Why Dogs Fight

Dog Fighting! Unbelievable Stress When Housemates Fight

How could dog fighting between two brothers start in the home in the first place? Aggression amongst two canine housemates is one of the most difficult to fix and it can create unbelievable stress. If the fights weren’t stressful enough, try breaking up a bad dog fight before they kill each other and without you getting injured in the process!

Why did they fight?

Why Dogs Fight

What starts dog fighting between two dogs in the first place, especially if they have been together as siblings for 6-7 years? In the case of these two male terrier mixes, Buck and Roy it was a combination of situations:

  • No real structure in the home for Buck and Roy. They pretty much did what they wanted.
  • At 20 pounds each there seemed no need for dog obedience training
  • Very few rules and fewer expectations about personal space boundaries. They were pretty much on the couch and in a lap most of the time. What also went unnoticed was Buck would wedge in-between Roy and the Mom hogging all the love for him. At the time it seemed cute by their owner.
  • The death of the original older dog.
  • A move to a new city and home.
  • And finally, the catalyst, a third male dog that was intact and wandered onto their property and got adopted into the pack.

When I asked why there was no structure and no rules like sit to earn their food and to earn many other things, I got the idea that the lack of structure was because, like many owners, they got dogs for companions to satisfy their owner personal needs through companionship. They forgot what their dog needs and how their dog is interpreting each and every thing they get away with.

My client said, “When we added the third dog to our pack, chaos reigned.” While the dog fighting didn’t happen right away it was chaotic with three male dogs, two of which were very bossy types.

The fighting didn’t happen over night.

With the third dog, there was a honeymoon period that lasted about 4-6 weeks before the dog fighting erupted. And then surprisingly, it wasn’t with the new dog. It was Buck challenging Roy.

It’s amazing how the situations listed above begins to set the stage for an up and coming dog fight in this unstable pack with very little leadership. Even a move, getting a roommate and more can all add fuel creating issues with these two dogs. In fact, dogs can fight over ranking (pack status), your love and affection, and much more.

When things are, from the dog’s perspective, in disarray, the slightest thing, like a stare across the room can ignite a dog fight. Just like in an old John Wayne movie where there’s always a saloon brawl and a deliberate invitation by one to call out the other. Chairs and fists fly, mirrors are broken and before you know it everyone is involved!

If the potential for a dog fight is brewing and things begin to get “saloon tense,” learn what stresses your dogs out and what their challenges look like (being very still with a frozen stare for example.) Catch the dog fight before it erupts and put a stop to it. Crate one dog temporarily for a cool down period. Then begin to manage your dogs to prevent any fighting at all. Do not set them up to fail.

In any event, make sure you are prepared to handle a dog fight. You should have a baby gate, a strong wooden stick to pry their mouths open in the case of a bite and hold and a crate or crates to separate the dogs and keep them safe.

Seek the professional help of a dog trainer or behaviorist that has experience in this kind of aggression. If you catch it sooner than later you can prevent the dog fight. Prevention is always the best cure.

I’m always curious about your input – it’s important to me. Do you deal with this scary situation in your house?

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

Jim Burwell, Houston’s most trusted 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 your must have easy, step-by-step process to helping your dog. Your dog must and wants to understand what you expect of him. But you have to empower him to be able to give you the behavior you want and you must empower him to be successful at living in a human home. Ground Rules gets you there. Grab them now.


10 replies
  1. Kara
    Kara says:

    I need help I have 4 dogs. Teesha is 10 years old maltese cross pomeranian, Moet is a 7 year old mini daschund cross silky. We also have a 5 year old blind chihuahua cross and our newest 1 year old chihuahua cross.
    We got all dogs as puppies and in the last few months Moet (7 year old) has been attacking Teesha (10 year old) to the point of near hospitalisation. These attacks are very random and it seems as though something in Moets brain just snaps and Teesha can be just laying down and Moet will attack her.
    Moet has always attacked and killed small animals like vermin and also attacked our youngest when she was tiny and teacup size. We separated the 2 when we weren’t home and within weeks Moet is now best friends with the youngest.

    I don’t know what to do as I have spoken to a behaviorist and they say to train Moet which we do however when she snaps over something, whether its a rat, a lizard, full grown ducks or now Teesha you have to pry her mouth open as she is fixated completely.

