If you have a multi-dog household, chances are you’ve dealt with a fight or two. While there are a lot of reasons dogs fight each other, brief spats of aggression between dogs living in the same household are very common and can be reduced with a combination of management and training.
Regardless of the severity of your dogs aggression, it’s a good idea to consult with a professional dog trainer rather than attempt to handle your dogs aggressive behavior by yourself. Biting dogs can be very difficult to deal with, and you risk inadvertently increasing your dogs aggression if you don’t know what you’re doing — or worse, getting bit.
If your otherwise friendly dogs have just started fighting with one another, or fights are happening more frequently, you should start by adding structure and routine to your dogs lives. Structure in the form of regular walks, clear rules, and limited access to food and toys will make changing your dogs current behavior much easier.
Managing your dogs behavior is an important part of changing his overall demeanor, but it wont completely stop your dogs from fighting. The idea is to simply not allow these behaviors to continue and not allow bad habits to strengthen by whatever means available to you. This can include:
If it is safe to do so, endeavor to keep your dogs together as much as possible while still keeping aggressive behavior under control by requiring them to lay on separate beds while in the same room, go on muzzled walks together and quietly chew on their own bones.
Always keeping your dogs separate can exacerbate their aggression and make it harder to get back to a point where you’re living together peacefully, off-leash. However, crating your dogs when you’re not around is perfectly acceptable to keep them safe.
Obedience training is a must when living in a multi-dog household. All of your dogs should understand and obey basic commands, such as:
If your dogs don’t understand these commands, hire a dog trainer and do private training or group classes one night a week, and aim to practice for at least 15-30 minutes a day with each dog when you’re home. It’s crucial that your dogs are able to obey in a variety of situations, so practice training all around your house and in public to have the best results.
If you think there’s no possible way your dog would ever listen to you in such a stressful situation, remember that obedience training is a requirement in bitework, a type of training that teaches dogs to bite on command. Even very intense, dominant, and driven dogs can be taught to “Out!” or “Drop It!” when told by their human handlers. Although your dogs obedience probably wont be on par with a police dogs, you should bear in mind that your dog has a great propensity to learn, and that it is possible to regain control of your dog with obedience alone — if you practice.
Practicing obedience exercises like sit, stay, down, and drop it are great ways to teach your dog impulse control. If your dog fights because he gets too excited or frustrated, practice keeping your dog in a long down-stay, and work on getting your dog to come back to you when called.
If you're not regularly walking your dog, start there. Structured walks (on a muzzle, if necessary) where your dogs are expected to walk behind you, not pull, and not break out into chaos will go a long way in improving their overall behavior. This is especially true for male dogs, whose territorial aggression can be significantly reduced by taking them outside to pee and mark things outside the house.
Regular, daily walks are extremely important for all dogs, but in males, they can also help reduce the chances of bladder stones and crystals, which can be exacerbated by a male dog "holding" his pee.
Structured exercises, like long walks are a great way to meet the physical needs of your dog, while also practicing leash manners and obedience around distractions. If you can’t take your dog on a walk due to a demanding schedule, apps like Wag can help find dog walkers in your area that can still get your dog outside for you. Boredom can cause a lot of pent-up frustration for a high-energy dog, and typically turns into some kind of bad behavior, whether that’s biting, barking, chasing, marking or something else.
While dog treadmills and obedience training can be a great stand-in for prolonged bad weather, there’s no substitute for outdoor exercise. Your dogs perception of the world is driven by smells, and getting outside for an hour a day allows them to explore, relax, and not fixate so much on your other dogs.
Does your dog “fixate” on another dog in your house, provoking fights with aggressive body language, posturing, or growling? Help your other dogs live in peace by redirecting your dog to a toy, or giving him a command when he attempts these behaviors.
You should not allow your dog to fixate on your other dog, or engage in certain territorial behaviors, such as:
If your dogs weren’t fighting, these behaviors would not necessarily be a problem. Guarding, herding, and dominant behavior are normal parts of social behavior in dogs, but if your dog doesn’t know when to stop and pushes other dogs until a fight breaks out, make sure to put an end to this type of behavior by redirecting him to doing something you’d prefer. If your dog starts to do any of these things to another dog, get his attention back to you with a treat or toy, and practice impulse control exercises instead, like:
Initially, when you're trying to stop fights between your dogs, it's more important that you are able to interrupt your dogs behavior and change what he is doing than to worry about whether giving your dog a treat or toy is rewarding him. If calling your dog to you in a happy tone of voice is enough to get him to stop staring down your other dog, then by all means do that.
Constantly stopping your dog from engaging in these behaviors while rewarding him for doing things you like instead can change his behavior over time. If you allow your dogs controlling, dominant, fixating, or overly-excited behavior to continue, your dog will have no idea that what he is doing is wrong, and it’s likely the fights will escalate, possibly requiring the dogs to be separated.
Your dog doesn’t have to have a hundred toys laying around to be happy. If you provide enough training and exercise, you can eliminate leaving toys around the house altogether. Playing tug with your dogs individually or throwing the ball for only one dog at a time is a good way to bond with your dog, and can be an easy way to completely eliminate fights and resource guarding.
If you notice your dog obsessing over a particular toy, limit access to that toy to times when you’re around, or eliminate it. Some toys, like balls or stuffed animals, are so high value that even your otherwise friendly dog will fight for it. This behavior is normal for your dog, but you can easily prevent it from happening at home by not giving your dog toys in the first place.
If you’re worried your dog will be bored without toys, have one or two toys that you only bring out at certain times and give your dog long-lasting chews that they can enjoy separately so that they still have something to relieve boredom. You can also stuff kong toys, feed frozen or thawed raw meaty bones, and enroll your dog in agility classes or barnhunts to help reduce their boredom.
Doorways, walkways, sofas and other popular areas in the house can be considered valuable to dogs, whether this is the perfect spot to lay in the sun on your patio, or taking naps on the sofa while you're away. This territorial aggression is most common in dominant dogs who are stressed when they’re not in control — the kind who will growl if play gets too rough, push other dogs out of the way, or get very jealous when they’re not getting affection.
To reduce the likelihood of your dog guarding these areas, change the way your dog is allowed to behave around them by:
If your dog is very aggressive, or you have big dogs and you’re worried about a fight breaking out, consider muzzling one or more of your dogs while you work through their behavior problems. Teaching your dogs to wear a muzzle by putting it on for short periods and giving your dog treats can help acclimate your dog to the muzzle faster, and make wearing it around the house less of an issue.
Muzzle training can be very useful because it can let your dogs have relatively free access of the house, while simultaneously giving you peace of mind that your dogs wont hurt eachother. While it’s impractical to always muzzle your dog, purchasing a high-quality basket muzzle that they can still eat and drink water in will ensure that your dog can wear it comfortably around the house for several hours at a time without issue.
If your dog is already an adult dog, or has been in many dog fights, curing their aggression will not be as simple as getting them “fixed.” While the removal of your dogs reproductive organs does stop the production of hormones that are known to exacerbate aggression, as your dog ages and repeats this behavior, it becomes more acceptable and normal. Fixing your dog will only go so far in fixing their ingrained habits caused by years of aggressive behavior.
Spaying & neutering can be much more beneficial for young male and female dogs when the first signs of aggressive behavior appear, because it can have a more pronounced effect — but this isn’t always true. Many dogs will continue with their behavior unless it is checked by training, and clear boundaries.