How to treat dog aggression between siblings

I work with dogs periodically that do not get along with the dogs in their own house. Sometimes the first dog has been fine with every dog previously, and then there are issues with the new dog that comes home.

But, more often than not, my clients that hire me for this issue inform me that the first dog “doesn’t really get along with some dogs” and they thought getting a second dog would “help their dog like dogs more.”

In those cases, I am surprised that the shelter or breeder allowed them to adopt a second dog. This is clearly a case where it is too risky to bring home a second dog.

I always recommend that my clients work with their existing dog to fully get them comfortable with other dogs before even considering bringing home another dog. I feel strongly that some dogs are actually happier in a single dog household. Not every dog needs another dog in the house to be a happy dog.

If someone is guilty about their first dog not getting enough time or attention, getting another dog will NOT solve the problem. What will happen is that there will be two dogs that are not getting enough time and attention.

So, what do you do if your dogs are not getting along?

The same strategies should be used to curb the aggression between two dogs inside that is used outside when dogs are on leash. The key is to watch for the triggers that cause anxiety and desensitize each dog to those triggers until they are able to be comfortable with those interactions.

As with all forms of aggression your options include:

  • Identify triggers
  • Desensitize to those triggers
  • Manage when you can’t train

The first two steps are described in this post about dog aggression.  Management includes baby gates, separate walks, removing any potential resources including bones, food bowls, toys or other objects. Another variable is the amount of time that they are together. Sometimes dogs can do well for short periods of time and then their anxiety gets the best of them and they “snap”.

If there is an altercation, survey the area for objects and look at the amount of time that they were together. Use this information to adjust your training strategy for the next interaction.

Also you have to be cautious when using treats. Yes, treats should be used to create a positive association after events, but they are also a resource that can cause a fight.

Treating sibling aggression requires the entire family to be on the same page and can require a lot of coordination until the problem is solved or one dog is re-homed if it is too difficult. It is critical that the adults in the household express the importance of keeping the dogs separated when they are not home.

Children have the best intentions, but don’t always have the best judgement. If dogs are fighting over food or other resources, one forgotten peanut butter sandwich can lead to a vet or hospital visit.
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