Hello. I apologize in advance for the length of this thread but since my problem is behavioral, I wanted to paint as clear a picture as possible. Plus, I've been told I'm wordy. I've been editing this for days now though so I just need to get it posted.
First, some filler. We have 3 dogs, Bruiser, 5½ y.o. 8 lb fixed male chi/jack russell mix. Reyna, 3 y.o. 15 lb female chi mix. Vanilla P, 4 y.o. 14 lb female pom mix. The first 2, we've had since they were weaned. Vanilla P was about 1 when we rescued her, about 4 mo after getting Reyna.
Bruiser is very passive, especially with the girls. He can be a mama's boy & I admit, I baby the snot out of him sometimes.
Vanilla P is a typical pom, both +/- traits. She is always the first to growl & show her teeth, often. The other 2 are "our" dogs but she's definitely my boyfriends. My concern is about Reyna though.
Her ad said chihuahua but she's obviously a mix. With what, we don't know but I like to think pit bull. Regardless, she is definitely a big dog in a little dogs body. She has always exhibited a kind of large breed puppy personality, that kind of clumsy, awkward, dopey, loveable rascal type of thing, if that makes sense. Oaf is a good description but she's not stupid. She's weirdly intense, though, although not in a mean or mad way. She just stares. Hard. She was also silent for almost the first 2 years, didn't even bark, but since has gotten more vocal in a growly/grumbly type of way.
I don't know how relevant this may be but Reyna has always been orally focused, like, crazy focused. She mouths us all the time & licks compulsively, especially during times of high stress/anxiety.
Most relevant though, she's always been incredibly patient & tolerant with Vanilla P, who can be incredibly ornery, pushy, almost like a bully, with endless amounts of energy that usually wears out the rest of us. That is, until recently.
There have been a few dust ups over the years, as is to be expected, but nothing crazy or that didn't de-escalate quickly. More recently though, the last 6 mo to a year, Reyna has been less patient, acting grumpy more often & giving warning growls more frequently. She also has a habit of acting like shes security in our house. What I mean is any time we get mad at one of the other dogs or they get mad about something, she is right there, ready to "check" them. We never let her. She can also be quick to turn on one of them when she gets mad or frustrated. But she's never actually been really aggressive & saying her name was always enough to stop her from actually doing anything.
A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend told me Reyna had attacked Bruiser while I was at work. I think what he said was after he picked him up, she bit his hand & then turned on Vanilla P. The way he described it, I couldn't reconcile that with our dog. That night, she gave a few warning growls but nothing too out of the ordinary.
A couple days later though, Vanilla P was eating, Reyna walked in, Vanilla P growled. Typical. But this time Reyna growled back & then launched at Vanilla P. I had to break it up & my foot got bit or scratched in the process. They also didn't de-escalate when separated. After, every time Reyna would even see Vanilla P, she'd start growling, a lot. Fur up, the whole 9. At this point, I still thought it wasn't as serious as it was, we still had Reyna & Vanilla P loose together.
Later the same day, they got into it again on our bed. I tried to break this one up & did but got bit by Reyna in the process. She was incredibly aggressive & tried for a long time to get back at Vanilla P.
Since then, Reyna is unpredictable as to when she is triggered by Vanilla P. Sometimes it seems completely random, other times, it makes more sense. She was able to get at her another time & when she was pulled away, I would swear it wasn't my same dog. She was so vicious & out of control, it was like invasion of the body snatchers, dog version. I also noticed that she doesn't act like herself anymore. We couldn't get her to play & half the time she acted almost like she was brand new there. Now, when we're playing with the others, she shows up, as long as they make any noise, ready to check them. My "puppy" was gone.
Reyna is always the first one to launch but Vanilla P is not innocent either. She is notorious for biting Reyna from behind when she is restricted & will growl & provoke Reyna to fight. But bottom line, she won't START the fight, Reyna does. Meaning, Vanilla P can be trusted to be loose, Reyna can't.
I didn't think it was fair to keep her locked up somewhere separate so the way we've been doing it is she is always on a very short leash. Literally. There is no telling when she will be triggered but there is no more of them being around each other, loose, at all anymore. We are on edge when they get within a couple feet of each other. When she does get triggered, if she can't get at Vanilla P, she licks me, compulsively. Its so weird to have a dog lick you while still growling. It is incredibly inconvenient to have to keep her on a leash, right next to me, constantly. Even when we're sleeping.
The bad part is now that we're keeping them pretty much completely separated, for the most part, Reyna acts like her old self again. Although she still won't play with Bruiser. And even worse, I don't feel like I can completely trust her anymore. When she growls, I don't know if she's playing or serious & that goes with both my boyfriend & myself, not just the other dogs. I hate that. It hurts my heart that I feel that way.
I had hoped in the beginning that it might be hormonal & so getting her fixed might help. Now, I don't think she's even in heat so it's unlikely to be that easy. I know it might still help but probably won't be an easy fix.
I don't know what to do. We can't keep going like this, trying to keep them separate all the time. It won't work for much longer. Everyone is stressed out & on edge. I know that the way we react can be what triggers her further, her reacting to our anxiety, but I can't help but be nervous since she's so unpredictable now. Can anyone give me any advice or info to get my happy puppy back & get them back to at least tolerating each other?