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.


Dog Training at the Holidays

Dogs and Puppies: Holiday Training That Works

A client asked me, “What’s the best thing to do with our dog when we have holiday visitors over for drinks or dinner? Do we board him or crate him at home?”  I thought to myself, “Now that’s a great question but read on, the answer is even better!”

I would keep your dog at home. 

He will be a lot less stressed staying in a familiar place like home. There are a couple of options for you to consider at home:

Crate your dog or puppy for the evening while entertaining OR train, then crate your dog for the evening. 

Let’s take a look at these two home-options.

If you are by yourself and simply cannot deal with your dog or puppy under foot just before and during your entertaining evening, then simply crate or gate your dog – or puppy.   

Before you secure your dog, there are some things to do that will make your dog’s crate time more manageable. Let’s take a look at some practical tips: 

  • Plan time for a long walk with your dog.  He needs lots of sights sounds and experiences on the walk to process during his down time.  Remember, a tired dog is a good dog. 2-5 minutes of obedience training prior to crating will create mental fatigue as well.
  • Make sure he gets fed as close to the same time you always feed him. Remember, he predicts getting fed at the same time each and every day – consistently.
  • Make sure he has plenty of chewies and a stuffed Kong to occupy his time in the crate.

Now I’ll put on my trainer hat as we look at the other option

Dog Training at the Holidays

If any of you out there have had me in your home to help train your dog, for this very typical dog problem of good manners around house guests, the biggest problem yo  have said to me is:  “Jim, we have a hard time finding enough people to come over, knock on our door and assist with set ups to help work on our dog problem.” 

Here’s YOUR golden opportunity to use holiday visitors to train your dog.  I know what you’re thinking, -Managing your dog or puppy while entertaining house guests will be too stressful! 

But it doesn’t have to be. 

With forethought and planning you could work in a little “meet-and-greet” dog training once everyone has arrived and before you serve their drinks and snacks. Save the meet-and-greet training around food for another day. Unless your dog is very well trained, he might just go into sensory overload!                                                                            

There are right and wrong ways to working your dog around house guests so here’s my easy to follow practical tips: 

  • Potty your dog before beginning this training exercise – especially if you have a young dog or puppy
  • I’d have your dog on a leash attached to another family member or have your dog in his crate
  • Have a bowl of his favorite treats for your house guests – for them to give to your dog of course!
  • Tell your guests what you are going to do, which is to have him greet each guest without jumping.
  • Tell everyone to be very calm as too much excitement can cause him to want to jump even more
  • Take him to the first person on leash – careful not to allow him to jump (putting your foot on the leash will help here) – and have the person take a food treat from the bowl, hold it over his head as he says, “Sit!” then praise and treat your dog and pass the bowl to the next person until everyone has greeted your dog in this manner.
  • Return your dog to his secure area, go back and enjoy the party. Make sure you take him to potty before you secure him. 

If you have an extra family member on hand, have them keep your dog settled down on the floor next to their feet by stepping on the leash.  This will give your dog a little more time getting desensitized to these “people distractions” while you enjoy your guests.  If he seems a little restless, provide him with a chewie or a stuffed Kong while he is settled down.  

When you finish your training (10 – 15 minutes), crate him as previously mentioned. If you have a puppy, make sure you don’t subject your puppy to the noise and frolic all night long. You can get a lot of mileage out of just 10-15 minutes of dog or puppy training. 

When your dog is in his crate 

Now, training is over and it’s time to crate your dog or puppy. How well he manages his time alone will depend on how much crate training you’ve done with him.  If you have a puppy that spends most of his time with you out of the crate because “you feel guilty,” you might want to consider revisiting crate training. 

