Aggression between dogs in the same household

First and foremost it has to be said that the most aggressive are female dogs to each other. Male dogs can be aggressive, especially if you have two dogs of different ages in your household.

Sometimes the younger dog that probably came as a puppy to you all of a sudden starts with 2 to 4 years to challenge the older dog for the lead role. In many cases the older dog might give up his alpha status, but not in all. It depends very much on the age of the dog. The owner making mistakes though triggers many times the aggressive behavior.

Let’s try to explain first the hierarchy of dominance between animals. There are “alpha dogs” and “submissive dogs”. Keep in mind, you as the owner are even ABOVE the alpha dog in the hierarchy!

Typical signs an “alpha” dog displays:

  • He might take toys away from other dogs, and mostly wins a tug-of-war
  • He may guard toys and food, not allowing other dogs to get close
  • He wins all staring contests with other dogs
  • He rarely licks another dog’s mouth or face
  • He insists on the choice of the best sleeping place (in his opinion) and will force other dogs to move
  • He will be the first on his way out and the first to be back in the house
  • He will most likely mount other dogs, male or female. Mounting other dogs is not necessarily mating desire, it’s a sign of dominance and even displayed by neutered dogs
  • He will become upset if you pay more attention to other dogs.

Typical signs of a “submissive”, also called “omega” dog:

  • He will always give up first at a tug-of-war game
  • He will always give up when other dogs play too rough for his taste
  • He will NOT get into a staring contest with other dogs, rather look away
  • He will happily share or even give up his food, toys, bed, etc. to other dogs
  • He will give a lot of attention to other dogs, licking them, and his owner
  • He does not like eye contact in general, not even when you potty-train your dog
  • He might roll on his back, displaying his tummy to other dogs and his owner
  • He might pee upon meeting other dogs, submissive peeing

Since you know the differences in character now, have a good look at your dogs and act accordingly. You need to accept the alpha-dog for what he is, the leader (remember, YOU are the TOP LEADER!). Don’t feel sorry for the submissive, omega-dog, he is quite happy in his position.

That does not mean that you have to favor one of them, just correcting a few mistakes you might have made. If you unknowingly treat the omega dog as an alpha dog the dogs will fight. Many dogs fight only in the presence of the owner, which is a typical sign that the owner makes mistakes.

  • Only give attention when dogs are together; always pet the alpha first, the omega later.
  • Always put a leash on the alpha first, on the omega later.
  • Always be consistent in your behavior, also when recalling your dog. Maintaining a clear-cut hierarchy helps the dogs feel secure in their rank.
  • Never “help” or “protect” the submissive dog, or pay more attention to him. That might make him want to challenge the alpha dog.
  • Omega dogs are normally asking for more attention with a lot of tail wagging, kisses, etc. The alpha dog generally shows less “loving attitude” but needs the same attention!
  • Lead the dominant dog out first in the morning. Continue doing this on every outing/walking.
  • Separate food areas, also if you adopt a lost dog. 
  • Separate sleeping areas.
  • Rub a towel each over a dog and put the one with the scent from the dominant dog where the submissive dog sleeps and vice versa. That helps to establish a positive association with the other dog’s scent. Read also this post on what to do about excessive dog barking.
  • If unsure, separate dogs when you have to leave your house.
  • You can let your dogs sleep where you sleep but lead the dominant dog into your room first let him settle down and then allow the omega dog to follow.
  • Don’t pet, greet or play with your dogs in restricted areas such as a narrow hallway, etc. Tight spaces are where fights break out first and easily.
  • If your dogs fight or start to fight, never bend down to them! “Tower” over them, the dogs will respect you more and listen better to your command.

If a fight breaks out either blast them with a spray of water or yell at them. If the dogs fail to respond grab the more aggressive dog’s rear legs and lift them up, moving backward. Remember – DON’T grab a collar or a head/neck of a dog that fights! A dog in a serious fight with another dog will not recognize you as an authority and most likely bite you when you come in the middle.

I recommend including a certain “emergency command” in your dog training. As I had a Rottweiler, my dog trainer was teaching him one command where the dog simply froze and dropped everything. He even stopped dead in the middle of a run/charge. You will need a lot of patience until your dog obeys completely, but it’s well worth it. Don’t use this special command for ANYTHING else but an emergency!

A good exercise for any dog to remind him of your state as “top dog” is the following: lay down with your dog on the floor, keep him on his side, put your hand on his neck with slight pressure, The dog will immediately turn submissive and still. Later on, you might put your head/face on his neck instead of your hand. This is a position a dog-mom teaches the pups to behave and to show superiority. The dog might be looking at you out of the corner of his eyes, don’t stare at him though. Keep this position for a few minutes and then let the dog back up, praising him.

Aggression between dogs is not that difficult to solve if you keep in mind to treat them in the right order. It very seldom happens that you have two dogs constantly fighting for the lead role. One will sooner or later give up and accept the “stronger”? personality. It’s up to you to figure out who is the alpha and who is the omega dog and act accordingly.

There is medication to help with the problem but honestly, its use is mostly not appropriate. If you learn how to treat your dogs, your dogs will learn to get along with each other. Cases where that never happens are rare and sometimes triggered by diseases or disorders.

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