Sibling Rivalry

Like many people, I live in a multi-pet household; there are three dogs under this roof. Even though they enjoy playing together, occasionally laying together, and in general get along very well, they occasionally get on each others’ nerves. 

Meera and Ruthie spend the most time together, since the third dog, Lady, spends most of her time with my Mother-in-Law in her part of our home. Meera and Ruthie have a healthy dynamic, and both give and take in different situations. We had Ruthie first, and when adopting a second dog, we chose the dog who fit best with Ruthie. However, when Lady moved in, the dynamic in our home was changed quite a bit. We had to consider her personality and determine how to make things work. Lady is a fearful dog, and tends to get nervous easily. Like many fearful dogs, Lady does not do well with change. Although we had a bumpy start, we were able to adapt our living situation to include all three dogs living in relative harmony. We can now have all dogs together at any given time, including around food or when we are away. 

When Lady came to live with us, we found we needed to make changes in several areas, even in the way we gave our dogs attention. If Lady and Ruthie were both present, for example, we didn’t give either dog attention beyond verbal cues and praise. Interacting with any one dog more than that would result in the other dog running over and trying to ‘steal’ attention, leading to fights. Again, we were lucky that fights consisted of barking at each other and posturing, but it’s still a stressful situation for both people and dogs. Another rule was that none of the dogs were allowed on the furniture. Previously, we had allowed both Meera and Ruthie to sit with us on the couch when invited. But with the new dynamic in our house, having any dog on the couch with us would lead to that dog guarding her space from the other dogs - even if the other dogs were nowhere near the couch. 

We also made sure they had a few cues trained very well: a recall and leave it. This way, we were able to interrupt them if we saw a situation getting tense, and avoid a fight. Over time, the dogs learned when to steer clear of each other, and Lady became more confident and secure as she adjusted to the move. We no longer need to avoid giving the dogs attention when they’re together, and they are again allowed to sit with us on the couch. In our case, the underlying issue seemed to stem from Lady’s fear and insecurity around changes in her life. These parts of her personality have not changed, but by making her associations with the other dogs positive and allowing her to get used to them and our house slowly, we were able to change her behavior around our dogs. 

Jackie and I have seen many clients over the years with ‘sibling rivalry’ issues between dogs. People don’t always have the option to do all they can to find a good fit between a new pet coming into the home and an existing pet. In some cases, like mine, some temporary changes and training can help to alleviate the problem. In other cases, changes need to be permanent, such as feeding each dog separately when dealing with severe resource guarding. Identifying the specific situations that cause an issue and changing the environment around that situation is one of the most important aspects of integrating dogs, as is behavior modification. 

Even in homes where the dogs get along, day-to-day life isn’t always conflict-free. Meera often crowds into Ruthie’s space, and Ruthie will growl and bark as Meera stands, looming over her. An occasional spat can break out between Lady and Ruthie. Each dog is different and the dynamic is often changing as each dog ages and the family changes. 

Having some sibling rivalry between your dogs? An experienced trainer can help. If you’ve got questions, contact us and we would be more than happy to help.