Managing homes with intact dogs can be a real pain in the butt. If you have both male and female dogs, it’s not unusual for the social dynamics in the home to get tense when the female is in heat.
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re answering a question about this problem. Our reader asked,
“My female dog came into heat this week and now my two male dogs can’t be in the same room without attacking each other. We have been keeping them apart but it’s so stressful because we want to be a family.”
– Sincerely, Intact Issues
The Great Spay-Neuter Debate
More and more people are choosing not to spay or neuter their pets in some parts of the world – or they’re choosing to delay these surgeries until the dogs are done growing.
Leaving your dog intact is very common in Europe, but it’s still relatively unusual in the US.
There’s a lot of different research out there about the potential health benefits and risks of spaying and neutering. I’m no vet, but Dr. Jen Summerfield is.
In her podcast (see link above), she laid out the research surrounding health and behavior risks for “fixing” dogs vs. leaving them intact. It’s a great listen!
I don’t necessarily think that ALL dogs need to be spayed and neutered. Responsible owners can absolutely manage having intact dogs without producing unwanted litters. I may leave my next dog intact – at least I’m planning on fixing him or her after (s)he’s done growing.
Consider Spaying Your Dog
That said, if your dog’s sexual status is causing problems in the household, it’s probably time to consider spaying her.
Every time your female dog goes into heat, for example, her risk of mammary tumors (breast cancer) increases. After just two heat cycles, your dog’s risk of breast cancer sits at 26%.
Plus, it can be a bit tricky to manage a house full of intact dogs. It can definitely be done – but if you’re not careful, accidental litters are possible.
This is an expensive mistake with all of the veterinary care your dog will need during her pregnancy, whelping, and puppy raising – let alone finding good homes for the pups.
What to Do if Your Dog’s Heat Cycle is Causing Fights
If you are unwilling to spay your dog for showing, breeding, or health reasons, then we’ve got to figure out another way to solve this problem.
Separating your dogs might be your only option if your dog’s heat cycle is causing fights.
The good news is, most female dogs only come into heat about twice per year. Their heat cycles usually last 1 to 2 weeks.
In the case of our reader, this is the route I’d suggest if spaying isn’t an option.
If you can get a friend or family member to watch one male dog, great!
Otherwise, you’ll need to get baby gates, crates, and exercise pens. Depending on the severity of the fights, you’ll want at least two barriers separating the dogs at all times.
This is called crate-and-rotate. It’s certainly not ideal. But this is a just-get-through-it sort of situation.
For example, you could let one male dog hang out in the kitchen with a baby gate separating him from your other two dogs, who are in crates in different rooms. The doors between those two crated dogs are closed, too.
Once your female dog is done with her heat cycle, you can slowly reintroduce the dogs using a parallel walk method. But take it slow!
If you just let the dogs back into an uncontrolled shared space again, there’s a good chance a fight will break out.
This process is a total pain. But unfortunately, fights between male dogs are pretty common when a female is in heat.
There’s not much to do about it other than separate the dogs or spay the female. Even neutered male dogs might fight around spayed females!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.