Canine Rivalry

Bonney Brown, Nevada Humane Society Executive Director


Unlike us, dogs do not long for life in a democratic society where each individual has an equal vote. The ideal society for a dog is one where they are part of a pack hierarchy. Not every dog will be the pack leader and they like it that way.

To ensure maximum harmony in your multi-dog family, you need to work with the nature of dogs. You may want to create an atmosphere of fairness between the dogs, but it is healthiest if you allow the dogs to determine their own pack order. It can be hard to resist interfering when one dog always gets the most desirable toy or pushes to get your attention, but this is the way dog society works. Trying to impose your idea of equality can create problems between the dogs.

The most important thing you can do to create a secure, comfortable pack for all of your dogs is to establish yourself at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the other people in the household. While many of us may view our dogs as friends and family members, dogs want to know that they can count on us to be in charge of their world. By making it clear that you are the leader, you enable the dogs to relax into their pack rather than vying for top-dog position. Your leadership status helps them peacefully sort out their lower place in the social structure.

One of the ways dogs assess their place in pack hierarchy is through their access to resources, such as food, toys, sleeping spots, and your attention. As pack leader, you need to set the standards of behavior and enforce them consistently, at the same time supporting the pack order the dogs have determined between themselves.

Conflicts may arise between dogs when the ranking of each dog is not clear or is in contention. Changes in the group – the addition of a new dog, the aging of an old dog, or the passing of a dog – can trigger a change in the pack order and may result in new conflict between the dogs.

If your dog’s behavior changes, if he withdraws or becomes more aggressive with the other animals, it’s a good idea to first rule out any medical issues with a trip to the veterinarian.

Intact dogs are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors. Spaying or neutering your dogs will make your household more harmonious and will help resolve conflict without fights.

Punishment will not resolve issues between dogs and could make it worse. If one of your dogs is exhibiting aggression toward another, it is best to get an animal behaviorist or professional trainer to help you devise a strategy to control the problem before it can escalate. The appropriate response depends upon the personalities of your dogs and the nature of the problems, so you will need customized expert advice. A good place to start is with a call to the Nevada Humane Society Animal Help Desk at 775-856-2000 ext. 200.

Your dogs are looking to you to understand their nature, to provide guidance and consistent training. True happiness for a dog comes from being part of the pack and knowing they can count on you, the leader of the pack.


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