What to Do When Two Dogs in the Same House Fight?

When dogs in the same house fight, the risk of future fights increases. Discover what to do when dogs in the same house fight, risk factors and how to prevent future problems.

What to Do When Two Dogs in the Same House Fight?
Many dogs sharing the home fight.

OK Photography

Is It Normal for Two Dogs in the Same House to Fight?

Many dog owners wonder whether or not it's normal for dogs in the same house to fight.

The concern over whether this is normal is often attributed to the fact that we perceive dogs as social animals who should thrive living together.

We expect dogs to politely greet and meet dogs on walks, to play well with other dogs at the park, and to be all lovey-dovey with the other canines sharing the house.

Yet dogs aren't much different from us humans. Just as students struggle to share small dorms with new roommates, office workers barely tolerate co-workers and spouses go through divorces, dogs can have issues with other dogs sharing the household.

However, there is casual fighting and fighting. One thing is for two dogs to engage in "ritualistic fights" where there's more noise than anything and just inhibited bites; it's another thing when dogs fight with a real intent to harm, leading to damaging bites that break the skin.

Intrahousehold Canine Aggression

The tendency for dogs sharing the household to fight is not at all unusual. Indeed, it even has a clinical name: intrahousehold canine aggression.

Statistics back this up. Many dog owners have dogs who struggle to get along with other dogs in the household.

Witnessing the first fights is a very harrowing experience for dog owners who often never expected that their dogs wouldn't get along.

On top of this, fights among dogs can become disruptive to everyday life, not to mention potentially dangerous to other dogs and the humans living in the home.

Whether your dogs have started fighting just out of the blue, or because you added a new dog to the household and things don't look very good, you may find it interesting to learn more about what statistics and what studies reveal about fights among dogs sharing the home.

Ritualistic aggression leads to only loud "arguments" with no dog getting hurt.

Amnat jojum via Getty Images

Study Reveals the Dogs Most Likely to Fight

Fighting among dogs sharing the household, also known as intra-household dog-to-dog aggression, intradog household aggression or sibling rivalry, are all terms used to discuss fights among dogs sharing the same home, regardless of whether the dogs are related or not.

According to a study, the dogs most involved in fights are dogs of the same sex, with female dogs being overrepresented.

Typically, the instigators of most fights were younger dogs and dogs being the newest addition to the home.

Many dogs in the study had risk factors known for predisposing dogs to fights, such as coming from a shelter or pet store, acquiring the dog after the critical socialization window or acquiring a singleton puppy.

Many dogs participating in the study had other comorbid issues such as fear, aggression or phobias. The presence of the owner also appeared to play a big role.

Half of the cases required veterinary attention to treat wounded dogs and medical treatment for injuries sustained by the owner in attempts to break up a fight.

The severity of the attacks was greater among dogs sharing the home than dogs who do not.

What Do Statistics Say?

According to a study, fights among dogs sharing the home represented eight percent of a behaviorist's caseload.

The first episodes of fighting typically occur when one dog reaches social maturity (usually between 24 and 36 months) and starts becoming confident enough to use aggression to control access to resources.

It is also seen when one dog starts getting sick or older.

The owner intervening to support a particular dog can also contribute to fights, creating instability and increased conflict.

What Types of Fights Are Most Commonly Seen?

Fights among dogs sharing the household are typically classified into two main types:

Uncomplicated disputes, which involve ritualized aggressive displays such as posturing, staring, mounting, blocking, standing over, vocalizations and possibly, minor physical conflict.

Without owner interference, such disputes are rather short-lived, lasting for just a few weeks until harmony is reestablished. This usually happens if there were recent changes.

Alliance aggression, on the other hand, consists of disputes occurring in the presence of owners and involves intense fighting over the owner's attention.

Common areas of problems are "hot spots" such as doorways or tight spaces where dogs are rushing to greet owners.

Other triggers are excitement (such as when greeting owners or going on car rides) and the presence of food and toys, although fights usually occur when the owner is present.

