Aggression Between Dogs in the Same Household – Sibling Rivalry

Aggression between dogs in the same household is fairly common. In this post I’ll give you some ideas on what to do if your dogs don’t get along.

Looking at my Instagram feed, you might assume my dogs are best friends and everything in our house is peaceful. That we all get along.

That is not reality.

My dogs are ages 12 years and 2 years. Nearly a generation apart. (June 2018 update: My senior dog Ace has passed away.)

They are on opposite ends of the “spectrum” in so many ways – energy, training, maturity.

My senior dog moves at the pace of a sloth. My adolescent weimaraner … drags me.

Because of their differences, my dogs co-exist, but they rarely do things together. I walk them separately. They don’t play. When I write, they each curl up on a separate dog bed.

So when I see my dogs do something like this, I can’t help but take a picture and post it.

Aggression between dogs in the same household

But as anyone with multiple dogs knows, more than likely you’re going to have a few growls, barks and scuffles at some point. Maybe even a few fights.

Dogs are DOGS, and sometimes dogs bark, growl and bite.

So if your dogs don’t always get along, know that this is normal.

Sometimes you might have a more serious issue, and in that case I would recommend working with a trainer.

More often than not, it simply comes down to management and making smart decisions.

I know my dogs will fight over rawhides, Kongs, bully sticks or food, for example. So I don’t give them the opportunity.

They eat in separate areas and they enjoy their “goodies” in separate rooms. That is what works for us.

Here are some common “high valued” resources that could trigger a fight between some dogs:

High-value resources for dogs

  • Bones, Kongs, rawhides, bully sticks
  • Food, food bowls or water bowls
  • Dog beds or kennels/crates
  • Toys
  • Doorways or other thresholds
  • A favorite person (family member, dog walker, relative, etc.)
  • A spot on the couch or a chair
  • Another dog

Signs of tension or guarding to watch for:

  • Stiff, still posture
  • Lowered head
  • Raised hackles
  • Cold, hard stare
  • Flicking the tongue
  • Raised lips, showing teeth
  • Growling

See my post: Signs of stress in dogs

Note that you have to look at these things in context and know your dogs. Raised hackles does not always mean aggression, for example.

What to do if your dogs don’t get along

1. List out exact “triggers” in detail. Keep notes.

Sometimes you might not know exactly why your dogs are fighting. It helps to take detailed notes on each situation.

Where did the fight occur? What time of day? Who was there? What items were present?

Which dog seemed to “start it” and why? How long did it last?

Write down these details so you can look for patterns and better manage your dogs in the future.

2. Management to keep everyone safe.

Management comes down to preventing opportunities for your dogs to fight.

Once you know what causes problems between your dogs, you can generally prevent most issues.

  • If certain items cause issues between your dogs, you’ll know to pick up toys, food bowls, bones, etc.
  • Using a gate or kennels/crates can also go a long way when you need to keep your dogs separated during meals or other “exciting” situations that can trigger fights.
  • If you notice tension, re-direct one or both dogs with an upbeat “look hear!”, whistling or clicking your tongue

In our house, my dogs will fight over me if I’m sitting on the ground. If your dogs do this, don’t sit on the ground petting one dog unless you tell the other dog to “STAY.” Or, use gates or leashes to manage them.

Aggression between dogs in the same household

3. Work with a trainer if you need it.

Usually fights between dogs are over in a second and sound a lot worse than they are.

However, if you are concerned for either dog’s safety or your own safety, it is smart to consult with a trainer.

Even if you know a lot about dog behavior, it’s worth it to get a neutral opinion from someone who can observe you and your dogs.

It’s hard to recognize behaviors from our own dogs because we are biased or emotional.

4. Don’t force interactions.

Dogs don’t have to be best friends. They just need to co-exist.

When we got our weimaraner puppy in 2016, I was planning on taking cute photos of the dogs together the day we got our puppy.

Turns out, my senior dog would snarl at our puppy if they were too close so I didn’t get many pictures of them together at all when Remy was little!

Aggression between dogs in the same household
Aggression between dogs in the same household

This is just one example of how you have to change plans sometimes to accommodate your dogs’ needs.

