My dogs — brothers rescued from BARC — fight. No serious injuries (yet) but I’m worried I won’t be able to handle the fight one of these days. How can I get them to stop?
– Martin, via e-mail
The problem of sibling rivalry is something I have addressed on this blog before. And that post generated more comments than previous posts, which means this must be a problem a lot of dog owners are experiencing. Without evaluating you and your dogs together, I can only give you an idea of the common causes of dog fighting. It’s likely your dogs are lacking one of these basic dog needs, causing them to act out.
For dogs, leadership is knowing that you control the resources of the household. From this, your dogs understand that they receive resources on your terms. Training your dog using leadership is very much like raising a child, the child must understand that mom and dad are in charge, that certain behavior is expected from the child and that the child will get what it wants on the terms of the parents – not the child.
This is another example of how dogs need guidance much like children do. When you provide structure (in feeding, walks, training, schedule, etc.), your dogs will have an understanding of your expectations. Most importantly they will understand what is allowed and what is not allowed. All dogs should at a minimum do a “sit” before their food bowl is placed in front of them and then be released with an “OK” to eat their food.
This is the dog need that is most often forgotten. It’s very simple — wild play outside leads to wild behavior inside. If playing in the backyard, and running the fence and chasing squirrels is the ONLY exercise your dog gets then he does not understand this same behavior is NOT ok in the house. A structured walk, where you control the situation, is one of the best ways to practice leadership with your dog. The exercise lets your dog release pent up energy, keeps them healthy and they enjoy it. A good rule of thumb: A tired dog is a good dog.
The key to each of these dog needs is letting your dog know that you are the one in charge. Once your dogs understand that you are the leader, the rivalry between them will fade. They no longer have a reason to fight each other if they know neither of them will ever be the leader of the household. Good luck!