Risk Factors That Make Treating the Aggression More Complicated

When it comes to dogs sharing the household and fighting, there are several risks that make issues more complicated to treat and, therefore, have a poorer prognosis. Here are several risk factors according to research:

  • Having dogs of the same sex sharing the home (particularly females)
  • Fights leading to bites that puncture the skin
  • The instigator dog being younger than the dog being attacked
  • The instigator dog being the newest addition
  • The instigator dog being heavier than the dog being attacked
  • The instigator has a history that encompasses living in multiple households
  • The attacks occur without any clear triggers (just the two dogs seeing each other)
  • Owners using aversion-based behavior modification techniques using positive punishment/negative reinforcement.
Greeting dog owners is one of the most common causes for fights among dogs sharing the home.

Dejan maricic via Getty Images

What Causes Two Dogs Sharing a Home to Fight?

There may be several triggers for two dogs sharing the home that leads to fighting.

According to a survey by Tufts Behavior Clinic, 56% of owners reported that fights occurred when an owner was present.

36% reported that going in and out of doorways was a trigger.

This is likely because dogs excitedly rush through these to greet owners or to go out in the yard or on walks. If they are tight passageways, disputes may occur over who goes through them first. Dogs may try blocking other dogs from passing.

Of several owners who reported leaving their dogs alone together, 93% reported that their dogs did not fight, which suggests a good percentage of alliance aggression going on.

Other triggers are exciting events such as going on car rides, going on walks and greeting owners.

Changes are also known for triggering fights. For example, an older dog becoming sick or dying, a new dog being added to the household, or a younger dog reaching social maturity are common culprits for fights.

Toys, bones, food bowls and finding something on the ground can be common triggers too due to a dog's tendency for resource guarding.

Reintroductions need to be done gradually and systematically. The dog sitting here is giving a calming signal.

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What to Do When Two Dogs in the Same House Fight?

Intervention is important when dealing with intradog household aggression.

Without treatment, the aggressive behavior tends to escalate with increased tension and risks of more serious bites.

Following are several important steps to take if your dogs have started fighting.

What to Do Right After the Fight?

After the fight, you will obviously separate both dogs considering that many dogs will go back to fighting, given the opportunity. During this separation, you need to carefully evaluate both dogs.

1. Assess Your Dogs for Wounds

Check each dog carefully for signs of wounds. Consider that "wounds" are not always externally visible.

Puncture wounds may not be readily seen in dogs with lots of furs, and these can become infected. Small dogs may sustain internal injuries that aren't visible and can even turn life-threatening.

When in doubt, it's always best to have dogs seen by a vet to ensure no injuries.

2. Assess Your Dog's Emotional Wellbeing

Even though your dogs may seem fine after a dog fight, consider their emotional well-being.

"When a fight occurs, damage to the relationship between the dogs can be difficult to repair," points out board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Christine Calder.

Being in fights can cause lots of tension and stress. Watch for signs of stress and calming signals. Here is a guide on helping dogs recover: How to help your dog recover from a dog attack.

3. Provide Some Time to Chill

After the fight, give each dog time to chill down in separate areas where they can't see each other.

Do not let your dogs hear or see you or any other family member giving attention to one dog or the other.

This can cause more tension because the other dog may feel as if you are giving preferential treatment, and this may induce future conflict.

How long the dogs should be kept separated may vary based on individual factors. In general, you would avoid any reintroductions if there are hard stares, stiff postures and growls.

The two dogs should appear relaxed in the presence of each other and should be wearing muzzles, as an extra precaution, just in case.

If there are signs of intolerance or stress, you would need to work on creating positive associations between one dog and the other, and this should be done with the help of a professional.

Walks can be a good bonding activity, but each dog should be walked by an individual handler and at a safe distance from one another.

4. Rule Out Medical Causes

It's always wise to have the dogs see the vet to exclude the possibility of an underlying medical problem.

A medical issue can sometimes lower a dog's threshold for aggression, making dogs lash out and act in uncharacteristic ways.

There are several potential medical causes of aggression in dogs, and until the root cause is addressed, the problem may persist.

How to Prevent Future Fights

It's very important that steps are taken to prevent future fights.

This can be accomplished through management and close supervision, but it's also important to take proactive steps to prevent future fights through training and the implementation of behavior modification conducted under the guidance of a behavior professional.

5. Implement Management

Management, which involves taking measures to prevent the dogs from fighting, is an important first step of treatment.

This means keeping the dogs separated, especially if the fights occur when the dogs see each other, with no particular triggers.

