When you decided to own dogs that are siblings, you thought you were doing the right thing by keeping them together. So, why is it now you feel like that’s not what they wanted? Don’t worry; dog sibling aggression is common and it doesn’t have to do with them not loving one another. Dogs are like humans in that their siblings are not always their best friends.
About Dog Sibling Aggression
Knowledge is power when it comes to defeating the behavioral issues you’re experiencing with your sibling dogs. Let’s set the groundwork for fixing the problem of dog sibling rivalry with some information.
Is It Normal for Sibling Dogs to Fight?
Yes, absolutely. It is normal and common for sibling dogs to fight. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you should ignore the aggressive behavior, though. Dog training focused on behavior modification should be used to stop sibling aggression in dogs.
What Is Littermate Syndrome?
There’s a lot of confusion about littermate syndrome and sibling dog aggression. Littermate syndrome happens when two sibling dogs bond so tightly that they become fearful, anxious, and aggressive whenever something happens outside of the sibling relationship.
For instance, if you separate two dogs that have littermate syndrome, they become scared and may react aggressively. These dogs don’t do well with other dogs, pets, strangers, and sometimes, even their owners. They have extreme separation anxiety related to their sibling. They simply cannot cope well without their brother or sister.
While this may seem sweet, it can be quite a problem even when the siblings are adopted. The siblings may be happy together, but anyone that comes in between them has a force to reckon with, which can be incredibly problematic.
While the below dog training and behavior modification to stop dog sibling aggression may help, littermate syndrome often requires a higher level of training from a professional dog trainer may be better.
How to Stop Dog Sibling Aggression
When learning how to stop sibling aggression in dogs, it’s important to know what not to do first. Do not worry if you’ve already tried to deal with the dog sibling rivalry in these ways. Dog training isn’t just for dogs, it’s for owners, too. Consistency is key and sometimes, you have to try a few different ways of training your sibling dogs not to fight.
What Not to Do to Stop Sibling Aggression in Dogs
You should NEVER:
- Physically harm any of your dogs. This type of punishment is ineffective in controlling aggressive behavior. It can actually backfire and cause an increase in aggression.
- DO NOT hold back one sibling (like putting him/her in a different room behind a baby gate or other barrier) while you give the other one extra attention. This can also lead to an increase in aggressive behavior, which is often referred to as barrier aggression.
- NEVER ignore dog sibling aggression. Allowing it to happen shows both dogs that it is permissible.
- DO NOT yell at the siblings to stop fighting. The yelling can cause fear and fear aggression can lead to further fighting.
When dealing with sibling aggression in dogs, you want to be calm, strict, and directive in your approach. That’s what will get their attention and keep it while you modify their aggressive behavior to something much more appropriate.
Before we dive into obedience training, it’s important to understand the causes of dog sibling rivalry.
Common Triggers for Dog Sibling Aggression
Understanding the common triggers of dog sibling aggression can help you know how to deal with it.
Dog sibling rivalry is real. Usually, it has to do with jealousy. Dogs do know who their mother is, and will get jealous if a sibling is more attention. That’s usually the cause of dog sibling fighting.
In the case of dogs not being with their mother anymore, the owner takes the place of the mother. If one sibling sees the other getting more attention from their owner, some dogs just can’t help but get jealous. That jealousy is what leads to dog sibling aggression.
It doesn’t have to be the mother or owner, it can be another dog. For instance, if you already have a dog, and you’re introducing the siblings to a new dog, they will likely fight for their place in line. Dogs are pack animals, so there’s always an alpha and then the others fall in line. This can often lead to inter-dog aggression between the siblings and the current dog.
About to have 3 dogs? Read this: Pros and Cons of Getting a 3rd Dog
Sibling aggression in dogs can happen when there aren’t three or more dogs. It can happen with just the siblings. No matter if they are related, there’s always going to be one that is the submissive dog or subordinate dog. Before that is established, there may be some fighting to establish which one will be the dominant dog and which one will be the subordinate dog.
While this is a normal and instinctual part of a canine family, it doesn’t mean that you should let it happen. Injuries and even death can occur with very aggressive dogs. Yes, even puppies can fight until one is seriously hurt.
