Q&A: Why do my dogs fight?

  • Expert advice from Baileys’ expert on helping to create a harmonious household

    Q: I own two Springer Spaniels that are both spayed. They have lived together in relative harmony for five years now.

    Despite the length of time they have lived together they still show aggressive tendencies towards each other. The majority of the time they can curl up and sleep together but sometimes they have this ‘Mexican standoff’ where they growl and circle each other.

    I would love them to get on all the time, as I’m worried that one day there will be a full-blown fight.

    Liz Bulbrook, Baileys Director of Nutrition replies: Dogs can become aggressive and fight with each other for a number of reasons, but the most common reason for dogs that live together to argue can be a dispute over their status in the ‘family’ pack.

    Neutering male dogs can sometimes help the problem but spaying females seldom has the same effect. Although your dogs have always lived together it is likely that one of them is the more dominant party, being slightly stronger, smarter and domineering.

    Although the signs may be quite subtle and not that obviousto you watch your dogs interact; which one gets to the door first, gets to eat first, chooses the best sleeping place, takes the best toy etc. This will be the ‘alpha’ dog.

    The problems can arise when the lower ranking dog forgets her place and tries to move up the ladder, or you have given this dog more praise and fuss and the other dog tries to re-assert their authority. However, as your dog’s pack includes the human family you should be the Alpha member in that you make the rules and enforce them through training and discipline.

    Although you may not be able to recognise the “trigger” factor for these occasional aggressive incidents it is easier to prevent a fight than stop one.

    Trigger factors could be a simple as ashove, growl, competitiveness for attention, or being bored. It is important to ‘nip it in the bud’ as soon as you see the situation occurring. If you do not know which dog started it them reprimand both and assert your authority.

    I am sure you give both your dogs equal affection, but avoid situations of competition where possible, such as over food, toys, attention etc.

    Recognising the higher-ranking dog and giving her first privileges but not excluding the other bitch can be helpful in some situations. Providing plenty of exercise should also encourage then to want to curl up and sleep together when back at home.