Petiquette With Jim Burwell: Dog Behavior Problems, Dogs Fighting Again?

Dog fights amongst canine housemates continue to be a serious concern to peaceable owners. Today I just returned from a lesson with two cute female pit/mix pups – both just under 12 months of age. The initial call was that they had gotten into a fight causing a trip to the vet with punctures. This was the first of a couple of serious fights. Unfortunately the owner did not see it start and is not certain who started the fight and over what they were fighting.

Last week I completed another lesson with two somewhat recently adopted, older, more mature female dogs who had not previously lived together. When the larger of the dogs attacked the smaller one, I got a call from the new owners to sort things out and help them to understand root causes and how to proceed to fix the problem.

Here’s the commonality with the two households:

  1. No structure, therefore no leadership
  2. No consistent training, therefore no commands to which to redirect
  3. No consistent walking for exercise and leadership – constructive management of energy while also reinforcing leadership
  4. Constant dog-initiated petting and doting – all unearned
  5. Both dogs in each household were females
  6. A detailed evaluation of relationships between the dogs starting the fights and their respective owners revealed more attention to the larger dog than the smaller dog who received the brunt of the fight.
  7. A recommended test done in both homes mentioned above, indicated that when the “doting owner” in both households was not at home and the dogs were allowed to be free in the homes while the other owner was present, no fighting occurred. In fact, all got along peaceably.
  8. When the doting owners returned to their respective homes, the competition and the games began again. Fights reoccurred.

So, what’s the message here? Many fights between canine housemates happen in the presence of the owner – and sometimes guarding the owner as a resource. What’s the answer? Put structure back into your relationship with your dogs – you probably both need it and can benefit immeasurably from it. If you are not sure how to go about doing this, give me a call. Keep your dogs separated until you can put a program into effect – and during the program as well.

Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

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Ask me a question in the comments below!

10 Responses to Petiquette With Jim Burwell: Dog Behavior Problems, Dogs Fighting Again?

  1. Kay Adams

    October 9, 2010 at 7:23 am

    My sister-in-law found this article for me as she lives in Houston. I live Winston Salem, NC. We have 2 female jack russell terriers. They are from same Dame different Sire. We brought the second one in as a puppy and they got along great. We also have an older female beagle with whom the “sisters” also have a good relationship with.

    The terriers are now 6 and 5. Last year in July a young male stray Boxer came up to our property which we ended up adopting. At first the sisters ganged up on him. Soon thereafter everyone was happy and we had a great household. Then in March of this year things changed quickly. Our girls started fighting visciously. Both my husband and myself have been to the emergent care for bites. We can not let one down on the floor while the other one is there. We can not let them outside at the same time. We live back in the woods with acres of property so they run with the boxer and get lots of exercise. In a blink of an eye they can be in a terrible fight and we can not pull them apart and we have a bloody mess, 30 minutes later they will both be asleep on my husbands lap.

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you,

    Kay Adams

  2. Jim Burwell

    October 11, 2010 at 6:44 pm


    I would say to examine leadership role with your dogs. It appears they think they are all running the show so they are doing what dogs do – fighting for position.

    If you will go to my site @ and do a search for
    “sibling rivalry” there is an excellent article and over 40 comments on this exact problem.

    I think you will find some good information there to help you.

    Jim Burwell

  3. Judy

    February 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I have a 2 yr old Shih tzu and a 8 month old shih tzu both females who do wrestle and fight constantly. They make alot of noise and squeal when it hurts but there is never and broken skin or blood. I do not understand why they fight and then act like they are best friends. Recently we took the 8 mo old into be spayed and she was running a fever so the vet sent her home with antibiotics and before she could finish the antibiotics she went into heat the first time. Her behavior has become more agressive and she is not sleeping at night. She is up most of the night whinning and crying in her crate. Could her behavior have changed because she is in heat and what can we do about her not sleeping? She is keeping the whole house up and we are suffering, too.