Don’t force your dogs beyond their limits, and don’t rush. I have a good example below of a mistake I made that caused a fight between my dogs recently.

Unfortunately, dog fights are often the person’s fault. It all goes back to management, prevention and making smart choices.

5. Walk the dogs together if possible.

Most dogs will get along during a walk, and this is a great way to involve your whole family. The dogs are out doing something fun together with no pressure. They are spending time together in a positive, safe way.

My senior dog can be a complete grouch in the house, but when I take my two dogs outside they get along much better.

They like to follow each other around sniffing the same plants and grassy areas together. When we first got our puppy, this was the best way to let my two dogs interact.

What to do if your dogs don't get along

Other tips and factors:

  • Avoid greeting your dogs excitedly, especially in doorways or tight spaces
  • If a fight breaks out, try to startle the dogs with a loud “hey!” or clap your hands. Or you can try throwing water on them.
  • Separate your dogs when they’re home alone
  • Consider spaying/neutering. This won’t solve your problem but it can help along with training.
  • Don’t allow dogs to excitedly greet visitors together. Too much excitement can sometimes trigger a fight.
  • Don’t allow too much excitement running and playing in the yard together
  • Use a muzzle if needed
  • Some dogs just aren’t a good fit and it might be best to re-home one dog.
  • One dog may be grouchy due to pain
  • Stay calm. Sometimes people trigger tension or aggression by adding too much excitement or tension to the situation
  • Make sure each dog gets plenty of exercise and training

Aggression between dogs in the same household – An example

My senior dog Ace raises his lips and shows teeth whenever Remy the weimaraner tries to curl up next to him.

Remy likes to test Ace’s seriousness by tip-toeing closer and giving him a quick lick to the nose.

Sometimes Ace will give in and let Remy in for a cuddle. Usually they have a harmless “argument” where they bark until Remy walks away. It’s just “talk” and they do this every day.

But last week, I was sitting on the floor petting Ace when this happened.

Anyone reading this will see my obvious mistakes.

Normally Ace would growl, Remy would bark and then walk away. But this time I tried to coax Remy closer.

I caused tension by pushing my dogs too far.

For 3 seconds they got into an actual fight biting at each other until one of them bit ME.

I set them up for the fight to begin with and then I put my hands in the mix.

Do NOT put your hands into a dog fight, people. Doh!

Of course, after this “explosion” my dogs forgot about it instantly as dogs tend to do.

They shook themselves off and within the hour they were curled up TOGETHER on the dog bed like nothing happened.

Dogs …

I wanted to share that story because living with multiple dogs takes some work, and it’s never going to be perfect.

My two guys are very easygoing, and I have a lot of experience managing dogs through fostering and pet sitting. But sometimes I still make mistakes.

I hope this post gives you some ideas for handling your own dogs, and if you need some help from a trainer, don’t hesitate to do so.

Do you have multiple dogs? How do they generally get along?

What other tips would you add to this list?

Let me know in the comments!

More resources:

How to break a dog’s possessiveness

How to introduce your dog to a new puppy

How to introduce dogs

What to do if your dog is aggressive to your new puppy

My dog growls at other dogs – what to do

Dog to dog resource guarding – Patricia McConnell

27 thoughts on “Aggression Between Dogs in the Same Household – Sibling Rivalry”

  1. Thanks for being so honest about your experience. You’re right that it’s easy to assume everything is peace and love based on what we see online. I like your suggestion of really analyzing a fight to assess what was actually the trigger.

  2. I have two dogs who are 6 and 10 and like you said, they never have been “friends” per se. They don’t play together, they don’t curl up together etc. But they co-exist. At first, I was disappointed my dogs never played together but I am lucky that they don’t fight. I have only heard them growl at eachother once or twice. Im lucky that they have never gotten aggressive and hopefully never will!

      1. My 2 sister dogs can’t agree who is top dog since their parents died – previously the top dogs. This happened when they are 3 and before that they got on most of the time. Now as soon as they have access to each other they fight without stopping. We try break it up with varying success but have spent thousands on vet treatments. I tried to rehome the most aggressive one but she turned on the dog at her new home too. So she’s back and the other dog is being fostered temporarily with someone she knows well. We need to find a way to get them to get along again if it is possible. It’s very upsetting and unsettling and the rest. My only idea is separate fenced areas then muzzle and harness them if they may have contact. I don’t know much about dogs…HELP!

