Dog Training: why do family dogs fight

Let’s examine why dogs fight in the first place.  Sometimes I don’t believe people think about some important considerations when they get that second, third or fourth dog.

Here’s a list of why dogs fight.

Competition for resources, including your attention, status-related conflicts – that would be housemates of the same sex fighting over social status,  an initial poor introduction to each other,  one dog having established territory and resenting the other as an intruder, redirected aggression -the dogs really want to go after the mailman or the dog next door, but are prevented from doing so
and therefore turn on each other in frustration.  Remember, dogs are pursuing aggression, not because they are not “nice”, but because aggression is:

Working for them to get them something they think they need i.e. access to resources (food, space, articles of play and attention from you), status etc.

Working to keep someone or something away they desperately want kept away i.e. a housemate who would otherwise strike first.

Simply a result of the dogs’ chemical arousal level being very high and their having learned to get release by turning on their housemates.

So, what are the solutions to dogs fighting?  Here are some to try, but before any of these exercises are attempted, be sure that all dogs have a solid foundation in their basic
obedience: stay, sit, down,  come and off.  Make it clear to the dogs that they will both be generously rewarded for displaying socially compatible behavior.  Ok, here’s the list to address dog fighting:

Ignoring each other– put them in sits or downs parallel to each other (not facing each other which is a conflict position) and reinforce/reward them for ignoring each other.

Sharing your attention-or anyone else’s attention – Put both dogs in a sit near you.  Pet one, then feed that one.  Then feed the other dog for tolerating your interactions with the first dog.

Remaining non-reactive with each other  Put one dog in a sit or down stay.  Pet the other dog and make a fuss over him.  Reward the first dog for tolerance and remaining in place.  Then reverse the exercise.

Train regularly on sits and downs with both dogs, again never putting them facing each other (a conflict position).  Release the dogs and allow them to interact, praising them for good behavior.

These procedures for addressing dogs fighting, give the dogs structure, explains your expectations of them in each other’s presence, while at the same time manufacturing a pleasant experience around each other.




If you are having issues, try my suggestions.  The first rule is ” always control the situation/environment“, that is, dogs on leashes and or muzzles (if required).  All dogs and people should be safe in any training exercise.

One size fits all dog training does not competently address issues like this.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children.  And remember:  “Opportunity Barks!”

Jim Burwell, Jim Burwell’s Petiquette

19 Responses to Dog Training: why do family dogs fight

  1. Valerie Pegg

    January 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you for this article! It has some great advice. Our newly adopted GSD/Golden retriever mix is super sweet….until we bring out the toys. We have 2 other dogs and she turns on them when there are toys around, but only sometimes. We’ve learned not to leave toys lying around and only to hand them out as rewards. So far, so good! I enjoyed reading this and will bookmark it. Thanks again!!

  2. NicheMaster

    January 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Great Info here, really appreciate it.

    My Collies are always fighting, so its nice to get some practical info.



  3. Danielle

    February 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    It’s so good to read this! I have 3 dogs and the 2 youngest are best friends, play mates, dinner dates, father and son. About 6 wks ago they got into it and I got kind of scared because they are pit bulls. I have NEVER even for a second ever seen either one be the least bit aggressive, they are well
    socialized and are both big babies. When this happened I know I over reacted and reading this makes me feel better knowing that this IS normal behavior, no matter whose families dogs get into it. I love to work with my dogs and this makes me feel bad that I didn’t do these bahaviors every single day. You know I wil now!

  4. Natalie

    March 1, 2010 at 9:15 am

    About 15 mins ago my otherwise placid dogs that are best friends started squeeling the house down in a fight, I was so shocked and it took me, my partner and 2 friends to pull them apart. But the thing is one of the dogs wasn’t fighting the other one had just clamped down on the others neck suddenly. I was basacally wondering if this training method would work under this situation? I anyone could help it would be greatley appreciated. This method seems like it would be brilliant but i’m worried that one will attack the other again.

  5. joe

    March 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    very excellent content

  6. Denise

    January 21, 2012 at 5:05 am

    Thanks so much for the informative piece. We have 3 large dogs, the oldest being a lab/pit mix. There have been several fights now & it’s always happened when my husband is at work and I’m alone with the dogs. All three dogs are sweet but when a fight breaks out it’s so traumatic for me (as well as the submissive dog). The oldest, lab/pit female dog is always the most aggressive during fighting and she grabs my younger female by the throat and won’t let go until she’s exhausted herself. It happened again today & I thought she was going to kill the younger one. It was horrible! After it ended & everyone was more or less settled, when I examined the “victim”, she only had a small cut on her ear and redness around her neck. This leads me to believe that the dominant wasn’t trying to kill the younger one – because she could’ve ripped out her throat if she wanted to. For some unknown reason she needed to assert her authority again. I will definitely start using the tips you’ve listed.

  7. Tami

    December 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I will try this advice immediately. I’m at my wits end with my two pit bull mixes who mostly get along great and play together well until one feels the other is infringing on her time with me. I recently read advice that said to grab the collars and pull up, not back, when they fight. That works immediately. I was even able to get them apart by myself the last time they fought, but had to just stand there holding them apart until my husband got into the room to take one of them. They are both female, ages 6 and 7, have lived together since puppies, only started this fighting in the last year or so, and it is the submissive one who does not want to share my attention with the dominant one. She’ll attack first. I’m so glad I finally found this site and it lists reasons why they fight AND what to do to try and change the behavior.

