If you have two or more dogs, chances are they’ve made friends with each other…but what if they haven’t? Find out why they don’t get along, and how to resolve the conflict.
You reach out to pet your husky, and your terrier mix starts growling. Another time, you put down their food bowls, and one dog suddenly snaps at the other. What’s going on? A lot of people have multi-dog households these days, and while many of these canines become bosom buddies, there are times and situations when problems can arise, causing stress and even aggression between the dogs. Let’s look more closely at why your dogs don’t seem to get along, and what the solutions are.
Common reasons for canine conflicts
If your dogs don’t get along, you first need to determine what’s triggering them. “Stress can be a problem,” says veterinarian Dr. Katherine Houpt. “When dogs attack each other, as an example, they are typically ‘redirecting’ on each other – perhaps when the doorbell rings, for instance.” Redirected aggression is “lashing out”, although it’s not always directly tied to frustration or anger. For some dogs, an excited state of any kind seems to flip over into aggression.
Here are some common causes of friction among dogs:
- “Scarce resources and feeding time can cause aggression,” says Dr. Houpt. “Feed the dogs separately and always pick up the bowls. Additionally, they should never have treats unless they’re apart. Toys can also be a cause of aggression.”
- Adopting a new dog or puppy can upset your pack’s pecking order, and it’ll take some time for things to decompress as the newcomer settles in. Bonding between dogs doesn’t happen overnight, and the first few months are going to be challenging.
- Paying attention to one dog over another is a common cause of “jealousy”. When I had three dogs, I quickly learned that this trigger would set off our oldest dog. When my husband and I paid “too much attention” to the rest of the pack, he would growl quite loudly, at no one in particular.
- Confined spaces and narrow hallways can be a problem, states Dr. Houpt. Small spaces can cause excitement, which leads to redirected aggression. The bed and couch also fall into this category. “The couch is the worst place,” says Dr. Houpt. The couch is certainly an issue for our own dogs. They think they’re “large breeds” when they’re on the couch, and it becomes a resource they decide to guard when we’re enjoying time together after dinner.
- Is their environment an issue? Are your dogs getting enough enrichment, or are they bored?
- Pain or illness can cause a dog to become snappy or withdrawn, or show other signs of fear or aggression.
- Female dogs are more often involved in fights than males, according to a scientific report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Defusing tension between your dogs
If you notice your dogs are being unfriendly with one another, for any reason, don’t just let them “figure it out”. The problem could escalate out of control and cause even worse issues. Try the following solutions as soon as you notice any signs of stress between your dogs, including growling, snapping, aggressive body language, etc.
1. Make sure they’re getting enough exercise
For our own pack of two, this may be the most important way to keep peace throughout the day. A tired dog is a good dog. Adequate exercise means fewer energy bursts that need to be managed.
2. Manage behavior with tools
Use management tools such as crates and baby gates to maintain order while you modify your dogs’ behavior through positive training. We use baby gates to divide our two dogs when they’re chewing bones or enjoying a stuffed Kong.
3. Brush up on training
Practice training with your dogs to make sure they understand and will respond to every cue you give them. Be sure to use only positive gentle training techniques, and give lots of praise and rewards. Training also gives your dog some extra mental stimulation and can help alleviate boredom.
4. Visit the vet
If one of your dogs suddenly starts snapping or growling at the others (or at you) for no apparent reason, it could mean he’s not feeling well, or is experiencing pain, and is telling everyone to leave him alone. Take him to the veterinarian for a checkup.
5. Review your dogs’ diet
Nutritional deficiencies or an imbalanced microbiome can cause behavioral problems in dogs, including aggression. Make sure your dogs are eating a high quality diet and talk to a holistic or integrative vet to determine if any supplements might be needed.
6. Consult a veterinary behaviorist or trainer
I had a trainer come to our house and observe certain behaviors between our dogs to help us figure out what was “appropriate”, and where we needed more management. Contacting an expert when you first start to see triggers and aggression is best. “I’m typically contacted when one of the animals is being injured by the other and the owner can’t live with it anymore,” says Dr. Houpt. “It’s easier to solve problems earlier rather than later.” To find a veterinary behaviorist, visit dacvb.org.
I strongly believe dogs need other dogs in their lives. Our own two live together harmoniously most of the time, but this is because we watch for any possible triggers and prevent unwanted behaviors from happening in the first place. The key is to pay attention and observe the dynamics and behaviors between your dogs. If your canine companions get along without any problems, consider yourself lucky! If they don’t, don’t waste time figuring out the