I was so glad to see this article by Nancy Tanner: Multiple dog household dynamics — food. I pulled this quote, which I agree with wholeheartedly:
I don’t let dogs ‘work it out’ if that means harm, fighting, conflict, or a lot of stress. To me that would be a sign of poor management and ‘needs’ not being met[.]
During the short time that we had a three dog household Fiona instigated a lot of conflicts, and some very experienced dog people advised me to ‘let them work it out on their own’. In those cases ‘working it out’ meant all of the things Tanner listed above: harm, fighting, conflict, and a lot of stress (for the dogs and the humans). Just as I refused to take the advice to scruff my puppies when they misbehaved (apparently some people still do this!), I also wouldn’t follow this advice.
Instead I upped the management ante, and when that wasn’t solving the problem I chose to rehome Fiona. Then, with Ava only 6mo old, I was meticulous about making sure she learned to be polite. I policed her play to make sure she wasn’t bullying Wally and I carefully monitored her arousal level, putting her in short timeouts when she needed to calm down. I made sure they always had at least one extra chew/toy and I either monitored or separated them while they ate to make sure they stuck to their own bowls.
Not once have we had a fight and, even more importantly, Wally is now comfortable asserting himself (something he never did with Fiona). He’s a pretty laidback dude but occasionally he does not want to share, thank you very much. And Ava respects that. With just a couple words I can get Ava to redirect her energy from Wally to a toy when she’s getting overstimulated (and thus too rough for my or Wally’s liking).
The dogs are allowed to be dogs, of course, but they’re expected to be polite. It’s a lot like having kids (which admittedly I don’t have, but I was one of three and I have kids in my life). Most parents want their kids to work out their disagreements on their own and the parent only steps in when the kids are incapable of doing so. Very few parents are willing to let their kids have an all-out brawl to settle their differences; why would it be any different with dogs?