Battle of the Same-Sexes!

Pyrs are like potato chips; most of us can’t have just one.  Unlike potato chips, however, they often can’t share the same space with one of their own, when it comes to large dogs of the same sex. This is why NGPR has a general rule stated in the listings that females will not be placed in homes with other female dogs. (We aren’t the only rescue that has this rule, many rescues that specialize in dominant-breed dogs have the same rule, simply because it is that common.) Males are questionable, although in the Great Pyrenees library document on breaking up dog fights between Pyrs, the author contends that “As a general rule two adult male Pyrs will never live together in harmony.” Fights may not happen overnight; some of us have seen adult Pyrs of the same sex cohabit fine for a year or more, until a dog is tired or sore or some minor slight or challenge triggers a fight like you’ve never seen before and forces you to react fast. Because with livestock guardian breeds, the degree of territorial protection and instinct to protect their territory against canine predators can mean a fight to the end. But can two male Pyrs live together? Just like any good recipe, it takes a combination of ingredients.

So here you are, with two Pyrs, one of each sex, and yearning for yet another big, white mountain of fur and drool. First, be objective about your own leadership qualities: are you a big softie or a firm “top dog” who sets parameters and limits that tell your dog you have their environment under control and they don’t have to take over? Are your dogs well-trained enough to (eventually) respond to your commands or do they consider you a pushover who will cave in and give up? Are you committed to and do you have the time to train a new dog (along with managing the adjustment of the others to a three-dog pack)? Do you have the room to gate off a dog inside and possibly fence-off a dog outside (or have dogs go out separately) if necessary, and do this for a long time for a slow introduction? Do you have the stomach and quick reaction response to break up a fight (without getting hurt yourself) and go back to square one in the entire process? Is everyone in the household on board? Are you willing to be vigilant and if necessary, manage the environment…forever? (You’d be surprised how many of us say “yes!” to all this without hesitation, simply because we love all our dogs, no matter how much of a “bad boy” or “mean girl” they can be with a canine sibling.)

Much of a successful same-sex pairing has to do with the personalities of the dogs. (Remember the old saying about “opposites attract,” or the one about “too many chiefs?” Sometimes the more submissive or fearful dogs will thrive with a strong, confident—but not cruel—leader dog.) Just as everyone in the human nuclear family has a role in the household, dogs can fall into different levels and “jobs” within their pack family, which allows different personalities to co-exist well.

In addition to the personalities, consider the age and activity level of your dogs, and their physical condition. Will they appreciate an active, playful and body-slamming youngster with boundless energy (i.e., doesn’t stop pestering them when they give the signal that playtime is over) or would a laid-back oldster blend more easily with your lumbering, lazy “lawn ornaments?”

Some people believe that adopting a new dog of the same sex as a puppy can reduce the chance of same-sex aggression, as the pup grows up knowing its place in the pack order, and we have seen some good results with that method. Often this is true, but when Pyrs start to mature (and particularly if they’re still young and not neutered or spayed yet), those with the more alpha personalities may start to challenge the older dog, which sometimes begins with play sessions, so you need to watch for warning signs. The younger one may put his head and neck over the older dog’s back, or stand with his front paws on the older one’s back for way too long; or hump the other dog (not only from the back but over their heads as well). He may knock down the older dog and lay over him and not let him up until he “submits” and doesn’t try to move. Older dogs may be more patient and not push back, giving the kid a “puppy pass” on the behavior. The next escalation is in restricting the other dog’s entry into the house before the dominant dog, or corralling it in certain areas, or doing a body check “just because.” Little growls or snarls may ensue. The escalation from there may be the stiff-legged face-off with the dominant one’s tail carried just a bit too high (dogs raise their tails very high to make themselves look bigger and more intimidating) and a wagging tail (especially without the butt wag to go with it) may not be what you think it is as this article explains.

Your best bet is to combine constant vigilance with solid training. Along with obedience training and Nothing in Life is Free training in particular, read about  clicker training and target training. Practice the “watch me” cue on a regular basis. The more responsive your dogs are to you, the better chance you may have of controlling the interactions if things start to heat up. Many clickers come with bungee wrist cords, so they’re easy to carry around at all times, on your wrist or in your pocket (you’d be surprised how many of us always have one within reach, even if we don’t have same-sex dogs to be concerned about).

Be aware of where the most issues arise, particularly with new dogs or between dogs vying for position in the pack order: doorways, narrow spaces like hallways, a dog being cornered up against furniture or in a corner, entering the house from outside and deciding “who’s first.” Some dogs won’t tolerate a dog of the same sex standing over them and sniffing them; if you see the start of that and know the dog in the lower position is reactive, it’s time to grab the clicker and “move along!”

You won’t always be around to redirect the dogs’ attention or cut off the aggressive moves, so if you have any concerns, or are working with a newcomer to the household, be conservative. Go SLOW (in many cases, we’re talking weeks and possibly months, not days) in the assimilation process, and separate the new dog when you’re not there, for his safety and your peace of mind. Don’t assume everything is going well after just a few days (we call that the honeymoon period). Watch for slight body and facial cues (ears back, staring at the other dog, closed-mouth, corners of the mouth pushed forward). If there is an altercation, start from square one in training and introductions again. If the aggressor is particularly worked up, use something like melatonin or Serene or ComposurePro to dial back the reactivity (and sometimes all the dogs can benefit from this, since the harmony of the home has been affected). And don’t forget to review those instructions on breaking up a dogfight in advance, just in case. We hope you’ll never need it.