Dogs should be kept separated as well when in the presence of triggers. For example, if food or toys evoke fights, the dogs should be kept separated when they are provided.

6. Prevent Rehearsals of Problematic Behaviors

Management is imperative because it helps prevent the dogs from rehearsing problematic behaviors. The more dogs get to practice aggressive behaviors, the more they become established and difficult to eradicate.

With each negative interaction, 'combatants' hone their aggressive skills, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall. Attackers become faster, while victims learn to minimize damage to themselves if they exhibit a pre-emptive attack.

7. Become a Pro in Reading Your Dog

It almost goes without saying that knowing how to read your dog's body language can help a great deal.

Whale eyes, hard stares, quick tongue flicks, yawning, raised hackles can tell you whether a situation may be getting tense.

There are several great books that can help you learn how to read your dog better.

Don't forget that by looking at only a single part of their body, you are only looking at one piece of the puzzle. Don't forget to observe the rest of your dog's body and the context in which they are.

8. Muzzle Train Your Dogs

Muzzle training can be important for cases that may be difficult to manage, but the ultimate goal should be treating the root problem.

It's important to muzzle train dogs using positive reinforcement, creating positive associations with the muzzle in a stress-free way.

The goal is to have dogs form a positive conditioned emotional response to wearing the muzzle.

9. Train Quick Responses to Cues

Having both dogs trained to respond quickly to obedience cues can help prevent certain situations from escalating.

Helpful cues are recalls, sit/stays, down/stays, hand targets and go to your mat.

These cues should be taught initially in a low-distraction area, with the dogs separated. Only once they respond to cues fluently can you gradually raise criteria and add some challenges building up to the dogs being able to respond to these cues in the presence of each other (but separated by a baby gate until safe to re-introduce). Have a force-free dog trainer help you out.

10. Avoid Aversion-Based Methods

It may be tempting to use aversive training methods to correct the dogs contingent upon displaying undesirable behaviors, but these methods will only backfire.

For instance, consider the dangers associated with punishing dogs for growling. Punishing a growling dog is like smashing a smoke detector for sounding an alarm. You'll risk being left with a dog who no longer signals and goes straight to a bite.

Not to mention the added stress associated with using punishment-based methods.

According to a study conducted by Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, Frances Shofer, DVM and Ilana Reisner, DVM, DACVB, of the Matthew Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, harsh confrontational techniques lead to dogs that respond with aggression.

11. Have a Plan to Break Future Fights

Keep tools that are helpful in breaking up any dog fights at hand. The swift use of an air horn can help distract the dogs and prevent them from engaging in a potentially harmful attack.

A large piece of plywood can be inserted between the dogs in an attempt to split them up. Spray Shield may help dogs disengage. I keep these sprays in several areas just in case and carry a bottle with me at all times on walks.

Avoid physically getting in between two fighting dogs or grabbing them by the collar; this can lead to a redirected bite.

12. Consult With a Professional

Dynamics between dogs sharing a household can be complex at times. If there are fights among dogs sharing the household, it would be ideal to consult with a professional to help you out.

This is both for safety and the correct implementation of behavior modification.

It's important to look for a professional using force-free behavior modification techniques.

Functional analysisplays a key role in determining the exact antecedents triggering the attacking behavior and the consequences of maintaining the behavior.

A board-certified veterinary behaviorist may prescribe a variety of psychopharmacologic medications to be used in conjunction with behavior modification, which often entails desensitization and counterconditioning techniques.

References

  • Feltes, E., Stull, J. Herron, M. and Haug, L. Characteristics of intrahousehold interdog aggression and dog pair factors associated with poor outcome. American Veterinary Medical Association website, accessed 6/202
  • Casey RA, Loftus B, Bolster C, Richards GJ, Blackwell EJ. Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Vet Rec. 2013;172(5):127
  • Sherman CK, Reisner IR, Taliaferro LA, Houpt KA. Characteristics, treatment, and outcome of 99 cases of aggression between dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1996;47(1-2):91-108
  • Interdog household aggression: 38 cases (2006-2007) March 2011Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 238(6):731-40
  • Veterinary Information Network: Aggression Between Familiar DogsDecember 21, 2020 (published)By Christine Calder, DVM, DACVB
  • Understanding Dogs That Fight, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011 Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, ABS, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Philadelphia, PA, USA

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli


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