When a puppy (or dog) thinks being out all the time is “normal,” he may not be okay in the crate when you are home with visitors. For more information on crate training read my article, “Crate Training: Love It or Hate It”

Spring Is Here So Make Sure You Walk Your Dog, Not The Other Way Around

Taking your dog out for a walk can be a very enjoyable experience. At least it should be. Walks are a critical element in having a well balanced dog. Dogs need not only the exercise, but also the intellectual and olfactory stimulation of walks.

But if you have trouble with your dog pulling on his leash, you need to stop this bad dog behavior. You want to go in one direction, your dog wants to go in the other direction. Sound familiar? Especially if your dog is still young, you want to stop the leash pulling now, because he may outweigh you when he is fully grown. You don’t want to look like a tail on a kite when you walk your dog.

Try my 5 steps to better dog walks. While you can use training collars and retractable leashes, it is best to try other options first. Retractable leashes are largely a waste of time on big dogs, and really aren’t effective for smaller dogs either.

For this method all you really need are: a 6′ leash and a nylon buckle collar.

  1. While you are out for a walk with your dog and he begins pulling on his leash, simply stop. Become immovable until he stops pulling and allows some slack in the leash.
  2. The minute there is slack in the leash, praise your dog and begin walking again.
  3. Continue your walk until the dog starts pulling again, stop dead in your tracks once again. Remain neutral. Wait for slack, praise.
  4. Sometimes, if you simply stop, change your direction and start walking, your dog will have to stop pulling and try to catch up with you going in the other direction. This strategy will also teach your dog to pay attention to you when you walk.
  5. Do not let your dog go sniff and investigate whatever he wants. You must control the walk.

Granted, this can be time consuming. But, walks are so important to your dog, he will soon learn that when he doesn’t pull he gets what he wants. Dogs do what works! Dogs are smarter than you think. Do your part consistently and you will soon find that you can enjoy your walks and your dog will love them as well.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2011

Is Your Puppy Afraid? Why Dogs Act Fearful And 5 Steps To Help

Unfortunately, sometimes you have a puppy or dog that seems to be fearful of either one thing – or many things. If your puppy seems to be afraid of certain things, like men, kids, the vacuum, the good news is that you can change your dog’s behavior.

Lots of dog owners believe that puppies will outgrow their fears, but isn’t how it works. Your puppy needs to learn confidence and the only way they can learn that is from you. Get your puppy familiar with things that make them uncomfortable, build structure into your puppy’s life and teach obedience training. These things will help build your puppy’s confidence

Follow my step-by-step tips for helping your puppy or dog overcome fear:

  1. Your puppy needs to be able to lessen his fearfulness at his own pace. Never try to force a person or situation that scares your puppy. If you do this, it just confirms to the puppy that the person or situation is dangerous. Let the puppy do it on his own time.
  2. Start obedience training. Training show your dog that you are the leader in the relationship. If he trusts you because he views you as his strong leader he will trust that you can handle scary situations.
  3. Once you have been training him to sit or stay, start redirecting his focus by training the puppy in the area of the person or situation he is fearful of. Do this at a comfortable distance. Then, over a period of time, you can slowly begin to get your puppy closer to the “feared object.”
  4. If your puppy is afraid of a person, have the person stand a distance away from the puppy, not look at the puppy, not make a big deal of anything and toss food treats periodically to the puppy. Done repeatedly when the person is around the puppy, the puppy will begin to associate good things with the once “scary stranger.”
  5. It needs to be your puppy’s choice if he wants to approach his fear and if he backs off, that is okay. It takes time and patience to show your puppy that there is nothing to fear. Just as with a small child, things don’t happen immediately. You have to work with patience and understanding and do things in a gradual manner.

Sometimes it helps to think of yourself, your fears and things that make you uncomfortable. Would you want someone to force you into a situation you are afraid of? Your puppy shouldn’t be forced either. Give him time and with a little training he will come around on his own, gain confidence and lose some of that fear.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children, and remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2011

Your Dog Training Questions: My Dog Growls At Me

Today, I’m answering a short, sweet question sent to me on Twitter, you can find me here: @PetiquetteDog.

