Dog Behavior Problems: Subtle Signs of Trouble with Multiple Dogs

Dog Behavior Problems: Subtle Signs of Trouble with Multiple Dogs

Leila and I had friends over for dinner last weekend and as we began to sit down to eat, I decided to give each of our dogs a Kong toy. Cooper did the usual and took his Kong to the back bedroom. Sammy and Sophie stayed in the living room.

Our friends were amazed that even after Sammy had finished his Kong he sat and waited for Sophie to finish hers.  Okay, Burwell – your point?  

The point here is that Sammy respected Sophie’s space and waited patiently until she walked away from her Kong toy (it’s always still half full when she leaves it) before he walked over to take it. Then he went in for the kill on the Kong! 

Some dogs fight over a stuffed Kong. Squabbles break out over who’s going to get to keep the Kong toy and sometimes it escalates to a serious brawl. While these squabbles may not appear to be much in the beginning, some dog owners are just not aware of the subtle signs of trouble with multiple dogs that could lead to bigger problems.

It really puzzles me that any dog owner would put up with dog behavior problems in a multiple dog household for as long as they do before finally calling for some help.

A few months back I wrote an article about why dog training fails and the number one reason was that the dog’s behavior has not produced enough pain, embarrassment, frustration or stress to motivate the dog owner to fix it. Could it be that they just haven’t recognized the signs?

Dog Behavior Problems: Subtle Signs of Trouble with Multiple Dogs

If you haven’t taken action with your unruly dogs yet because you just haven’t recognized the more subtle signs of “trouble in paradise,” my hope is that with this list of just some of the signs, you can at least be aware of “the potential” of problems on the horizon. Often times you wouldn’t even need a trainer if you caught it early enough.

Signs of possible trouble

Not all of the following signs are indicative of unrest or fighting and trouble with multiple dogs. But dog behavior problems could escalate and cause trouble with multiple dogs if you don’t do something sooner than later. Here’s what some dogs will do that could cause things to escalate into a fight:

Subtle sign: Hogging your petting or affection while trying to keep the other dogs away. You may view it as mild jealously, or you may even think it means one dog really loves you, but be careful not to let it escalate.

Do this: Put that dog in a sit/stay while you choose another dog to pet. Give praise only to the bossy dog for him accepting your petting another dog. Give the bossy dog attention first at a later time and then require the others to wait. Teach your dogs they can’t always have what they want when they want it “all the time.”

Depending on the number of dogs you have, schedule times to pet your dogs. Make sure you only pet one or two and require the others to watch and wait their turn which comes a little while later. Make sure you require a sit from all dogs before briefly petting and sending them off.

Subtle sign: Guarding their Kong toys, chew bones or food bowls. Usually dogs learn to respect the dog rule, “It’s mine if I have it or it’s in my personal space.” Sometimes adolescents or bossy dogs have not learned to respect this rule.

Many fights have started because of this broken rule. And, sometimes dogs (especially same gender) will take an opportunity to challenge the pack status unless you have put your ground rules into place.

Do this: Evaluate your own pack structure. Maybe it is time to put more structure into your dog’s lives. Ramp up your sits and downs requiring them to earn everything they could want. You don’t need a trainer for this. You just have to do it every day consistently.

Subtle sign: Rough housing with another dog. Watch the play to see if one dog consistently puts paws on or over another dog’s backside or humps another dog. Stiff posturing and frozen stares can also be signs of stress and tension between dogs.

Do this: Whose house is it anyway? Take charge and nip this in the bud. If it constantly happens, it might be wise to separate the dogs as you begin to work with the instigator – or both, on their basic obedience commands including “Off!” or “Leave it!”. Structure for all dogs should be required if not already in place. What’s that? Require all your dogs to sit as their way of earning anything and everything every single day.

Subtle sign: Bullying another dog by backing that dog into a corner or constantly blocking a more submissive dog from going to and from in the house. Sometimes you’ll notice the submissive dog walking timidly around trying to avoid the bossy dog. Time for action!

Do this: When you see either sign in either dog, know that obedience training and structure will eventually bring the bossy dog back in line. Obedience training and structure will be a confidence builder in the softer dog. They both need it for different reasons and probably haven’t had it in some time, if at all. Confidence will also build in your shy dog as you are consistently viewed as a fair and balanced pack leader that all can and should look up to.

The bottom line

Don’t let it get to the point this couple did who had recently added a third dog to a household that had absolutely no structure. Here’s what they said, “When my husband and I added a third dog to our household, chaos reigned. Worse yet, fights broke out between our new dog and the two older dogs. We needed order and clear rules about how the dogs were to interact with each other and with us.”

Don’t let chaos reign in your house. Now that you know what to look for, watch for these subtle cues. There’s no substitute for a strong foundation of obedience training. Develop a fair and balanced relationship with each individual dog where they respect you and will listen to you. If you don’t, they will naturally gravitate to relating more with the pack than you. Pack mentality takes over and chaos reigns.

I really appreciate you letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. I truly hope you found answers and hope for helping your dog.

Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear what you think.

Please come over to my Facebook page to let me know how or if this article impacted you and the way you think about your multi-dog  training. Do you recognize any of these signs?

Remember: “Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”

Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.

His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your dog understands what you expect of him, you empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you empower him to be successful at living in a human home.

Be sure to come visit me on these sites also:



5 replies
  1. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Every time you dog is allowed to fence fight that reinforces the behavior. Ideally don’t even let her get started, interrupt and redirect to what you want her to do. You can only
    control your dog. We have 2 un-neutered males that live next door and our dog Sammy used to go outside and charge at and bark at the side fence. So, the second he looked in that direction, we called him and redirected him to do something else, like come inside or come to one of us.

    In doing that consistently he has learned not to even bother going to the side fence.

  2. janna poll
    janna poll says:

    This talked mostly about multiple dogs in the same household. What about with a neighbor dog. We have a new rescue puppy (6 mos) with fear aggression that goes crazy about the dog over the fence (which she can see). She barks, lunges, and her back fur goes up. If the other dog (another terrier) react, it escalates.
    How do we calm this down and get these dogs to cooexist?

  3. Karen
    Karen says:

    Jim just wanted to say thank you!!!!!!!, love your emails. Have already got my 4 Dogs sitting and waiting for dinner and when calm released to eat . Waiting and sitting before attention or before been let outside outsde. I have started calling all dogs to me and when sitting CALMLY and dropping or standing on command they are treated with some kibble I have taken out of their dinner and then released. Its the beginning but within weeks my 5 year old entire male show dog who is a bit bossy and showed signs of possibly getting aggressive with the young entire show bitch has stopped grounding the young female. Have a lot more to learn but have already noticed a difference in the pack… Can not wait to learn and practice more.

  4. Janice
    Janice says:

    Awesome! I have 3 dogs and we do have issues. After I read this I started paying attention to see just how many of these “subtle” warnings were going on that I was ignoring.

    In just one evening I saw at least 3!

    I can’t thank you enough for what you do and so thankful you share with us.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.