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

What to Do If Your Dogs Don’t Get Along

Chronic conflict between housemate dogs is one situation where rehoming is high on my list of choices. That’s especially true if serious conflict starts just when you’ve brought home a new dog, and especially especially true if the new dog is a puppy.

Why? Well, your first dog has priority. Especially if he’s older and maybe not a big fan of other dogs in general, it might not be fair to expect him to adjust to a housemate. A bouncy puppy can be hard on an older dog’s quality of life.

Also, think about how uncomfortable you’d feel if you had to share your home with someone you fought with constantly and just plain didn’t like. As a rule, we humans are free to get a new roommate or move out. We can ask our spouse to attend couples counseling with us, or if all else fails we can get divorced. Feral dogs and other social canids live outdoors, which generally means they have a lot of space available. Those who don’t get along can leave and try to join another social group, or at least keep plenty of air between them. Not incidentally, the image of wolves fighting it out savagely in their packs has a lot to do with the behavior of captive, unrelated wolves. Wolves who were stuck with each other, that is, like our pet dogs.

Of course, rehoming may not be an option. Or the dogs’ relationship may have taken a sudden turn for the worse after being pretty good for months or years. Or the dogs don’t get along super well but you’re pretty sure they’re not making each other miserable, either. So do the following:

1. Read “Feeling Outnumbered?”

This excellent pamphlet by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., explains clearly how you can make polite behavior work for your dogs, and thereby help them get along. Everybody who has more than one dog needs this guide.

2. Prevent Fights

Take note of when your dogs are likeliest to argue – for instance, meals and the moment when guests arrive. Separate the dogs with crates or gates at those “hot times.” Teach your dogs to share your attention.

3. Get Qualified Help

See my article on finding a behavior specialist to help you hire someone competent.

For more about teaching and living with your dog, check out my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading!



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).