Sibling Rivalry in Dogs

Sibling Rivalry in Dogs

If you have two dogs or even multiple dogs, you may notice a frequent sibling rivalry similar to that of human siblings. Sibling rivalry, or fighting amongst dogs inside the same household, usually stems from either normal competitiveness amongst dogs of the same litter, similar age, sex, and development, or adolescent dominance struggles, or both.

It’s fun to think of pet-to-pet angst as sibling rivalry but puppy aggression can be serious. We doubt the parents of two-legged kids put up with a tooth-and-claw terror campaign. Unfortunately, pets face serious injury if puppy aggression gets out of hand.

beagle puppies siblings

Territory, Personality, and Resources

Territory, personality, and resources impact whether or not rivalry conflict develops. The most important territory for a pet is YOU (the owner). That's flattering to think how much two puppies can love you. Access to your attention can be a biggie. Magic becomes quite the pester-bug whenever Seren demands lap time. Territorial disputes usually arise over arguments about limited resources (food, toys, litter box, beds, and more). Seren shows up to cage treats only when she knows Magic just finagled a taste.

Complementary pet personalities can keep the peace, with a confident in-charge pet not challenged by a laid-back pet personality. Choose compatible pups to prevent problems down the road, and then introduce them properly.

But two wannabe “top dog” types who argue over who’s in charge, or a bully-pet matched to a shrinking violet type can be miserable to live with. Thank goodness, in my house the dog knows and accepts that the cat’s in charge—but that doesn’t stop his teasing, just like a human little brother pesters a big sister.

The animals’ breed, gender, and sexual status matter. The worst issues seem to arise from same-sex and same-species pets. That is, two girl dogs or two boy dogs raised together (or two female cats, or male cats) seem to butt heads most often. Neutering helps level the playing field and reduces the hormonal stress that can stir up rivalries.

Steps For Introducing New Dogs To Current Family Dogs


  • Don’t force your “home team” dog to protect their home turf. If the dogs meet in a neutral location, they are less likely to view the other as an intruder. Start in a neutral zone such as a neighbor’s fenced in yard or enclosed park that your resident dog has not visited. Each dog should be on a dependable Dog Leash and Dog Collar and handled by a separate person.
  • Positive Reinforcement Dog Training works. You want your dogs to have positive experiences with each other right from the start. Let your dogs sniff each other and greet each other normally. Give them positive reinforcement through calm verbal affirmations. After letting them play for a while, put both dogs in a “sit” or “stay”, then let them interact again. Finally, take them on walks together, allowing them to sniff each other along the way.
  • Play close attention the both dog’s body posture. Watch out for body postures that show a defensive response. Defensive body postures include hair standing up the back, teeth-baring, deep growls, a stiff legged gait or a prolonged stare. If a dog goes into these postures, immediately switch into positive reinforcement mode and get your dog to follow your teachings. Let your dogs interact again, shorten the distance between the two.
  • Once your dogs seem to be tolerating each other, it’s time to bring them home. Whether they ride in the same car or not is really a judgment call on how well you think they are getting along and the size of your car or SUV. We have found that allowing the new dog to enter the home first can reduce the chance of your family dog feeling that they need to “protect their turf”.

Identifying the Situation and Type of Rivalry

Aggression between household dogs can be difficult to treat. You will need to identify the situations in which aggression arises and ensure that you are not encouraging a more subordinate dog to challenge the more confident dog.

Similarly, you would not want to encourage the dog that is less interested in a resource to challenge the one with a higher motivation to hold on to that resource. It is critical that you never come to the aid of the subordinate against the more confident. If left alone, the dogs will often use posturing and threats to end encounters without injury. If one dog backs down, the problem may be resolved. However, when both dogs are equally motivated to challenge, assert and posture, fighting will usually result.

two aggressive dogs

How Many Dogs Matter?

Pets can compete but still get along well for the most part. The more pets you have, though, the greater the chance of pet rivalries getting out of hand. It’s a numbers game—two pets usually love, like, or at least learn to tolerate each other. Three pets also can get along but often create an odd-pet-out that gets bullied. Four or more pets virtually guarantee serious behavioral issues that require management.

Confrontations and Fights Between Dogs

Fights among siblings can sometimes seem severe with blood drawn, etc. However, when the animals are close in age and similar in temperament, (i.e. not willing to give in) these fights can go on and on making the owner’s nerves wear thin.

Fights Between Dogs

If no serious damage is being done, interference can actually make the problem worse, especially if that interference favors one of the dogs involved. These struggles are best allowed to work themselves out. If the fighting is constant, use some obedience training to enforce time-outs:

Subordinate Dogs

A common owner error is the desire to make life “fair.” This often results in owners allowing subordinate dogs or ones who would normally have less interest to have access to resources, such as attention, treats, toys, or entry into territory that they would not normally try to obtain in the presence of the other dog, if they were not encouraged by their owners.

Often the subordinate dog does not behave in a manner that would challenge the confident dog when no one is around to “protect” it. If you encourage or come to the aid of the subordinate dog rather than discourage its behavior, you may increase the chances that the more assertive dog will challenge it. If you then punish the assertive dog for aggression, the subordinate dog might be encouraged to repeat the same destructive behavior.

In addition, the use of any discipline or punishment techniques might lead to increased anxiety when the dogs get close to each other. In many households, there is no fighting when the owners are gone, which is likely an indication that the owners' interactions are in some way encouraging the dogs to interact in a way that they would not when the owners are away.