  4. JBurwell

    February 9, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Judy: Let me first address your dogs rough play/fighting. I would suggest instead of letting the dogs play in this fashion that you only allow less rowdy behavior and use this opportunity to practice doing obedience commands with them which will burn energy and allow you to practice leadership. If you allow this aggressive play to continue it will most likely escalate to one of the dogs getting hurt.

    As to your other question I would take your dog to your vet and have those issues checked.

  5. Kristen

    July 24, 2011 at 12:16 am

    I have a 2 year old female half winnie half pitt bull and a 7 month old male american pitt bull. My husband and I moved and in doing so the dogs were split up for about 3 1/2 months. 2 days ago the dogs were re-united. The male is being aggressive and “bullying” the female. I understand it is partly my fault for splitting them up, and putting the male in a place that made him aggressive toward other dogs. But I have a 3 month old son and I need advice on how to correct his behavior, because I dont want to have him put down. He is a good dog and listens, but is too aggressive toward my other dog. It started during meal times, and has gotten worse in the past day. Please any advice will help.
    Thank you

  6. JBurwell

    July 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm


    I Don’t have enough information to comment in detail.
    Are they neutered/spayed? Where did you send the male that made him more aggressive? What makes you think sending him there is the cause for his aggression and not an unstable environment at home – especially with the move?
    What have you done in the past to set boundaries/expectations are you doing to set boundaries in your home for both dogs? Let me know when you can.

  7. Kristen

    July 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Well the male is not neutered and the female is not spayed. I had a friend of mine keep the male. The enivornoment had 2 other male dogs, one boston terrior mix and a chocolate lab puppy, and also a female boxer. The reason I say sending him there is a big reason for the aggression is, the boston terrior male would fight my dog during meal times, and because he felt there is another male dog trying to take over my terriory, and that was the first time my dog has been exposed to that type of envirnonment. But about a month after my dog being there the boston terrior past away, but not from them fighting. Also their meal times there were not regular, and I feel terrible that I exposed him to that, but we had no other choice we wanted to keep him, and not have to give him up. Before our move I had regular meal times, we would go for walks everyday sometimes twice a day, the female is potty trained and the male was just about potty trained (one or two acciedents every couply days). And I can only recall one time when the male took the females food, and I corrected it, by teaching him to wait until she walked away from her bowl and was done, then he could finish her food that she did not eat. It also only took about 3 days to correct that behavior. Before feedings, going for walks, playing, etc, they have to earn it by sitting before we do anything, and if they cannot then I walk away until they calm down and try again. With him being here they have gotten into 3 fights that have cause the female to bleed, 2 during meal times and one at night not sure what the cause was for that one. What I have been doing is seperating them during meal times by bring the female inside to eat., I have started up our walks again with the male, and so far that has made a huge improvement with his aggression toward her. Today during the second meal time I left the female outside, fed the male first, then fed the female, but stayed outside to see if he was going to attack her. I am glad to say it worked out well, but I cannot always stand outside and watch him. What else if there is anything can I do?

  8. jane rigsby

    July 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    we have two female dogs. ibrought a female boxer home in may . the dogs all got along fine, until two weeks ago .
    tThey statred fighting vivously. I called our vet they sugessted to spay one ,so we did, we brought the dog home on thurs. and fri morning started fighting .do you have any suggestions on how to stop this. We keep them separated .But eventually would like to get them to get them along/


  9. JBurwell

    July 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Jane: Thanks for your question,hindsight is great but just for future reference opposite sex dogs is generally easier. That being said, here’s an article I wrote all about
    family dogs fighting and there is the opportunity for you to get my FREE MP3 I did on causes for this. Here’s the link

  10. JBurwell

    September 10, 2013 at 8:18 am


    I am happy to help you with private lessons. This is not something that can be fixed on a website. Here is my website with our phone # on it, you are welcome
    to call, speak with my wife and set up either private lessons or I also do tele-coaching if you don’t live in Houston.