogs. All three of the dogs ended up fighting. It was easily ended, and none of the dogs suffered any serious injuries.
About two weeks after that, Genghis walked up to Cash while Cash was finishing his dinner. Cash immediately went on the offensive, and grabbed Genghis by the throat. With the help of two other people, the dogs were easily separated and no serious harm was done. Both dogs sustained minor puncture wounds.
In the mean time, there have been a few skirmishes between the dogs, all involving raw meals. They have shown no problems with kibble, rawhides, or other food items. They cuddle on the couch and all three sleep curled up together. During all non-food interactions, Cash appears submissive to both Mina and Genghis. I have attempted hand feeding all three dogs together, because initially, it appeared to be the food bows, and not the food itself, that was being protected. Hand feeding did not fix the issue.
I started feeding Cash separately from Mina and Genghis.
Recently, I was taking Cash to work with me (I am allowed to take the dogs to work, and Cash really enjoys coming with me) and gave all three dogs rawhide chips, mostly as a method to stop Genghis and Mina from crowding the front door when I walked Cash out. Cash dropped his rawhide when I told him to sit while he was leashed up. Mina walked toward us, (again I saw nothing aggressive or on the offense in her approach) and Cash immediately aggressed. Mina stood her own and both dogs sustained puncture wounds. Nothing was serious, as I was able to separate them very quickly.
Last night, I was eating dinner on the coffee table while watching TV. Cash was laying down on my right side, and Genghis and Mina were laying on the loveseat across the room. Genghis got up and came toward me, very nonchalantly. I saw nothing aggressive in his manner. I continued to eat, and Cash was still laying down next to me. Genghis stopped on my left side, and sat. (The dogs are well trained to not beg). With literally no warning, Cash attacked Genghis across my lap. I did not see any posturing or stiffening to warn me of this. I had a very difficult time separating this fight, Genghis ended up sustaining several punctures on one of his front legs, Cash ended up losing a portion of one of his ears. Both had other minor wounds on their bodies. The first time I got them apart, holding them by their collars, I managed to get between them, and Cash bit me on my rear end (I had one dog in front, and one in back after I separated them, seemed the best solution while I tried to move to put a door between them). Because I was injured, they managed to get a hold of each other again. I have separated many dog fights, and this is the first time I have been bitten by one of my own dogs. I am deeply upset by this, partly because my dogs have injured each other seriously enough to warrant a middle of the night vet visit, but mostly because I also required an ER visit.
I am seeking some input on where to go from here. I think that these dogs can get along in the long run, as there is only object guarding at the crux of their problems, but at the same time, I am deeply shaken by what has happened in the last few weeks, and especially last night. I suppose I have been very fortunate in that I have owned APBT for so long and never had a fight that required immediate attention beyond which I was able to provide as a Vet Tech. Maybe that has somehow given me "rose colored glasses", but I do believe that there must be a solution other than permanent separation of Cash from the other dogs. Genghis and Mina have lived in complete harmony for 7 years. I am more than willing to separate when I cannot supervise, (as I have always done with any foster dogs I have had, and have also always done with Genghis and Cash), but have a very hard time accepting that these two dogs can never be together again (or that Cash cannot be with any other dog), because they get along SO well outside of situations where there is food involved. I am also hoping that Cash's recent neuter will help in some regard. Again, Cash, Mina, and Genghis, get along splendidly, and seem to truly enjoy each others company, as long as there is no food involved. Until recently, I thought this only extended to their own food. I have recently learned that this object guarding also extends to food which I may be eating.
I know this is probably the longest post you have ever read, but I feel the details are very important to diagnose the problem, thank you in advance for all of your help.
As I mentioned previously, I have worked as a trainer and a behaviorist for many years, but dealing with the specific behavior of APBT is very different than dealing with "normal" inter-dog aggression. I feel as if this is entirely limited to resource guarding at this time, and would really love to hear insight that is not only limited to "crate and rotate" suggestions, as these dogs are wonderful buddies and playmates as long as food is not involved. They still share toys and bones very willingly and there is no guarding of any of the humans in their environment.