Whether the owner’s actions are in some way encouraging the behaviors that lead to fights, or whether the pet owners themselves are responding inappropriately to one or both of the pet’s actions, needs to be determined.

Can Social Aggression Always Be Corrected?

Although dogs are social and live in groups, in a free ranging situation they would choose which group to live in and leave those where they are not welcome. Most people could not live together harmoniously in a small group arrangement with individuals someone else selects; we should admire our dogs' flexibility that they are willing to let us pick their friends most of the time.

However, some dogs will simply never be friends. Assessing the level of the threat and the potential for safety is the first step in determining the prognosis at least in the short term. Dogs that threaten but do not cause injury may learn to communicate in a way that avoids any further escalation to aggression, provided the owner does not intervene with normal communication and learning.

dog Social Aggression

On the other hand in some cases, even if the situations in which aggression between adult dogs and puppy siblings might arise are infrequent if they cannot be predicted and prevented or if they lead to injury, (perhaps due to size or health differences or overly intensive responses on behalf of either one puppy, or both pets) then the situation may be too dangerous to allow the dogs to be housed together.

Identifying specific triggers or situations between two dogs in which problems might arise, can provide a viable opportunity for pet parents to be able to prevent and possibly improve aggression. If predicting and preventing potential aggression is not practical, training and owner supervision does not ensure safety, problems cannot be improved with behavioral management, training and perhaps drugs or preventive products and preventive measures.

Should You Punish Dogs When They Challenge Each Other? 

Punishment should be avoided. The dog-dog relationship will not be improved if you scold, punish or hold down a dog as punishment; in fact you may make it worse by punishing the dog for signaling and communicating their aggressive intentions.

Good communication between the dogs is actually helpful to avoid serious fights. If the dogs are punished for their canine communication, such as growling, snarling, snapping or lip lifting then these important canine communications may be suppressed. Effective communication between the dogs is the key to harmony.

Instead, if you can see that the dogs are about to fight, the dogs should be called, redirected or encouraged to do something else. Ideally the assertive dog is called to come, sit and stay. This must be taught and rewarded in a positive reinforcement program. If you call or punish harshly or sternly then you will suppress your dog's communication when you are around.

If the assertive dog doesn’t obey, then you need to refresh their obedience commands on a separate occasion. This dog may need to drag a leash attached to a head halter device so the aggressive events may be managed safely without escalation of human emotion adding to the aggression

Doing Activities Together

If problems arise during walks, it is usually best to start with two people walking the dogs (each person controls one dog) and not to allow them to forge in front of each other. Both should learn to walk on a loose leash with no anxiety by the owner’s side. 

During feeding or when giving treats or toys keep the dogs at a distance, far enough apart that they do not show aggression. Slowly the dishes, toys or treats can be moved closer together as long as the dogs remain focused on their own items.

Dogs can be taught to settle when they are in the same area or the same room, with a down/stay and rewards. However, until they can be effectively trained another alternative is to attach their leashes to large pieces of furniture.

Leash Aggression

dog leash aggression

Some pups simply don't like other dogs. Certain breeds like terriers may be more inclined to react with aggression toward other dogs. Walking a puppy that feels fearful or antagonistic toward other dogs may make leash walking a challenge. Learn why some dogs react with leash aggression and how you can help solve this problem.

Status Related Aggression

It's hard to believe that the cute fuzzball that snuggles in your lap could be anything but a love bug. Once your young dog reaches adolescence, though, they may decide to challenge other dogs in your household.

That's part of finding their place in the canine family, but clueless youngsters or older dogs without patience can mean some status-related aggression squabbles. It's important to learn the signs and what you can do about it.

Dog Rivalry with Human Siblings

Sometimes in homes with children, there can be some natural sibling rivalry that parents must deal with. While puppies don't tend to react in quite the same way, you could compare competition for your affection, attention, and resources (toys, food) as a kind of sibling rivalry.

Dog Rivalry with Human Siblings

Dominance Aggression

The new, more accurate term for dominance aggression is conflict aggression because puppies and dogs that act this way are anything but dominant. While many dog owners assume aggressive behavior means the dog is dominant, this is only one of many categories of canine aggression.

Young dogs that haven't learned how to manage interactions are more likely to display this kind of behavior toward humans, perhaps out of fear—and then when it works, they repeat the behaviors. For instance, the adolescent dog doesn't like having his nails trimmed so he growls and snaps—and the owner backs off, rewarding him for the behavior. Learn more about why dominance aggression develops and how you can prevent and manage the problem.

Territorial Aggression

Dogs are territorial creatures, and they want to feel safe in their homes. Puppies often react defensively toward strangers who trespass on what they consider their property—such as your house, the yard, or the car.

While we want our dogs to feel protective of our homes, this can get out of hand if the pup decides to "guard" you from your spouse, for instance. It can become a liability issue if protective dogs act aggressively toward neighbors, children, delivery people or others. Learn to understand what's going on, how to recognize territorial aggression, and what you can do.

Possessive Aggression

Possessive aggression in dogs is a serious problem for dog owners and a common reason that dogs are referred to as companion animal behavioral specialists. When a dog behaves aggressively toward people or other animals that approach valued objects such as a toy, treat, or food, the behavior is described as possession aggression. If you determine that this is the cause of your dog's aggression, you may be able to stop it with some training.

Possessive Aggression in dogs

When to Consult a Professional Trainer 

If your dog is actually trying to bite, or showing very aggressive behavior, you must be extremely careful. If you are not seeing improvement in dog behavior on your own, or if your dog's aggression is getting worse, consider getting help from a dog trainer or behaviorist to correct your dog's behavior.


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