Last Thursday I received a call from a Home Dog Training client in Canton that I had trained several years ago. Back then, he had called us in to help him with his two English Bulldogs. During our call last Thursday, he told me that the dogs had been excellent for the last several years.  He continued to tell me that, for reasons unknown to him, they had suddenly started to become aggressive and possessive with each other. 

Make sure your dogs are not displaying sibling rivalry

His neighbor mentioned that it might have something to do with sibling rivalry.  Because of that, he performed a “deep dive” on the internet to look at all the information he could find regarding canine sibling rivalry. Over the last week he had read a lot of articles regarding sibling rivalry between dogs.  He recanted that he, his older sister, and younger brother often had instances of sibling rivalry when they were young.  Can dogs also have the ability to have “sibling rivalry”?

I started the conversation by noting that Robin and I have often observed sibling rivalry between our clients’ dogs.  So, the short answer is “yes”.  We have often observed that canine sibling rivalry may display itself as a simple snap or low-level growl between one dog and the other.  On top of this, it may not happen on a continual, regular basis. The issue is that these seemingly innocent encounters sometimes escalate into dangerous and blood-letting brawls every time one dog gets within eyesight of the other. Because of this, it is imperative that you should address this matter as soon as you have the slightest inkling that sibling rivalry is present between your dogs.

Robin and I have some time-tested solutions regarding sibling rivalry that has worked for our clients and their dogs over the years.  I shared them during my conversation with my client and would like to share them with you:

  • It is extremely critical that you maintain a physical separation between the dogs until you are 100% positive that all physical aggression has been eliminated.  This also includes where one dog is simply showing active dominance over the other.  “Being sure” does not mean that “they seem to be fine now”.  It means that you have seen no tension, active focus, or heightened posturing between them for several weeks.
  • Sibling rivalry often occurs because of the relationship between your dogs and you.  It is critical that you let them know that you are the boss of both of them.  On top of that, you must display your leadership in an even-handed manner.  You cannot show favoritism (remember when Tommy would tell his brother, Dick Smothers, that “Mom always liked you best!”).
  • It is also very important that you practice distance control with the dogs.  This must be done individually with each of them on a daily basis.  Put a long training lead (20 to 30 feet) on one dog and then throw an object away from you and the dog in a manner that will cause the dog to chase the object.  As the dog runs to the object, call the dog back to you.  If your dog doesn’t respond, tug on the training lead to get his attention and then give the lead several tugs to have him return to your side. After practicing this with one dog for about five to ten minutes, put him away and practice with your other dog.
  • Starting immediately and even after you may think the dogs are fine to be in close proximity with the other, both dogs should be wearing six-foot leashes.  If both dogs are in close proximity, a separate family member should be responsible for each dog. This will allow the accompanying family member to always have the opportunity to deter and control any inappropriate situation that might take place. If one or both dogs start to act inappropriately, both family members should step on their dog’s respective leash, pick it up in their hand, and direct their dog away. Once each dog is calmly focused on their handler, they should be instructed to sit.  Once both dogs are calm and no longer demonstrating any overtly dominant posturing, the family members can guide them back to whatever they were previously doing.
  • The dogs should always be crated or physically and visually separated when you are gone.  This should be done even if you do not think anything “will happen between them”. As “the boss of them”, you have complete freedom to create any environment you may desire for them.  When you aren’t there and you allow them to freely roam, you have no control over unforeseen circumstances that may trigger them.  This means that you are not in control and are not providing them with a proactive, safe environment.  Putting them in crates or separating them provides them with the appropriate environment.
  • Many of the action items above emphasize that you need to be the boss.  Being the boss does not mean that you must be “the bad guy”.  It means that you must be the resolute leader that protects them.  In so doing, your dogs will look to you for leadership and direction.  They will willingly provide you with respectful focus. Some canine body language mannerisms that dogs naturally display when this takes place include:
    • Head slightly lowered
    • ears floppy and loose
    • quick licking of the lips
    • complete focus

Finally, always perform these actions in a slow, consistent, and methodical way.  Under no circumstances should you place yourself in a position where you do not have total control over the dogs and the immediate environment. You are the boss. Be the 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 nineteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 wonderful dogs and caring families and are ready to help you.