  3. We got our puppy, Diesel, at about 8 weeks. His older sister had just turned 8 yrs. At first they played together pretty well. The puppy of course was and is still a bundle of energy. Since the pups been about 5 months, the play-fighting has become more serious at times. Diesel was neutered at 6 months,but is still pretty hyper. He is now 7+months and constantly nipping at the older dog and refusing to back down most of the time. I have removed the causes of “real” fights..rawhides,treats, special toys etc., but the “play fighting” sometimes sounds pretty aggressive. Also,Diesel tries to snuggling with Lola but she’s not having it. Ahh,multi-dog households. Any suggestions?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I would work on basic obedience with Diesel so you can put him in a down/stay when needed to give your older dog a break. I’m in the same boat with my two dogs. The younger one bothers the older one and sometimes I just need to step in and make Remy do something else.

  4. Years ago. I had 2 males dogs which had an established pecking order with the smaller, older dog (weimaraner) being the dominant dog. THEN I packed them up and drove from California to Alaska and somewhere along the way they got fed up and by the time we got to a new house in Alaska they were in war mode. I made them take turns laying on top of each other once or twice each day and made it clear that I was top dog not either of them. Things calmed down again after a few weeks, but the big lab mix was never as submissive to his “brother” as before.

  5. laura bridgford

    OMG my dogs have been getting in fights like so regularly lately and last night was the final straw. I sat myself down and had a pity party. but i am serious about being a good mommy to my furbabies. So this article is so much help in fact i will be posting it in my home to remind myself that sometimes i too need to be reminded of boundaries. THANK YOU SO MUCH. last nights fight sent all my self confidence out the window.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Laura, so sorry to hear your dogs have been getting into fights. I bet that is so stressful. I hope things get better.

  6. I got a second rescue dog to be a companion for my first one. I got a female as I thought that would be easier to introduce to my male. They are both desexed. We’ve had her 8 months now and it has been hard work. I also ended up in the middle of a full on brawl and was bitten on the leg as I put my leg between them to break it up. I don’t even know which one got me. It’s so nice to hear that this is not unusual and that I am not a bad parent. Yes, I am constantly on guard to remove any triggers for a fight. That one where I got bitten was my own fault. I knew it as soon as it happened. They have their meals separately, with a gate in between, but they will sit side by side for treats. I can give them each one without the other pushing in as they know they will get their turn. First treat also alternates, so nobody is “favourite”. They are a LOT better together now than at the start and very occasionally will play together. Hopefully things will continue to improve.

  7. Excellent article!

    We all get in arguments, don’t we? The most important thing is to remember that dogs will be dogs and they sometimes need to sort their differences their own way.

    Of course, if our pets aggression towards each other becomes overly violent and ongoing, seeking profesional help and finding what lies in the root of the problem is a must.

  8. We have 4 fur babies. A 2 yr old cat, 5 yr old Mountain Curr, 18 month old Jack Russell and a 13 month old Jack Russell. The cat will put the pups in there place quick. But the 5 yr is the most laid back sweetest dog I’ve ever had. Now the Jack Russell’s are a different story. The youngest one in the Alfa of the whole pack. She will fight with the other jrt and growl and be really mean at times. My veterinarian told me to get a spray bottle and spray her every time she’s mean to the other jrt. And it’s working she’s still aggressive when it comes to me but it’s getting better.

  9. We inherited our little Mitzi, a mini dachshund, when she was about 10 years old. She had had four homes before ours. Our teenage daughter expected Mitzi to be her new best friend, but Mitzi adopted me instead while I was undergoing chemotherapy. So we allowed our daughter to adopt a happy, ugly little 8-month-old mutt that vaguely resembles a miniature hyena. She named him Cudi. Though Mitzi was happy to play with Cudi for short periods of time, she could get quite annoyed with his pestering. A lifting of her lip was enough to call off the game. They ate together from a divided dish and could often be found curled together on a cushion. We were most impressed with Mitzi at family gatherings on the farm. As she exited our car, the GSD and the wolfhound mix would both come lolliping up to greet her and Cudi. Mitzi would just stop in her tracks and look at them. They also stopped in their tracks, looked at each other, then turned away to find more benevolent pursuits. I never knew Mitzi to bite anyone or anything (except snakes and gophers which she dispatched quickly), but she did possess a queenly air of supreme confidence.

