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When the sibling rivalry has gone too far…


Most days, our dogs are content sleeping together, walking side by side, and get along without a care in the world. Other days, vicious fights break out over what may seem like nothing. Aggression between dogs in the same household is a common problem among pet owners. These fights may be explosive and unpredictable, leaving the owners feeling scared and hopeless. But could the owners be the root of the problem?

It’s a Pack Thing
It is well known that dogs operate in a pack, similar to wolves in the wild. This social hierarchy means there is one leader (alpha) and the rest of the pack are followers of the alpha. The alpha chooses where and when to eat, sleep, hunt, mate, etc.

Out of the wild and stuffed on our couches, dogs’ pack mentality is not as strict as their cousin’s. One dog may be more outgoing, less cautious and more curious than the other. This dog is usually the leader. The follower is more laid back, passive and comfortable submitting to the leader…most days.

How the Pack Works
One dog is the leader, one dog is the follower, and YOU are the alpha. When present, both dogs refer to you for direction. The problems we make as pet owners is to upset the normal pack hierarchy with our own dogs.

For example, we arrive home and our dogs rush to greet us at the door. Your passive dog reaches you first but is rudely pushed to the side by your leader dog. “Didn’t I teach you manners?” and we pay attention to the passive dog first. Boom – you’ve upset the hierarchy, just like that. Psychology Today found that the action of the owners is the most common reason to trigger a fight in the home. By scolding your dog, you’ve shown him that he is no longer the leader. This creates unease and immediate anxiety, resulting in a full blown fight for the top spot. To humans, it seems uncalled for. To our dogs, this way of ranking in the pack is their instinct.

“But They’ve Never Fought Before”
It is common for dogs to get along fine before fights begin to occur. Usually, this happens as one dog is reaching sexual maturity (normally around 2 years old) and vying for the role as leader in the household. Schedule changes or upsets in your dogs’ normal routine can also cause anxiety and tension in the pack dynamic. In fact, Pyschology Today discovered 50% of the dogs in a study suffered from separation anxiety, with another 30% suffering from some other type of anxiety or phobia. Feeling unsure of their pack status ignites the anxiety an already anxious dog to cause an all-out brawl.

Sit Back and Watch
Your dogs, that is. Observe your dogs out in the yard when they’re unaware you are paying attention. Pay attention to their body language, who follows the other, and who seems to step up as the protector of the property. This will show you the true leader of your small pack as opposed to who we’d like to think it is.

You may also try restructuring certain routines, such as feeding time. Require both dogs to listen to a command, such as sit and stay, before they eat. Allow the leader dog to eat first to solidify their rank and ease their anxiety. Or, require both dogs to sit calmly when you arrive home before either receives any attention. This will keep the atmosphere calm and controlled to avoid tensions from flaring.

Sibling rivalry among dogs can be a large stress on both the dogs and the owners. As pet owners, it is our duty to listen and understand their behaviors before we can help them in the most beneficial and healthy way possible. Speak with your dog trainer for more assistance to create a calm, safe environment for everyone in the home.