Your Question:

Jim, my dog growls at me sometimes… why? It’s annoying and scary. – @okokgoodok

My Answer:

When a dog growls, he might be telling you “This is my space, back off!” There are other, non-threatening reasons why a dog may growl, though. A dog may growl to communicate something to you, like “I’m hungry” or “Take me outside.”

But if your dog is displaying an aggressive growl, protecting his food, toys or space, that is a problem. What your dog is saying is “This is mine and I’m the boss, so back off!” This type of behavior can escalate into aggression, so don’t ignore it.

First of all, you want to take back the leadership role from your dog. For whatever reason, your dog has decided he’s the boss in the relationship. A dog’s instinct is to follow the leader or be the leader. If you haven’t taken on the leadership role, he will think he needs to “step up.” One of the keys to being a leader in the dog world is controlling resources. When you dog growls at you, he is asserting his ownership over resources. This is obviously backwards, he lives in your house, not the other way around. So how can you change this bad dog behavior?

I have a few simple training exercises you should start immediately. They all start with learning a simple sit, something your dog will enjoy. Once mastered, use the sit to show your dog you are the boss in the following ways:

1. Never let the dog onto a couch or other furniture unless it’s on your terms. Have your dog perform a sit in order to earn the right to sit on your couch.

2. At meal times, have your dog perform a sit before filling his bowl. The message your dog gets: You own the food and you control who eats and when.

3. During play time, have him perform the sit to earn his favorite toy. Again, the message is that you control the resources.

These simple exercises should alleviate the problem. If you believe your dog has a more serious aggression problem, it is best to talk to an experienced dog trainer. Look for one that uses positive, not negative, reinforcement. Negative reinforcement will likely compound any dog aggression problems. Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as with the teacher of your children and remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

How Dog Training Can Keep Your Dog Safe And Happy During Christmas

It’s easy to forget about keeping our dogs safe during the holidays with the Christmas tree and everything else that can distract us. If something unfortunate happens, you don’t want to find yourself saying, “I never would have thought that could happen!”

Now, many of you have dogs that are veterans of many Christmases past, but some of you have concerns about facing your first Christmas with a new puppy or adolescent dog. Then there are those of you who haven’t given safety for your dog a single thought. This post is for all of you!  Here are some tips to consider during the Christmas season to keep your dogs (and cats!) safe:

The Christmas Tree:

  • Keep the water stand covered.  Pine sap mixed with water makes a poisonous drink for your dog or cat.
  • Sweep up pine needles.  Eating pine needles can cause vomiting and gastric irritation.
  • Tie the tree to the wall or ceiling to keep your dog or cat from pulling it over.
  • Tinsel is very dangerous for dogs.  Eating tinsel can cause serious intestinal obstruction that may require surgery if ingested.  Use ribbon up high on the tree instead of tinsel and garland.
  • The smell of a live tree may cause your dog or cat to urine mark.  It may help to bring the tree into an isolated indoor room for a day or so, so it smells more like the home.
  • Your best bet is to use your dog’s obedience skills to redirect any attention he is paying to the tree. Here’s how. Star by having pet treats ready to distract your pet from paying attention to the tree. Then begin working on setting a boundary for your dog by doing “set ups” with your dog on leash as you take him to the tree.  When he sniffs the tree, give him a gentle tug and say “Off” then redirect to a stuffed Kong toy or chew bone and praise him for taking the appropriate item. Soon your dog will see that ignoring the tree earns him praise and toys.


  • Pick up any ornament hooks that fall.  If your dog eats an ornament hook, it can damage the intestines.
  • Better yet, replace ornament hooks with loops of string tied in a knot.
  • Glass ornaments should be placed on the upper half of the tree where dogs and cats can’t reach them.
  • Only use wooden or non-breakable ornaments down low, or better yet, only decorate the top 2/3 of your tree.


