Dealing with Sibling Rivalry


Dog own­ers are keen­ly aware of the many ben­e­fits of shar­ing their life with a dog. But did you know that numer­ous sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies have found that dog own­er­ship has a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive impact on our health, includ­ing low­er­ing a person’s risk of heart disease?


Having one dog in the fam­i­ly is won­der­ful and pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties for walks, cud­dles, fun, and games. However, our busy lives can trans­late into hav­ing to leave our dogs for long hours alone at home, which is often less than ide­al. Adding a com­pan­ion for your com­pan­ion can give them addi­tion­al out­lets when you aren’t avail­able – or even when you are!

However, it is impor­tant to pick the right dog in order to ensure a smooth tran­si­tion and a life­time of love between your pets. Please give seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to the real­i­ty that some dogs do pre­fer to be sin­gle­tons and don’t want to share their human’s love or have oth­er dogs in their space. Don’t try to force them into it, as it can have neg­a­tive emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal ramifications!

Households with mul­ti­ple dogs can expe­ri­ence jeal­ousy, resource guard­ing, and play that just becomes a lit­tle too excit­ed, going from play fight­ing to a real fight. It is crit­i­cal to look at the dynam­ics of sex and age on how behav­iours work out, as not all com­bi­na­tions are equal­ly successful.

Issues Related to Gender 

A very impor­tant ele­ment to con­sid­er is the gen­der of the dogs involved, since the dif­fer­ences in sex­es are real! While it is pos­si­ble for any gen­der com­bi­na­tion to work, a com­bi­na­tion of a boy and girl or two boys are the pre­ferred pair­ings. Scientific stud­ies have shown that two girls are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more like­ly to fight at a dan­ger­ous and dam­ag­ing lev­el and that a boy and a girl are the least like­ly to expe­ri­ence problems.

Statistically, not only do we do see a height­ened lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty when inte­grat­ing a female dog into a home with a sin­gle res­i­dent female dog, but the fights are more like­ly to result in real injury and even death. There are a num­ber of rea­sons why this may be the case, such as females being more like­ly to resource guard both their own­er and their things, includ­ing food, bones, beds, and toys from anoth­er female. Females are innate­ly look­ing to pro­tect resources for their unborn lit­ters, which isn’t a con­sid­er­a­tion for males, who don’t par­tic­i­pate at any lev­el in parenthood.

This guard­ing often stays at a low thresh­old, but it can erupt sud­den­ly in a silent but dan­ger­ous way. While most male aggres­sion is rit­u­al­is­tic, with a high lev­el of noise and pos­tur­ing, fights between females can esca­late very quick­ly, and they are far more like­ly to result in injury. Any inter-female aggres­sion should be tak­en very seri­ous­ly and inter­rupt­ed immediately.

The Age-Old Question?

Age is also a major fac­tor, as pup­pies are tru­ly obnox­ious in their play style and lit­er­al­ly get in the face of oth­er dogs. Most adult dogs are intol­er­ant of this behav­iour and may give a harsh cor­rec­tion to the pup­py. A pup­py under 10 months of age should be close­ly watched when inter­act­ing with dogs under 6 years of age and not allowed to play with a dog over 6 years if there is any indi­ca­tion that the old­er dog is not interested.

The ear­ly inter­ac­tions between pup­pies and adult dogs can also have long-term reper­cus­sions. An adult dog that is con­sis­tent­ly growl­ing or phys­i­cal­ly cor­rect­ing a pup­py may be on the receiv­ing end when the pup grows up and real­izes that they are the stronger one now. The old­er dog will have shown them that phys­i­cal cor­rec­tions are okay.

Dogs are very obser­va­tion­al learn­ers, espe­cial­ly when young, so we need to ensure that they are get­ting a calm mes­sage from the old­er dog. This means that the pup should be tired out with toy and human inter­ac­tions before being allowed to inter­act with the old­er dog. Be sure to inter­rupt overt grab­bing by the pup­py at the adult’s body and have them take fre­quent breaks to set­tle down. Note that the dogs’ body clocks may be dif­fer­ent as well, so the old­er one may want to play some­times – but not all the time! You can use gates at var­i­ous times of day, when one dog is feel­ing tired and the oth­er just keeps beg­ging to play.