  10. Akita mix (7) and new rescue Am Staff (1.5). Stupidity all around. I ended up getting bitten. Thought dogs were bleeding all over the floor – first thought, “sh**! Now I’ve got to go to the Vet ER! $$” Nope, me! Long wait, stupid doc, stitched. Infection in both hands two days later. $1500 deductible for 3 day visit to the hospital for IV antibiotics (while my 14-yo son stayed at home with them). After about a month, they settled down. Walk together, occasionally touch when sleeping, eat from the double dog dish together, but she does NOT share her toys. Would easily get a third but Otis would not have it! I could see all three in a bloody mess. We all do stupid stuff bc we love our pups and hate to see them hurt each other. Thank you for your information.

    1. Jenn,
      I feel your pain! I have 2- 6 year old pitbulls and 7- 2 1/2 year old beagles( yes you read that right) they all lived together fine, sleep in a big pile on the couch and in bed, play all day never any issues. A little fighting started with the beagles about 8 months ago but able to control it. Now for some reason they have started with my the beagles and male male pitbull you can see he doesn’t really want to hurt them but the other day he jumped and nipped one blood all over I thought it was a mag or tear of the lip but several hundred dollars and a trip to the vet Er just a small puncture thank god. Now for some reason they just can’t get along. This article was a god sent hopefully it helps me and you. Best of luck

  11. I have an 11 year old female Yorkie and a 6 month old male Yorkie. Female is 16 lbs n male is 3 lbs. Female has attacked male about 4 times so far. Male jumps on her and tries to either bite her face or lick her every morning when they he first sees her. Most of the time, she will let him but sometimes she’ll growl at him. He’s much smaller n I can hold him in my arms where she is too heavy for me to hold. They’re basically just co-existing for the most part. Sometimes I’ll cat them cuddling. I want them to get along so bad. I’m gone during the day n I keep him in a crate while I’m gone. Female has free reign around the house. I would like for them to keep each other company while I’m gone. Hopefully things will change soon.

  12. I have a male and female siblings. They are 15 months old. They fought when I tried walking them together. If they became excited. Solved this by not walking them together.this morning they fought over dog bowels. They are pit/sharpai mix. Both got hurt. I know I should have picked up the bowels sooner. I was aware of aggressive attitude in both. The female is scared of lots of sounds and people do you think this contributes to proplem. Both are fixed.

  13. The “old dog walks like a sloth/younger dog pulls me” sounds so familiar! Dahlia was 9 when we got Ben (who was 1-2ish and full of the dickens). She’s now 12 and he’s 4-5ish and still pretty high energy while she’s slowed down even further. (A good example — last weekend it took me almost an hour and a half to walk 1.2 miles with Dahlia…I walked 2.2 with Ben in 45 minutes).

    Thankfully so far they get along famously. In the beginning they did play together some. Dahlia chased Ben around the yard and they played tug. They still SORT of play in that Dahlia barks at Ben while he races around the yard then he comes back, playbows to her, and she barks and he races off. It’s kind of adorable how the game has adjusted to account for her getting older.

    She does on occasion show her annoyance at him with a bit more of an “I mean it” warning, especially if food is involved. Ben is, thankfully, VERY deferential to Dahlia. If she gives him the “I mean it” voice, he backs right off. It was one of the reasons we adopted him. She’s a VERY strong female, control freak type of dog. He’s a really easy going guy.

    We do feed them in separate rooms just to be safe, but we do give them treats together and there’s thankfully never been a problem.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Such great examples, thanks for sharing that. I’m so glad your dogs seem to be doing pretty well together!

  14. Barbara Monroe

    I think you pretty much hit all the nails on the head, including triggers (excitement when coming home after work and door thresholds). I have a six pack, 4 of whom were from the shelter on deadline for euthanasia (mostly dog fights). Certain dog combos have no problems together while others are at higher risk for fights based on energy levels. After the first or fourth major fight, you’d think I would have learned. I’m still learning and managing. I take it day by day, like some companies do: it has been X days since the last injury. I’m proud to say it has been 105 days since any fight, minor or major. There are now two walk-through baby gates in the house to ensure appropriate combos are enforced and it’s not an inconvenience for the humans. Management can be easy and effective. It is my job to keep everyone safe.