    Please help me

  2. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Lynn: when you have family dogs that fight it’s usually always about “guarding something they view as theirs” It sounds like you need direction on setting boundaries,
    having your dog earn what they (besides sitting for meals) and more. I have coached many many people via tele-coaching on how to fix this. Not sure
    why the gentleman in Australia could not help you. As far as the trainer letting them “fight it out” – absolutely not.

    2 resources for you: here is another article I wrote. Be sure to sign up for the FREE AUDIO CLASS from the link INSIDE the article


    Other resource is phone coaching with me: http://www.petiquettedog.com/telecoaching/

  3. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    My problem is with 2 of my dogs – I have 3 dogs (littermates). I have three 2 year old neutered male chows.

    I got Stuffy in February 2012 when he was 8 weeks old (he was neutered in June 2012). I then got his brother Bear in September 2012 when he was was 9 months old. I then got their other brother Fozzie in November when he was 11 months old. (I had both Bear and Fozzie neutered in November.)

    Bear and Fozzie lived in the same house from 8 weeks of age until we got Bear in September. Stuffy gets along fine with both/either Bear or Fozzie. Bear and Fozzie do not get along and we have been playing musical dogs for 13 months now (we keep either Bear or Fozzie in the living room with a baby gate while Stuffy and whichever one of them isn’t in the living room is in the rest of the house). We alternate each time they go outside and also each night when we sleep. It is always Bear who attacks Fozzie. There is no rhyme or reason as to why he attacks him. The short time we tried having them loose together, sometimes they could pass one another in the doorway 4 times, for example, and the 5th time, Bear would attack Fozzie (Fozzie not even so much as looking at Bear). Most of the time they ignore one another even though they can see one another, sometimes they growl and bark at one another and once in a while they play “kissy face” over the gate. We have “graduated” from 2 gates down to just the 1 gate. At first we had one gate on top of the other so they could not reach one another whatsoever.

    We also now have to keep our 2 cats in a separate room because Bear goes after them – he got ahold of one of them 2 separate times and I got him away from her but she definitely could have been hurt if I had not been right there. As it was, just like with Fozzie, there was no blood, only fur. But that was because I was able to stop it instantly. Fozzie and Stuffy are fine with the cats. There have been times that I myself can be a little afraid of Bear – if he doesn’t want to do something (such as when it’s his turn to be in the living room), he tries to run behind something and makes small threatening gestures and I walk away. Usually, within 5 minutes, he will then come up to me on his own.

    We could not afford to get a behaviorist – but after this length of time we decided we HAD to. So we spent more than we could truly afford for a certified “behaviorist” (that was recommended to us by our veterinarian) in August. She told us “”My primary recommendation would be to place Fozzie or to consider euthanizing Bear. This is the only way you will have a fully integrated peaceful household.” She came to that recommendation without so much as observing Bear and Fozzie together for even one split second. (They can be on leashes in the same room – the closest she even came to “seeing” Fozzie was from 2 rooms away.) I’m sure you can imagine how depressed and disgusted I was about that.

    Then, in November, we spent yet more money that we didn’t really have for another trainer. He told us to let them fight it out. He came to our house, we did that (against my better judgment but I thought he was the expert) and yes, they fought – a LOT – but did not injure one another – although Bear cut the pad of his foot on a cabinet and that cost plenty to fix at the vet. He suggested letting them do this each day for a week or two and that should settle things. We did not do that – I feel in my heart that that is just the totally wrong thing to do. And now, after having thrown all that money away, we positively cannot afford to try to find yet another behaviorist who possibly knows what they’re doing.

    I have been in contact with “Doggy Dan The Online Dog Trainer” in New Zealand since April about this and he has been trying to help me but as he said – he can’t see the body language, etc. so he is limited in how much he can help. That is why we got the “behaviorist” but she did nothing. Same with the second trainer. We have martingale collars for the dogs now (just for when I walk them and when we get them together on leashes in the same room). We can have each of them on a leash and be in the same room together and they can be quite close to one another without a problem. That is mainly because Bear is very aware that when he is on a leash he cannot get away with anything. Bear is probably the most intelligent dog I have ever had in my life.

    I do have each of them “earn” things – before they are given their food, they must sit – also, before they go outside they must sit and wait until I give them the okay to go out. I insist that they allow me out the door first, etc.

