A Home Dog Training client that we had worked with several years ago in Dawsonville contacted us last week and wanted to give us an update about his two Brittany Spaniels. When we were out there several years ago, we worked on standard puppy behavior and obedience stuff. They responded quite well and have behaved wonderfully since then. Well, it appears things have changed.
Starting over the last few weeks, they have been demonstrating aggressive actions and are very possessive of their stuff. He told us that one of his friends mentioned that they may be experiencing “sibling rivalry”.
Because of that, he has been scanning the internet for articles and videos on canine sibling rivalry. He said that he had he, his brother, and sister always had occurrences of sibling rivalry. Could this type of “brother-sister” relationship also take place with his two Brittany Spaniels?
Although nowhere nearly as common among “human siblings”, we have seen a good number of “sibling rivalry” events between canine siblings. Sometimes the sibling rivalry may be as simple as a nondescript snap and very quiet growl between the two pups from time to time. On the other hand, the rivalry may boil over into far more active and potentially dangerous actions.
We have experienced instances where the canine siblings need to be constantly separated or they will send each other to the twenty-four hour vet hospital. Because of this, it is very important that you deal with your pups’ sibling rivalry the moment you notice it. Like a pot of water on a hot stove, the warm water will eventually turn into a boiling tempest.
After gaining a few, additional facts, Robin and I gave our client the following advice:
- To begin with, you should always make sure that your dogs are constantly separated. You should do this until you are 100% confident that they will no longer act in an aggressive manner towards each other. Even if you see them “looking funny at each other”, you should keep them separated. “Giving one another the look” is often a precursor to more dangerous, aggressive activities.
- From a general “temperament standpoint”, you need to understand that a proper relationship between you and your dogs is critical. You need to clearly establish that you are the boss, the teacher, the parent who corrects. Until you have established your undeniable leadership, you will not get your dogs’ focus and their acceptance of “what you say goes”. Sibling rivalry is often caused because the owner has not demonstrated appropriate leadership.
- Distance control is a very effective obedience exercise that you can practice individually with each dog. We like to describe “Distance Control” as a hap-hazard, long-range COME exercise. First of all, you need to put a long training lead on one of your dogs. Throw something away from you so your dog will go after it. Once he has run to the object (which is away from you) and is focusing on the object, give him the COME command. If he changes focus from the object to you and returns to you, that is great and exactly what you want. If he is still focused on the remote object, you should give the training lead a slight tug to have him focus on you and return. It may take more than one tug. Again, practice this with one dog at a time.
- Sibling rivalry can also be caused because one of your dogs feels that there has been a special relationship created between you and the “other dog”. It is important that you treat each dog equally. (For those of you old enough, remember “The Smothers Brothers” where Tommy would always tell Dick “Mom always liked you best!”)
- As for now, you must always have leashes on your dogs if you are going to have them together. You should be holding one leash and another family member should be holding the other dog’s leash. This will give you absolute control over them. If you or your family member notice too much staring or posturing between one or both of the dogs, tug the leashes so that they are redirected back to their respective human handler. Once they are focused on you and your family member, have them sit and respectfully give you and your family member calm focus for several minutes. After they have been “good doggies” for several minutes, you can allow them to wander around. They are still leashed and both of you are keeping a close watch on them.
- Even if you are not noticing any aggression between your dogs, you should still keep them crated when you are gone, or you can’t physically watch them. As their leader and protector, you can create any environment you want. For the present, and for their safety, you have come to the conclusion that they need to be crated when you are gone. This will remove any possibility of unwanted actions. It also reinforces the rule of “we don’t fight with each other”.
- You need to enforce and strengthen your role as leader with your dogs. This does not mean that you have to be “the bad guy”. Your dogs need to see you as a “resolute leader”. Body language signs you will observe when your dogs have accepted your role as their leader are:
- a lowered and bowed head
- flopping or falling ears
- quick licking of the lips
- relaxed body posture
- respectful and continual focus
Finally, always perform these actions in a slow, consistent, and methodical way. Never put the dogs in a situation where you are not in complete control. You are in charge because you are their boss.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.