Just because they live together and may be related, doesn’t mean your dogs will always get along. But how do you know what is just a bit of sibling rivalry and what kind of fighting is much deeper? And how can you best handle the situation to protect your pets’ safety?

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What should you look out for?

Having two dogs that are constantly fighting can be frightening. The situation can escalate quite quickly and, while it can be frustrating, it can also be dangerous for your dogs. In fact, in cases where your dogs aren’t getting along, the first thought should be to protect your dogs’ safety and to ensure they have a safe space to separate themselves. 

Of course, the rivalry between dogs can cause a number of reactions, one of which can be extreme stress. Dogs can also turn aggressive towards each other or even humans in some cases. The problem is that, unlike humans, dogs cannot tell their owners what is wrong. Rather, there are certain signs that a dog may demonstrate if he is feeling anxious, stressed, or sad. 

One big problem is that some of the signs of stress can actually mimic normal behavior. One example of this is yawning. When a dog is tired, he will yawn. However, yawning can also be a way for the dog to calm himself down if he is feeling overwhelmed. Other signs, such as changes to eating habits or activity levels, can be attributed to physical medical conditions which can cause even more confusion. That said, here are some common signs of stress in dogs that you should be looking out for:

  • Excessive grooming: over-grooming to relieve stress is common in dogs, who will often lick or chew their front legs. What’s problematic here is that excessive grooming can lead to skin disease and other problems. 
  • Inappropriate urination: When dogs are stressed, they will often toilet in the house. They also may urinate more frequently than normal. 
  • Destructive behavior: Digging up the garden is highest on the list when it comes to dogs being destructive. Following this is an attempt to escape and destroy furniture in the house. 

How to deal with the fallout

The two most common reactive behaviors to the rivalry between dogs are aggression and redirected behavior. The latter refers to taking their emotions out on whoever is closest, whether that’s another dog or a human. 

The key to remember when trying to help the situation is that there is no quick fix. The behavior is likely to have escalated over time so your dog will need time to make the appropriate changes. 

According to Dr Joanna Woodnutt BVM BVS MRCVS, who is on the advisory board for Pet Food Sherpa, the first thing to do is to set up separate areas for all dogs involved so they know they have somewhere of their own to go. 

“It is important dogs are kept apart when they start to show aggression and that the pups feel they have their own area to retreat to. Crates, gates, and other equipment can be used to separate the dogs, but it’s important that these aren’t seen as a punishment for bad behavior- instead, think of them like your dog’s ‘bedroom’- somewhere they can go to calm down, be alone, and feel safe. These spaces should be used until your dogs are trained to understand certain cues, such as the ‘leave it’ command. In this case, you will be training the dog to stop what he is doing, leave the situation, and come to you immediately.”

When in doubt, seek professional help

You should also take all dogs involved for a medical check-up to rule out any physiological problems that may be influencing the dogs’ behavior. As said previously, a lot of reactions can also be attributed to medical conditions so it’s important to ensure your dog isn’t experiencing any physical problems before assuming their issues are emotional. 

It may also be a good idea to visit a professional behaviorist or trainer who is experienced in aggression and rivalry between dogs. Always find someone who is well-versed in positive training methods. The behaviorist will likely evaluate the situation and set you up on a modification program. 

The most important thing to remember though is that there may come a time when you need to permanently separate your dogs. This is simply because some dogs don’t respond to the training and continue to attack each other – they cannot cope with other dogs and are happier being on their own. This is ok. It is not the dog’s fault, nor is it yours. 

If you do need to find one of your dogs a new home, ensure it is suitable and safe. Be open with the potential new family about why you need to rehome your dog and always reinforce positive dog training as it is the safest and effective way to ensure the dog’s behavior is appropriate. 

Dogs need love

At the end of the day, dogs need lots of love and affection. This can come from you or other dogs. However, if your dogs become stressed or anxious due to sibling rivalry, there are things you can do to help fix the situation. Watching for signals of stress and then appropriately dealing with the situation can work wonders — and, if that doesn’t work, then it might be time to see an expert for help. 

Guest Blog written by: Emma Williams, a professional writer and pet parent.

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