  • Don’t hang indoor lighting low, this will keep your dog or cat from becoming entangled in them.
  • Remember to unplug the lights when you’re not home to supervise your dog.
  • Some dogs might also be tempted to chew electric cords or other electric ornaments. Again, it’s best to use training to let your dog know that this is unacceptable.


  • Dogs are very inquisitive and the decorations on presents can be very tempting.  Take ribbons and string from packages.  Consider storing presents in a safe area until right before opening.
  • Don’t place edible presents under the tree—take it from someone who knows! Dogs can smell them a mile away and they will rip them open and eat the contents.  (Jalapeno beef jerky was the culprit and a fast call to the vet!)
  • Don’t forget to give your dog or cat a present.  A stuffed Kong will keep them occupied when guests are over.
  • Don’t EVER give a puppy as a surprise present.  A puppy who grows into a dog is a major, lifetime commitment and owners must be prepared to make the commitment of time and energy it takes to successfully integrate a puppy/dog into a home. However, if you are considering getting a puppy for the holidays, see my post on the right way to add a new puppy or dog to the family. Don’t forget my CD, Puppy Training Sins Every New Puppy Owner Needs To Avoid, it’s like having me in your home!
  • The perfect present to give the dog lover in your life is the gift of dog training. You can buy gift certificates for group or individual training session with me. You can contact me through my website, e-mail me at [email protected] or call me at (713) 728-0610 to order today.

Dog Activity:

  • Repeat after me: A tired dog is a good dog.  Do not forget to take your dog for his daily walk, especially before company arrives.
  • Give your dog a safe place to go – another room, a crate removed from the activity, somewhere your dog is used to and feels safe so he can escape all the activity.

Have a safe, wonderful, blessed Christmas and hug those pups for me!

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

Review Some Of My Dog Training Tips Before Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’m sure you’re busy planning a big family meal. Whether you are hosting or attending, it’s important to remember to keep all family members safe and happy. This of course means your dog as well. Let’s review how some of the dog behavior tips I have shared with you here can come in handy on Thanksgiving Day.


If you are already dealing with begging issues, Thanksgiving is going to seem like a table scrap Christmas to your dog. But Thanksgiving is a ‘people’ feast, and you should not indulge your dog. Not only will this severely undermine the good dog training you have been working so hard on all year, it can actually be very hazardous to your pet’s health. Be especially wary of turkey bones. Cooked bones can splinter and if swallowed, tear your dog’s intestines. If you can’t stand to deprive your dog, here is a list of ‘people’ foods from WebMD that are OK for dogs. Just remember: only in moderation and always, always make your dog earn it.


Even a well-socialized dog can become overwhelmed when a busload of friends and family stop by for the day.  In fact, you probably know just how he feels! But this can actually be an opportunity for your dog to show off all of the obedience skills you have been working on.  If you need a refresher, start with my tips on jumping on people and barking.


Seeing the youngest members of our family is a joyful thing. We see their playful, curious, talkative behavior as charming. But your dog sees a different picture: a loud and seemingly aggressive miniature human. Even well-behaved children and dogs can get into unexpected conflicts. This is because they are very much like each other. Most notably, both children and dogs need the guidance of adult humans to navigate situations. Be sure to supervise all dog-child interactions closely and  explain to children how to pet, play with and talk to your dog.

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

Your Dog Training Questions: My Puppy Bites Me

Your Question:


I have a new puppy. She is a 6-month-old Maltese. We are potty training her, socializing her with our friends and generally following all of your advice. Everything seems fine, except that when we are pet her and play with her she bites and sometimes her bites are way too hard. Will she grow out of this?

My Answer:
If you have ever observed puppies in a litter, you will see a lot of play fighting, including biting. This is how puppies teach each other something we call bite inhibition. If one puppy bites too hard during play, the other will yelp to let him know. Soon puppies learn how to control the strength of their bites, but sometimes they have to learn this from you.

