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