Managing Sibling Rivalry between Dogs: Tips for Dog Parents

Households with multiple furry friends can be a lot of fun, and there are some uniquely happy memories that you’ll get to experience if you have the privilege of living in a multi-dog family. But being a parent to several dogs can also come with multiple challenges, including canine siblings growling and snapping at each other or fighting over toys, food, and affection. 

This sibling rivalry—which can sometimes seem quite similar to the type experienced by human families—can arise from various factors, like competition for resources, attention, or dominance within the household. While occasional disagreements between dogs are normal due to the difference in their “paw-personalities,” persistent conflict can indicate deeper issues. 

If left unaddressed, sibling rivalry can lead to tension, stress, or aggression directed towards other dogs and their owners. That’s why it’s important for you, as the dog owner, to understand the underlying causes of rivalry and to be proactive about addressing them, whether that entails giving your pets their resources and space to rest or dedicating individual playtime to each one. 

In this article, let’s explore practical strategies for managing sibling rivalry between dogs. This will help you ensure the well-being of all dogs involved and maintain a peaceful environment for everyone. 

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Dedicate Separate Resources to Each Animal

Managing sibling rivalry requires a proactive approach focused on providing a safe and structured environment for all of the dogs in your family. You’ll want to dedicate separate resources and spaces, such as food bowls, toys, beds, and resting areas, to keep each animal from competing against each other to have their needs met. 

You must also have dedicated custom dog collars and leashes for each pet to help you with their individual training. Lastly, each dog should have access to their own designated space where they can retreat and unwind without fear of disturbance from your other pets. The autonomy they’ll receive, coupled with your even-handed oversight should lessen tension and hostilities.  

Feed Your Pets Separately 

Dogs should also have designated feeding areas where they can eat in peace without feeling threatened by each other. If your dogs display aggressive behavior around food, you’ll want to address the underlying issues immediately. 

Consider monitoring food intake and behavior during feeding to identify signs of aggression or discomfort, such as growling, snapping, or guarding behavior. It’s also a good idea to feed your pets separately in different locations before practicing controlled feeding together. 

You can start by feeding the dogs near each other while supervising them. Then, gradually decrease the distance between them over time. As you do this, reward calm and cooperative behavior with treats and praise to reinforce positive associations with shared meals. Once the rivalry decreases, you can consider feeding your pets together at the same time.

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Set Aside Individual Quality Time for Each Dog

In many instances, sibling rivalry occurs because pets fight for their owners’ attention. One way to manage this is by dedicating individual playtime and training sessions to each dog. This will allow each of your pups to receive your individual attention and build their confidence without the pressure of competition. It will also help you tailor activities to each of your dogs’ individual preferences, love languages, and play styles. 

If one dog enjoys playing fetch while another prefers tug-of-war, engage in separate play sessions to cater to both of them. Through such opportunities for individualized attention and enrichment, you can address specific behavioral issues and prevent rivalry from escalating during shared activities. 

Engage Your Pets in Group Training Sessions

While individual time with your pets can be quite beneficial all around, engaging them in group training can also help manage sibling rivalry and get them used to each other. This type of activity exposes dogs to different environments, people, and animals, which will also allow them to develop confidence and appropriate social skills. 

When you have a sense that everyone is ready, try training exercises that involve both or all of your dogs working together to accomplish a task, such as agility courses or obedience drills. Encourage teamwork and reinforce positive interactions between them. 

Once your dogs show positive behaviors during these group sessions, consider other cooperative activities and rewards. You can take them on group walks, hand them shared treats, or take them out on a group play date at the dog park with other dogs and dog owners.  

Use Positive Reinforcement to Strengthen Positive Associations and Goodwill

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool when it comes to addressing sibling rivalry and establishing a stronger family dynamic among all of your dogs. It can involve rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, or time with each dog’s preferred toys. 

Use this method to help encourage positive interactions between your pets, and avoid harsh actions like shouting when the occasional tensions arise. The latter may end up backfiring on you and cause your dogs to develop negative associations with each other instead.   

If your dogs greet each other without conflict, continue the positive reinforcement approach. Allow them to play for a while, put both dogs in a “sit” or “stay” position, and then reward their obedience. 

Redirect Your Dogs’ Attention

Even with your best efforts, sibling rivalry can still arise sometimes. When this happens, use distraction and redirection techniques on each of your dogs. This can help redirect attention away from potential triggers, reinforce desired behaviors, and prevent conflicts from escalating further. 

For example, if two dogs start to display aggressive behavior during mealtime, redirect their attention by asking them to perform simple commands like sit or stay. Make sure to reward them with treats for complying afterward.

Establish Structured Routines and Schedules

Structured routines and schedules can also help manage sibling rivalry, as these create predictability and stability—both of which will reduce stress and anxiety for all dogs involved. 

Make it your goal to establish a consistent routine to promote a harmonious household dynamic. Base these around positive interactions and bonding activities, like shared walks, hikes, or play sessions. These will broker a strong relationship between canine siblings and reinforce their bond.

Final Thoughts

Try the abovementioned practices out in your household, and consult a dog trainer or behaviorist if you have trouble in specific situations. A professional may help you assess the situation objectively, identify the root causes of rivalry, and develop a customized behavior modification plan tailored to the individual needs of each dog.

Just like sibling rivalry between human siblings, it will take patience, consistency, and a lot of grace to get your dogs to get along with each other. But if you’re committed to the best outcome, your family dynamic will be something that both you and your dogs can derive great comfort and happiness from.