Your Dog Training Questions: My Dogs Fight

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

My Answer:

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!

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

3 replies
  1. lucia marsalisi
    lucia marsalisi says:

    i have written befor but am still having a prblem. my 2 male started fighting back in feb(father/son) the 8 yr old(blazer) was always the alpha…the 5 yr old(pepper) very submissive. i was not home when this happed but pepper started it and has done this 2x since…i keep them separated at all times unfortunately a couple times door was not closed all the way. blazer has always gotten injures because the other is going for the head/throat..they are not aggressive when they see each other thru gate or crate. actually they cower down and tiptoe away. today the blazer got outside and the other saw him and quietly attacke. i was by my pool and dragged them to the pool so he would let go which he did. however the other almost died because his throat was swelling from the grab and sank in the pool and while i was holding my lifeless dog and pulling the other out he attaacked again..why would he want to kill him..blazer was not moving almost dead in my arms….fortunately my vet got to my house and took him, no puncture wounds at neck, just on ears when he attacked in the water..there was no growwling blazer is not the aggresser and is very afraid of pepper,,,now it will be worse.pepper overall is such a sweet,smart obedient dog..they play frisbee every am/pm, we walk almost everyday, and pepper swims w/atoy in the pool so theydo get exercise daily. i have 4 other dogs, 2females/2male chuihuahuas and he is just fine w/them..pepper knows i am in charge, he even sleeps in my room..i feel pepper seems to miss blazer because he will look at him and wag his tail and doesn’t seem to understand why blazer walks away…so confused and heartbroken about this…suggestions???? thank you so much

  2. Fan B
    Fan B says:

    I live in a guest house behind someone who has a lab mix dog. I work during the day, and I walk my small dog in the morning and at night. There is only one way in and out of my home. I have to walk my dog through the yard to the front gate to exit. On two occasions now, the lab has attacked or started a fight with my dog. The last one happened when I opened the gate to enter the yard to get to my home after walking my dog. My dog was on his leash and the lab approached us, then stared at my dog, with hair raised and the started the fight. My dog slipped out of his leash and ran under a car, which stopped the fight. My dog has never been allowed to run free in the yard. The only contact he has is when we are leaving or entering the premise. The dogs only meet at those times. The lab is not aggresive towards me, only my dog. Do you think that if I pick up my dog and carry it through the yard this will solve the problem. My house is gated off from and up a staircase from the main home so the dogs never come into contact other then when we walk through the yard. Please advise your thoughts about this. Note: the fights were loud but there was no bleeding or visible injury to my dog. Thanks.

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