Dogs are social animals, too. Just like children, if two are playing, the other one may want to play, too. If the third doesn’t feel included, problems occur.
Sibling aggression in dogs happens this way when a third dog in the house attempts to play with one of the siblings and not the other. Instead of blaming the non-sibling, they take it out on the sibling. This is especially true when the sibling pup is seen as the subordinate dog.
For some dogs, aggression doesn’t happen because of another dog (or sibling). It happens because there is something that has caused the dog to become more aggressive. For instance, fear aggression is when a dog becomes afraid and then reacts by fighting another dog even if that dog didn’t have anything to do with the stressful situation.
An example of fear aggression causing dog sibling fighting is a man coming to the front door of the home. The man knocks on the door, looks through the window, and your dog sees the man. The man doesn’t leave for a long time, and the longer he’s standing there, the more your dog is getting upset. The next thing you know, your dog attacks his/her sibling.
It’s a way of venting. There’s a lot of stress inside the dog’s body and the only way to release it is to fight it out. Unfortunately, the sibling is the innocent one suffering from it. This is especially true if the sibling is regarded as the subordinate dog.
The above example can also be referred to as redirected aggression. Instead of getting violent with the door or the man behind it through the window, which is the cause of the stress, the aggression is redirected to the sibling.
Obedience Training and Behavior Modification
Now you know some of the reasons for dog sibling jealousy and dog sibling rivalry. The next step is to start dog training.
DIY vs. Dog Trainer
Many pet owners do dog training themselves before they decide to hire a dog trainer. This is a good idea because professional dog training can be expensive, especially with multiple dogs. The other thing that many pet owners don’t realize is that professional trainers are only going to lay the foundation for your dog’s lessons. You and your dogs will still have to work together on the training to ensure the lessons “stick”.
Starting obedience training yourself will help you decide if you need a professional trainer at all.
Obedience Training for Dog Sibling Aggression
The first hurdle to overcome with your dogs is teaching basic commands. The commands “here”, “stay”, “sit” and “leave it” are powerful commands every dog should know.
Behavior Modification for Dog Sibling Rivalry
Once you have the basic commands down with your pups, the next step is to modify the aggressive behaviors. This will involve paying attention to canine body language because the trick is to step in with the training before the situation turns aggressive.
Look for signs of aggressive canine body language, such as:
- Eye contact between the dogs
- Stiff body
- Crouching down in preparation for an attack
- Showing teeth
- Aggressively barking
When you see any of the above signs, that is when intervention should take place. Use one of the basic commands to distract one of the dogs. For example, if your dog gets mad at his/her sibling and you see the stiff body and hear growling, immediately in a stern voice say, “COME” or use another known command. Even “STAY” would work in this case, so that your pup doesn’t move forward with the attack.
Depending on what the trigger is to the aggression, you can decide on how to either mitigate further issues or train your pups not to react aggressively.
An example is food guarding. If one of your dogs is guarding food with the intention of attacking a sibling that tries to come near the food bowl, you may try to remove the bowl every time aggressive body language is noticed. Putting it back down and taking it back up will help your dog understand that being aggressive when food is available is only going to result in not having the food.
Tips for Dog Sibling Aggression
- Owner control should always be the focus when dealing with aggressive dogs. It doesn’t matter if it’s sibling aggression or not.
- Intervening before the aggression gets out of control is the only way to modify aggressive behavior. When dogs are in the heat of the moment, it can be nearly impossible to redirect them. That also means NEVER get in between two dogs fighting. Not only is there a chance of redirected aggression, but you could end up being the one that gets the most hurt.
- Be careful when adding same-sex siblings to your family. Getting 2 male dogs or 2 female dogs is much more likely to have sibling aggression than a male dog and a female dog.
- Younger dogs do grow out of sibling aggression, so if you’re having a difficult time with inter-dog aggression, there’s hope in sight. Older dogs are wiser when it comes to what is acceptable and unacceptable. Social maturity has a lot to do with it as well. Around 12 months of age, puppies usually calm down and are less reactive.
Don’t give up on your plan of having 2 dogs that are siblings. The behavioral issues will get better with work and patience. Before you know it, all of your dogs will be best friends and you’ll love the way they love and support one another.