Personality Conflicts

Dogs have per­son­al­i­ties, too, and these dif­fer­ences can cre­ate strife in any pair. When that hap­pens, it can be hard to tell when we need to step in and man­age the sit­u­a­tion and when we should let them work it out. The key is to min­i­mize the trig­gers that cause fight­ing and to rec­og­nize how trig­gers can pile up.

Be aware of the inter­ac­tions that are most like­ly to be dan­ger­ous, and be espe­cial­ly vig­i­lant at those times. The three most like­ly trig­gers of over-arousal are:

  1. Protecting a bed or lap space
  2. High-value bones, toys, treats, or meals
  3. Arousing play

That last one can seem like an oxy­moron – how can play be a prob­lem? When dogs (or kids, for that mat­ter) are play­ing, the activ­i­ty can trig­ger the hap­py hor­mones called endor­phins, but it can also trig­ger the stress hor­mones cor­ti­sol and adren­a­lin as well as testos­terone. When play con­tin­ues unin­ter­rupt­ed, these hor­mones can cre­ate a more intense inter­ac­tion, and the play can slip into actu­al aggres­sion. Be sure to help your dogs take fre­quent breaks in play, to keep things from escalating.

Resource Guarding

Things like feed­ing dogs their meals or bones ful­ly sep­a­rat­ed can go a long way to reduce anx­i­ety over resources. Ideally, they should be com­plete­ly out of each other’s sight and any left­overs should be picked up immediately.

Ultimately, we want to cre­ate a calm envi­ron­ment while our dogs are eat­ing any­thing in order to reduce stress on the one that is most like­ly to be chal­lenged. I rec­om­mend hav­ing dogs in sep­a­rate rooms or crates if there has been any pos­tur­ing at all. They can like­ly be togeth­er while the meal is being pre­pared, prac­tis­ing calm­ness at that time, but only if it doesn’t pro­voke any growl­ing or snapping.

With lap or bed guard­ing, you can gen­tly rest your hand on the col­lar of the dog already in place and light­ly hold them there as the oth­er dog approach­es. Calming strokes on the back reduces their stress lev­el, and the light col­lar hold pre­vents them from lung­ing at the oth­er dog. Continue to pet them and give calm praise as the oth­er dog gets up, and pro­vide enough space so that they each have their own spot to lie down on. As long as it’s safe to do so and you don’t have any con­cerns about food guard­ing, you can also give your dogs treats to mark calm, friend­ly behaviour.

Any growl­ing that con­tin­ues beyond a small ini­tial warn­ing would result in that dog los­ing tem­po­rary access to the rest­ing spot.  They would calm­ly, but firm­ly be direct­ed away from the area, help­ing them to under­stand that guard­ing is not ok with you.  They would not be allowed to return to the spot for sev­er­al min­utes. We do not want to use any fear or force­ful meth­ods in these inter­ac­tions, which would increase the dog’s per­cep­tion that this is tru­ly a neg­a­tive sit­u­a­tion.  A light, trail­ing leash can be help­ful for dogs that are demon­strat­ing these behav­iours fre­quent­ly, as it to reduce the emo­tion in the inter­ac­tion with the per­son mov­ing them.

To do this, gen­tly put them on the ground. If they pos­ture again when they are allowed up, then they lose the priv­i­lege for the remain­der of the evening or peri­od that you are seat­ed. Laps and beds are essen­tial­ly treats that they need to earn!

If it’s their own bed or rest­ing spot that is caus­ing the reac­tion, then be sure that all dogs have their own unique place and encour­age them to go to it. Once again, gates can be use­ful if there is too much argu­ing over a par­tic­u­lar spot.

Long-Term Management for a Happy Home

If fight­ing is an ongo­ing con­cern, the dogs should not be left unat­tend­ed togeth­er at all. While dogs are more like­ly to fight when their human is around, it can def­i­nite­ly hap­pen just because they want­ed to pro­tect some resource or stop unwant­ed approach­es. My house is pret­ty much per­ma­nent­ly gat­ed so that the dogs are safe!

Two or more dogs can be great for all involved, but please do pay prop­er atten­tion to their inter­ac­tions to keep every­one safe and hap­py! Always cap­ture and praise the calm behav­iour that you want to help the dogs under­stand this is what earns them pos­i­tive attention.

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