  15. We have 3 dogs, one German shorthaired
    Pointer and two Wired haired Dachshunds. All are female. The GSP and one WHD are the same age, we got them one week after eachother. They are now 3 years old. Last year august we got a puppy WHD. One and a half year ago the GSP ande the WHD had a fight over a bone. The GSP finished it quickly and thought she give it a go with tho one from the WHD. Result, ladies fight with a little blood here and there. So we grabbed the two from behind and separated them. It took about two weeks until they were ok with eachother and we knew we had to do something about the places in the pack. Our place had to be the highest. We had a dogtrainer ovr and he helped us very well. After that we only gave them treats together and stayed with them until they finished. If one would do so much as look at the treat from the other we gave her a warning. So now all three get their treats, bones whatever together.Each one goes to her own place to eat it and no one is going to another whe she is finished early. We won’t allow any fight. If the playing together gets to rough we wil end it. We are the leaders of the pack and we decide what’s gonne happen abd what is allowed and what not. We walk together with all three and up till now there is harmony in the pack. Need to say that they have plenty of space outside and we are home a lot.

  16. I NEED HELP!, I have three dogs two males and one female, one of the males and female are my senior dogs they grew up together . They Re 15 & 16 yrs old. About 10 years ago I brought home a rescue male young dog who now I’d 12 yrs old. Later I found out he hD no social skills and over time he has become very protective over me with people at times mostly my other male. They occasionally had scruffs but lately the rescue younger dog has become very territorial with only the other male who is now deaf. It has gotten bad I read some Rticles including yours and I know the younger male (Buddy) is the aggressor. I don’t know what to do I am able to break it up when it starts cause they are smaller house dogs. I think it might be myself as the trigger cause I know it happens every time I am around I don’t know if anything occurs when I’m away at work. I could put Buddy in a room away when I’m gone but I fear that could charge up his aggression even more. The older male (Joe) is a very sweet loving dog and my female (Sassy) is pretty in her own world. All three dogs are fixed and have been for many years. This whole thing became out of control about a week ago before they scuffs were just periodic.. this morning it’s as if Buddy just can’t let it go ,if Joe gets anywhere near Buddy’s location then Buddy’s starts the growl and even when I picked him up to address him he still would growl under his breath sorta. I don’t want to have to rehouse Buddy he’s been in our family fora very long time. But this behavior has to stop I worry because Joe is too old and disabled to keep defending himself. I don’t know if Buddy is hurting or something he has no signs of injury anywhere. What can I do to help ease the tension lately in our household I’m at a loss. I pray you have some suggestions, thank you ANYBODY??

  17. I’ve had multiple dogs since 1999 – with fosters, I’ve had up to 4 in a tiny house. My 1st dog was food aggressive so I quickly learned never ever to feed dogs together or leave things like bones or kongs out. That habit has stayed. I think because of this, I’ve never had an aggression issue. My current dogs do get along well but they’re mostly bonded to me rather than each other.

  18. Thank you for this post. It helps. I just adopted a new dog 2 weeks ago and he and my “established” dog (She’s 2 now and I’ve had her since she was 8 weeks old) got into a very scary fight. The established dog had puppy training early on and this was her first ever fight. The new dog is 2-3 years old, spent at least 6 months in the pound and I have no idea really of his background other than that the rescue told me he plays well in groups. I’m hoping to keep and work with the new arrival, but I’m terrified of more fights.

  19. Have you written an article on a (sort of) related topic, indirect aggression? I think this is the reason my dogs occasionally fight. It’s not that often, but if one of them shows excitement or extreme interest and barks or otherwise draws attention to itself, one of the other ones attacks, apparently to keep the excited one in line. Maybe there is another name for it. It seems to be a bit like the situation where a couple of dogs are very excited watching something happen just outside of their range, e.g., on the other side of a fence, and then one accidentally bumps the other, and they get into a fight because they are both already so agitated. thx!

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