I’m new here and am going through a dog crisis.
TL;DR – two rescue dogs lived happily together for 1 year, both desexed, but recently girl reached maturity, they are getting into scuffles now, with no visible or audible triggers, with extremely aggressive growling and barking but no biting yet.
HELP! PLEASE! We do NOT want to have to rehome either dog, as with their problems we don’t see a good chance of them finding a forever home. We love them to bits, and %95 of the time they get along great and play together, tug of war and wrestle, but because of that other 5% we can't even let them be together anymore inside the house.
Situation: we have two rescue dogs in a house with me (male), my fiancé (female) and her two adult daughters. One of these dogs (Tigga, 7) we got almost 3 years ago, one we got a bit over 1 year ago(Luna, a bit over 1). They existed perfectly and harmoniously for a year, while Luna was growing up. Luna is an adult now and they are getting into really serious scuffles. I would say fights, but no blood has been drawn yet. The growling is incredibly vicious and teeth are bared, Tigga is always jumping on top of Luna. We have been advised by a local dog trainer that we've employed before to put crates out in the main living room, and they spend time in there daily, but I have to say it feels like some, or at least half of the fights, have a correlation with the crates. Tigga sleeps in our bed or with one of my fiancee's daughters, and Luna sleeps in the bed of the other.
Both dogs are desexed.
Tigga is a staffy/bull terrier, very active and muscly, very focused on fetch and tug of war. He is well socialized with other dogs, and has never had an issue with another dog. He was, however, abandoned at least once by owners who had other smaller dogs. He lived on the streets for a while, we don’t know how long, and then the pound got him and a local rescue saved him the day of his execution. We got him from them.
We live across from a dog park, so he has met probably over 50 dogs. He has incredible patience, and has never started anything with other dogs. He’s jumped in when Luna started things with dogs, but he never bites. He could easily, EASILY destroy Luna with one bite and whip of his head, but he never bites her, ever. They get a lot of exercise, at least one 30 minute intense fetch play a day, sometimes two, and always a hose play in the side yard.
That being said, he's very insecure. He seeks eye contact almost constantly if he isn't sleeping or playing. He has been abandoned multiple times for other dogs, so maybe he's afraid that's happening again.
Luna is a 1 year, 2-3 month blue heeler/whippet/mix. She is incredibly clever, but due to having a really bad start to her life (abandoned puppy mill, dogs were skeletal and fighting over every molecule of food when found, it was apparently a real struggle to keep her alive when they found her), she doesn’t socialize predictably. She is great with most dogs, but once in a while she’ll go after a dog. She barks aggressively at every new dog she meets at the dog park, and after sniffing through the fence for a few minutes, she’s usually okay. I was visiting family for the past month, and came back and noticed she looks really different than she did before, which is weird because we thought she was done growing. She isn't any bigger than when I left but just looks more proportional, more complete. Luna is hyper-vigilant and barks at sounds that sound close to the house. She gets nervous easily but she’s also a scrapper, and isn’t truly afraid of much. She has a history of being VERY submissive with Tigga, but now she isn’t always submitting when they have their problems.
We can’t keep them inside together anymore. Outside they’re fine, or if they have any problems they work it out silently and we don’t know about them.
Is Luna smart enough to challenge Tigga in an environment where she knows we will break up fights?
The fights: there is no easily visible trigger. Suddenly we will notice their body language slowly and subtly change, Tigga will tense up and start looking at Luna, and she will not submit, but she doesn’t growl audibly either. Tigga will escalate and pounce if we don’t restrain him.
Patterns: this happens most when Luna is cornered, like in her crate or under a desk. It also happens when the dogs are on the human’s level – couch, or if I’m sitting on the floor. It also happens when Luna is in her crate, and Tigga is outside of his. Lastly, Tigga goes after Luna through the screen/glass door sometimes at dinner. Both have spent time starved before they came to us so they have food security issues, we feed them separately, we aren’t too concerned about this one but it’s worth mentioning.
Changes: I left for a month. Then, one of my fiancee’s daughters left about 3 weeks into me being gone, for a month. During this time their diets changed from raw to dried pellets/kibble. Also during this time, my fiancée got a job a few hours away from home, so the house is full of furniture she’s going to take to her new house. Is that worth mentioning? Could dogs sense another change coming?
My guesses are that Luna has reached maturity and is looking to become higher in the dog hierarchy, she is challenging him through refusing to submit sometimes, and Tigga doesn’t like that. The fact that they only fight inside, around us, seems to suggest they’re resource guarding us, the humans, but it isn’t consistent or predictable. Also my fiancee's daughter changed feeding schedule from morning and night to just nighttime.
I’m the alpha male to both of them, as I take them out for exercise every day.
I've read advice suggesting letting them go, and they'll work it out, but we can't afford huge vet bills. We're afraid that they'll do damage.