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

Dog Fighting within the family

I wrote a post on this blog on Why Dog’s Fight months ago, here’s the link: sibling rivalry why dog’s fight

This post has received more responses and questions than anything else I’ve written which tells me it’s a big problem. It’s a big problem because 99% of the time dog fighting within your family is caused by lack of leadership on the part of the dog owner, lack of structure in the home, and lack of structured exercise of the dogs.  So let’s take these one by one

  1. Lack of leadership:  this does not mean dominating your dogs.  This simply means that you understand how dogs think, what’s important to them and how do you, as the dog owner, control those things so your dog receives the things that are important to him on YOUR terms, not his.  Training your dog using leadership is very much like raising a child, the child must understand that mom and dad are in charge, certain behavior is expected from the child and the child will get what it wants on the terms of the parents – not the child.
  2. Structure in the home:  again, dogs are much like children.  If you as the dog owner provide structure in your home, you dog will understand the expectations, what is allowed and what is not allowed.  Everyone’s dog 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.  Dogs must understand that you get to decide when they get pets and love – not them.  Your dog does not get to act like a wild man in the house, bolting out doors, knocking you over to get in front of you etc.
  3. Structured exercise:  this is something people do not think about.  It’s very simple, wild abandon play outside leads to wild abandon 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 walks is one of the best and easiest ways to practice leadership with your dog.

When these things are in place, a multiple dog household has structure. The message to the dogs is, We (the humans)  are in charge, not you, things are on our terms, not yours and the “rivalry” between the dogs to figure out who is running the show between them is gone.  Also – intact males release the smell of testosterone which affects the way other dogs (male and female) perceive that dog and you will have issues!  And remember, a tired dog is a good dog.  Get out there and take your dogs on structured walks, minimum once a day, even better is twice or WOW! 3 times a day would a happy dog make! Jim Burwell, Jim Burwell’s Petiquette

Bookmark & Share

Dog Aggression Agitates Lifestyle of Laid Back California Dog Owners

Fighting between family dogs

Fighting between family dogs

Fighting between family dogs

Fighting between family dogs

Family dog aggression precipitated an email to me from a lady in California (she found me on the internet) who is desperate for help with her two dogs.  She has 2 dogs, a 4 yr. old doodle dog and a 7 yr old terrier – both rescue dogs.

This is one of the more interesting stories I’ve heard about dog aggression.  A couple of years ago she was preparing to take her two dogs for a walk.  She got them on their leashes, and headed out the door for a typical daily walk, not knowing disaster awaited.   A neighbor had left a bag of dog treats on the front porch.  The dogs were no sooner out the door when they both discovered the dog treats at the same time. Well, you guessed it.  A major dog fight ensued and, as she so aptly explained, it was a war zone right there on my front porch.

She immediately called a trainer and began extensive dog training that lasted for a year.  This was followed by calling in a dog behaviorist, but all to no avail.  She has them to the point now, where they tolerate each other, but things are still tense and very very stressful at home.

Suggestions had been made to “re-home” one of the dogs.  The husband refuses.  If you’ve had the dogs for as long as they have, I would be hard pressed to “find another home” for one of my dogs!  I would exhaust every single avenue to fix the problem.

So, what’s this dog aggression in California got to do with me, I’m sure you’re asking.  That’s where the email comes in.  She has set up  a consultation with me, as it turns out she will be in Houston next month visiting friends.

There are still many unanswered questions, such as “why is it the wife’s responsibility to deal with the dogs 24/7?  Hmmm, something’s up there.  No husband participation?  Fights amongst dog house mates usually always occur around one or both owners and generally between (not always), dogs of the same gender.

Could it be squabbles over pack status? Resources like food or owner affection?  More will be revealed when I receive the completed “canine questionaire”.

Stay tuned as this saga unfolds and we find more pieces completing the puzzle, once again restoring a peaceful and rewarding relationship between these two dogs and their owners.

“Be as concerned about the trainer of your dog, as you are the teacher of your children.”  And remember,

“Opportunity Barks!”

Jim Burwell,

 Jim Burwell’s Petiquette

Why Dogs' Fight - Sibling Rivalry

Why dogs fight – or what is with sibling rivalry

If you have sibling rivalry going on amongst your dogs, you need to understand how you are creating that problem. 

Family dogs that fight


What’s Your Role?

Maybe it’s time to take a look at why your dogs have taken to fighting each other. 

As you think about your relationship with your dogs, see if you can recognize any of the following that could be evidence of your own sibling rivalry.

Competition for your attention: Have you noticed that when you are petting one dog, the other comes over and splits the two of you apart?

Fighting over who’s the boss:  Usually two housemates of the same sex trying to exert their dominance over the other by controlling valuable assets like food, space, toys or your love and affection. 

They will often times get into a fight exiting the back door when being let out to the yard to play or potty.

An initial poor introduction to each other: When you got the second dog, did you properly introduce them on neutral ground to optimize their success?

One dog having established territory and resenting the other as an intruder

Redirected Aggression:  Do your dogs really want to attack the mailman or the dog next door? Not being able to get at their primary target to release this aggression often times causes them to turn on each other in frustration.


Remember, your dogs are pursuing aggression, not because they are not “nice”, but because aggression is:

  • Working for them to get them something they think they need i.e. access to resources (food, space, articles of play and attention from you), status etc.
  •  Working to keep someone or something away they desperately want kept away i.e. a housemate who would otherwise strike first


1.   Redefine your relationship with your dogs

Discover what have you and/or your family been or NOT been doing that may be contributing factors to your dogs fighting?

Learn how to build a healthier relationship with your dogs by establishing better rules, boundaries and expectations. This will provide you with a stronger framework with which to begin working on your dog fighting problem.

It’s going to be very important to examine your own relationship with your dogs.  Have you been providing your dogs with these?

  • Rules to follow
  • Boundaries to respect and,
  • Expectations of what to do and when to do it?

Are you aware that all dog behavior problems are usually stress related?  What’s causing stress in your dogs?

  • Not enough or no consistent and predictable structure in your home?
  • Not providing your dogs with enough structured walks for exercise?
  • Too much doting?

Any one of these or other reasons can be causing stress in your dogs which in turn contributes to the fighting.

Know that maintaining a healthy relationship is critical for long term success in keeping stress to a minimum and keeping peace in the pack. The rules you establish today must be reinforced tomorrow.

Before you begin to work on resolving the issues between your dogs, fix the relationship between you and your dogs.  

2.   Strengthen your dog’s obedience commands

Receiving a fast response to obedience commands from your dogs – especially in the presence of each other is critical to the success of your program.  Responding to your commands gives your dogs a sense of working for you rather than you following their lead.

Do you know how to be successful here?  

Clear expectations by your dogs, of what to do and when to do it (obedience training) will begin to foster more pleasant experiences in each other’s company.   It relieves stress. 

Less stress = less fighting—eventually.

The more stress you can eliminate, the easier this will be to accomplish.  

In the meantime, keep fighting from recurring while you are in the process of fixing issues between your dogs. 

Keeping dogs and people safe should be your #1 priority.  You can do this by using crates, gates or keep them separated with leashes if in the same room together.  


Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog

Jim Burwell, professional dog trainerJim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best: 

There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant.  Jane Wagner

(c) 2012 Jim Burwell