    It’s sort of funny when I think of it. We were never even supposed to have gotten Bear, only Fozzie. But I’m glad we DID get Bear because he does have a lot of little quirks in his personality. And I think if someone else would have gotten him, they may not have been able to get around some of his behaviors and would have brought him to the pound or something. And if that had happened, I have a feeling that those same behaviors would have led them to have put him to sleep. So for that, I am very, VERY glad that he is with us because I will never, ever give up on him. He is my problem child but I still have hope that eventually we will get past all of this.

  4. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Simple solution 😉 put a leash on Tinker Bell (when supervised) have the leash attached to you and give her an alternative behavior. each time she gets to
    practice harassing Angel is learned behavior. It’s all about boundaries.

  5. Renee' Arnold
    Renee' Arnold says:

    We have a 9 year old Sheltie, a 7 year old Dachshund-Terrier mix and now have a 7 month old Papimo puppy. It took a while for everyone to adjust. The Dachshund has never liked any dogs other than her own Sheltie. (She loves people). Somehow the little Dachshund is the dominant dog over our larger sheltie. The Sheltie (Nikki), has learned to like and play with Tinker Bell (the Papimo.) He’s old and tired, but he will play with her usually at least once a day. But Angel, the Dachshund-Terrier mix is another story.

    She did finally warm up a bit to Tinker Bell, and we have occasionally (several times a week) caught her playing nice with Tinker Bell. We’ve even caught them sleeping together, on occasion. But in between those nice moments, it can be chaos. You see, Tinker Bell wants to play constantly. And she will approach Angel several times a day for this. Angel gives clear signs that she wants none of it, growling, barking, turning her back. But Tinker Bell appears to not understand the language of dog. She will persist as if she doesn’t even hear the warning growls or notice the body language (her hearing is actually fine). She will let Angel nip and bite at her and still continue to paw at Angel in a request to play. Tinker Bell does not appear to be trying to establish dominance over Angel. She cowers low and paws up to Angel in baby steps, looks aside. But she will not quit unless Angel gets super aggressive, and even then she sometimes won’t quit. We’ve even seen Angel place her entire mouth around Tinker Bell’s entire muzzle and hold it there for about 15 seconds. Tinker Bell doesn’t pull away, but when Angel lets go, Tinker Bell tries to play with her again.

  6. Susan
    Susan says:

    We have 3 small male dogs that got along fine until the youngest became an adolescent. It’s been 2 years of separating them and any contact is ugly fighting. They even fight threw closed doors. Don’t no what can be done seeing it’s gone on so long. Can’t afford to pay a trainer to help. Any suggestions?

  7. Leila Martin
    Leila Martin says:

    Nancy, thanks for stopping by our site. Along with the article you read, you can also read this one http://www.petiquettedog.com/dog-behavior/why-dogs-fight-or-whats-with-sibling-rivalry/and sign up for the free MP3 Jim did on this subject.

    Whenever you have a behavior problem with dogs, Jim always looks that the relationship, structure, boundaries and rule the owner has OR has not put into place. That’s where the change happens first.

    In the article you read there is a link to Ground Rules for Great Dogs. That is your starting point. Hope this helps

  8. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    We rescued female litter mates who played together for a year and had a good time. Looking back we can see how the play was turning into a dominance issue but did not realize it at the time. Now, they have to be separated at all times and can only be near each other when on a leash. We have worked with a behavior specialist and there is no change. They are 3 1/2 years old. Any advise? Help please!!!!!

  9. Camie Orth
    Camie Orth says:

    We dealt with this when our two dogs were young. We got our second dog when the oldest was about 7 months. Barkley, the oldest, was so happy to have a playmate that she let Cleo do whatever she wanted. After a few months, they started having issues with both trying to be dominant. Of course, that didn’t work! Luckily, our vet specialized in animal behavior, and gave us some tips that worked. Cleo was always a jealous dog, and there were times over the years that she would get “the look”. Thankfully, she was easily distracted, because she loved to play ball. As long as I got her attention quickly, a fight was avoided. Then, at age 11, she started fighting with Barkley again. I immediately took her to the vet, and though it took a while, she was finally diagnosed with cancer. As soon as we started pain management, the fighting stopped completely.

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