  8. Nancy

    February 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    OMG, so glad I came across this. I have three dogs. Father and son Boxers, and a Choco lab Pit Bull. The father always attacks the Pit, and I am not sure what it’s all about, but after reading this it makes total sense. They are always starving for my attention, especially now that I work full-time away from home again. They need to be stimulated and socialized more, as they are often left 10-12 hours per day with no human interaction, not sure if I should rehome them because of this. Thinking of losing them makes me so sad, but I want is what’s best for my dogs. They are all so lovable in their own way, but I noticed the Father Boxer constantly challenging and eyeballing the Pit, and always trying to be the first one next to me, whereas it use to be the Pit. Thanks for the article! I was in tears and so freaked out because I thought the Boxer was rewally going to hurt my Pit, because he (believe it or not) is not aggressive AT ALL! Mind you my Pit is over 110 lbs, the Boxer maybe 65 or so. The Pit finally got tired of the Boxer, made a break, clamped on his head and body slammed him and held him there until he wailed, that’ s when I was able to break them apart. It was a scary sight, but I think the Pit needed to show who was boss, as he was our first dog (and don’t tell them, our favorite).

  9. john

    May 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    the same here I have two dogs father and son . They use to play and get along. Till one night they attack each other till there was blood all over them. Every time they see each other they would snap and try to kill each other. Now one lives in the garage and the other in the back yard. I hope this will help.

  10. Alex

    July 8, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Does anyone have any tips for pit mixes? My two girls, momma and daughter, have begun fighting in the past few months. They are actually breaking skin at times and I’m not entirely sure how to handle it. They are fine one minute and bam, at each others throats or whatever they can get a hold of. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  11. JBurwell

    July 9, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Alex. Thanks for your question on my article. The breed of dog is not an issue. Here is the article I wrote on my website. You have the opportunity to
    receive an hour long recording I did on why family dogs fights. It will help you understand your part in this cycle. Here’s the link

  12. Tina

    July 16, 2014 at 1:54 am

    I have tried similar attempts, but having poor luck. Adopted an approx 5 year old Pom from shelter. She is very sweet and got along nice with my 2 1/2 year od Poochon for a couple months. Now my Pom goes off and attacks the other for no reason. The other gets exsited a returns the fight. So worried because the Pom is 7 pounds and the other is 17 pounds. Usually happens when holding the Pom or she is on the couch and Maggie just has to walk toward the couch and the fight ensues. If I sit on the couch with the Pom and Maggie is already on it, the Pom goes right up to her and sniffs ner face as if they were buddies. Usually one stays upstairs and avoids coming down if the other is there. Suggestions?

  13. neil akin

    September 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    OK so I have two red nose fawn pit bulls father & so,ages 7 1/2 years and about two years old they where particularly fine together up until son was about a year old an I had fed him in our kitchen and let him out back to handle his business I ha dent shit door all of the way and dad comes down so I put his food in kitchen he started eating and son pushes door open with his head and goes to smell his bowl dad basically lt son know to back off and son flipped and it was a very big mess long story short dad has no real aggressive behaviour in him son does how ever bit they both got along great their has been two more incidents since then all son starting. Dad is spoiled by us because of age I’m wondering if it is possible to get them to be good to each other my other ? Is should we do it in our house or should we take them to a park should we muzzle them both and let them work it out I don’t know I’m going to wait for a response before I try anything if possible reply to my e mail thanks a bunch .

  14. Rebecca Burwell

    September 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Hi Niel, It sounds like you need some training! Click here for a list of trainers that we recommend. I would call and ask for training specifically for food aggression. Food aggression is very common in many dogs, and can be simple to deal with but will require effort on your part.

  15. juan

    October 20, 2014 at 7:51 am

    i love dogs

  16. juan

    October 20, 2014 at 7:53 am

    i have tow pitbull they fight for food

  17. poop

    October 20, 2014 at 7:56 am

    i have two pitbull they fight for food i dont know what to do

  18. poop

    October 20, 2014 at 7:59 am

    i love pitbull

  19. Shelley

    March 26, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    little did i realize that when i got my first dog that i was doing all these things instictively. right now to the muzzle and head harness and leash. but with these two dogs i have now and being older and handicapped, i have not followed or been able to follow these rules. thank you for reminding me what i have to do. my problem is that i have a four year old very loving dog and then i brought in this fisty 5 week old puppy and ruby the 4 year old took her in to her space and allow this fisty pup to pick on her. when she had enough she would let the pup know. that pup is now 2 years old and they are fighting since nov of last year. the 2 year old nevaeh provokes the fights. getting too close with the stiff body and the eyes. i can see it just before it happens. but they only do this when i am in the room. they can be left alone when i am out of the house shopping or what ever or they are in a room alone together. please tell me the reason they only fight when someone is in the room with them together. i use muzzles and leashes now to keep them separate and establish my leadership with them. ruby the 4 year old is my sons dog he lives with me so he is helping me reestablishing leadership. him with his dog and me with my 2 year old. i feel my 2 year old feels the 4 year old is getting more attention than she is. so your exercises will help me greatly, especially since both these dogs are pit bulls. ruby is a rednose pit and nevaeh is blue nose and american bull terrier and a handicapped do. she has a deformed right front paw. but they are both very loving and very good dogs normally this just started. they were raised together. i will not have the fighting in my home or with either of my dogs. they are both very loved and very loving.

    thank you so much from Laramie Wyoming.