The first thing is to never punish your puppy for biting. Don’t strike or yell at the puppy. First of all, it won’t work and second, you could compound the problem by creating fear in your puppy. Instead you want to supervise your puppy and eventually redirect the biting.

When your puppy bites, stop playing and redirect their behavior. If you have been teaching obedience teaching your dog commands like sit, down, etc., this is the time for them. Keep up the good work with training, walking and socializing your puppy and you should have no problem getting your puppy to stop biting you.

Jim’s  Nose to Tail Puppy Training is the culmination of these years of training into an easy, step-by-step process so that your puppy understands what you expect of him because you know how to teach 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.  The result – one awesome puppy and one happy family.

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

Your Dog Training Questions: My Dog Has Food Aggression

dog aggressionDog aggression is a difficult behavior problem. It’s hard to say why a dog shows aggression. Common causes are poor puppy socialization, being taken from the litter too soon, fear and poor obedience training. Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us why they are behaving the way they do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t manage the behavior. Here’s a reader whose dog was showing unexpected aggression towards the family’s new dog.

Your Question:

After years of being a one-dog household, my husband and I decided to adopt an older rescue dog. Our first dog, a 6 year old mix, has always been a little nervous, but never gave us any major problems. That’s why we are stunned about the way she is reacting to our new dog, a 2-year-old mix. They seem to get along fine most times, but when it is time to feed, our older dog becomes very aggressive: growling, snapping, guarding. She is doing this not only to our new dog, but to my husband and I as well. We are feeing them in separate rooms for now, but is there another way to fix this problem?

– Louie

My Answer:

Food aggression can be a complex problem. In general, the solution is to get your dog desensitized to having other people and dogs around during meal time.

You’re doing the right thing to keep them separated — but it’s only a temporary solution. It’s a solution that is keeping all family members safe, but if you don’t address the root of the problem, it will eventually get worse.

Because you are experiencing a new problem with an old dog, I would guess that your dog is reacting to a perceived lack of structure in the family. One thing to start immediately is to make both dogs perform a sit for you in order to earn their meals. This reinforces that you are in charge and control the resources. This is actually very comforting to your dog, who instinctively looks for a leader.

If your dog has serious aggression around her food bowl, it may be time for you to consider a good trainer or behaviorist to begin working on a more rigorous behavior modification program to directly address the underlying issues around food aggression.

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

Dog Behavior Problems and Your Personal Space Part 2: Practice Makes Perfect

Yesterday, I covered the “Law of the Dog.” This law states dogs recognize leaders who control resources like food, toys, fun and personal space. This applies to their human housemates as well. In short, if your dog is able to come into your personal space at will and take something of value like food or affection, your dog thinks he is running the show.

This would be bad enough, but the consequence of this is that your dog won’t listen to your commands in any other situation. So, let’s talk about how to fix this common dog behavior problem.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. A toddler is in the family room eating a cookie when the cookie breaks in half and falls to the floor in the dog’s space.

You may get very tense at what your dog might do to your toddler because to the dog if it’s in his space, it’s his – but your toddler doesn’t know this.

My guess is that you hope your dog will step back and take a relaxed sit, wagging his tail. Wouldn’t that be a great out come? It takes a little work to achieve this but here’s how you would do it.

Stand in the middle of a room with something of high value like a stuffed Kong toy.

Drop it on the floor behind you and block your dog from getting it.

When he finally relaxes and sits, click and treat him.

Expand the exercise to other high value items your dog likes – yes, even use cookies if that is relevant to your (and your dogs) situation.

Now here’s the key: Don’t use any command words at all. Just stand there and wait until your dog sits patiently.

By not using words or having any emotions in the process of this exercise, your dog begins to react to your body language. Of course your dog must be able to sit.

Gotta teach the basics!

Now practice with other family members as well using many different things of high value to your dog. And remember, practice makes perfect!

(C) Jim Burwell 2010