Ask a Dog Trainer: How Do I Stop The Sibling Rivalry Between My Dogs?

Whether you own two sibling dogs from the same litter or just have two dogs at your house, you’ve probably experienced some type of sibling rivalry. In dogs, rivalry looks a lot like what human siblings do – they fight over your attention, toys and even food. If your dogs push each other out of the way for attention, if one dog gets upset while you are training the other, they get snappy and grabby with treats, or even fight over toys, then your household is suffering from sibling rivalry.

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Why Dogs Have Rivalry

Science is getting closer every day to knowing more about what our canine friends are really thinking and feeling. A recent study published in PLOS One decided that dogs can feel jealously because the dogs they studied acted jealous when their owners played with an animatronic dog, but did not act as jealous when the owner ignored their dog to read a book or play with a toy. What we can say for certain is that when it comes to rivalry in dogs, it appears to be more of a resource guarding issue. Even the above study supports this, since the dogs only exhibited jealously when their owners where giving attention to the fake dog, but not to inanimate objects.

Knowing that your dogs act the way they do because they are guarding their resources can help you make decisions that will keep the peace in your home.


3 Key Tips For Stopping Sibling Rivalry in Dogs

Here are a few tips to get you started on abolishing your dogs’ sibling rivalry. You will see quicker results if you work with a certified professional positive reinforcement trainer in your area, who can tailor your training plan to your specific dogs.

First – don’t let them get rewarded for bad behavior. This means if you are petting one dog and the other pushes in, don’t reward the pusher by giving him attention. Instead, walk away from them, and if possible, continue to pet the dog that was not in offense.

Second – teach them to wait their turn. This goes for anything, whether it’s getting a treat or even just going out the door first. Make sure your dogs are not pushing or snapping. Treats are an easy way to work on this. Have your dogs in a sit or a down at first. Start to offer a treat to one of them. If the dog reaches for it any way, snaps, etc. retract the treat. Then try again. If you get the treat all the way to your dog’s mouth without him snapping for it, he can have it.

Image Source: David Lounsbury via Flickr
Image Source: David Lounsbury via Flickr


If the other dog is calm during this and waits his turn, he gets a treat, too. If not, wait for him to be calm and then do the same routine with him. You can also do this with toys, petting, etc. This takes a while, but it works. I have two serious resource guarders in my house and I can give all three of my dogs treats nicely in this manner.

An advanced step to this is to put one dog in a stay or in a crate while you work the other. Reward the dog not being worked if he is quiet. Then switch!

Three – remove them if they can’t handle it. If your dog can’t handle it – whines, lunges, barks, snaps, etc., he needs a break. Put him in his crate in another room until he calms down. It may take him a bit, but as soon as he’s quiet for a few seconds let him out. This teaches him that he needs to be well-mannered in order to stay in on the fun.

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