Letting Dogs “Fight It Out”

Does the common advice to “Let your dogs work out their own problems” really make sense? Learn when it’s okay to stand back, and when you’ve got a potentially serious problem on your hands.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #182

Factor #4: The Dogs Don’t Hurt Each Other

Noisy, fast fights are scary, but they usually amount to trash talk, and both dogs walk away unscathed. An occasional single, shallow puncture is no big deal, ditto a nicked ear (those bleed a lot, so they look scary). However, if anybody needs stitches, and especially if you find yourself hitting the emergency vet more than once in a blue moon, you’ve got trouble.

Factor # 5: Conflicts Don’t Get Worse

You don’t see the dogs fighting more often, or fighting harder. It’s a steady state.

So those are your signs that the dogs’ relationship is basically okay and you don’t need to step in. Turn them around and you’ll know some of the trouble signs to look out for: dogs giving each other the “Back off, Jack!” on a regular basis; one or both dogs ignoring the other’s warnings; the dogs looking uncomfortable with each other even when there isn’t an overt conflict going on; the dogs hurting each other; the fights getting more frequent, or more intense, or both.

Watch for 3 other danger factors, too:

Danger Factor #1: Three or More Dogs

If you have three or more dogs, the chances of ganging up rise sharply. When dogs gang up, an ordinary trash-talk fight can go haywire, with catastrophic results for the losing dog.

Danger Factor #2: Size Disparity

Your 85-pound Golden Retriever can do a hell of a lot of damage to your 15-pound Mini Poodle mix without even trying. If your dogs are very different in size and strength, be extra cautious about how much conflict you allow. Even if the dogs have a history of mild spats, consider separating them when you’re not home.

Danger Factor #3: Change

Vague, right? “Change” could mean you moved, got married, got divorced, or had a baby. It could mean that one dog is recovering from surgery or has lost his vision.

Don’t get me wrong – none of these things is necessarily going to trash your dogs’ relationship with each other. Most likely, if your dogs got along great before you got married, they’ll keep right on getting along when you get back from the honeymoon. But life changes, even good ones, are stressors. If one or more of your dogs is a little bit brittle, the extra tension can really make his behavior deteriorate. Be mindful of the possibility and you can probably head trouble off before it starts.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).