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Petting Wars

Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home and What To Do About It

By: Nicole Wilde

Last Updated:


Q: My dogs have a tenuous relationship that can erupt into violence, keeping everyone in my home on edge. One of the triggers is when I'm paying attention to one dog and the other comes over. What can I do to help them get along and create harmony in my home?

A: You, my friend, are a valuable resource! You have managed to be so amazing that each of your dogs wants you all to himself. While that might be flattering, it is also no fun for anyone. I feel your pain because I actually had the same problem myself when we first adopted my second dog. I had to come up with solutions for this, two of which I cover in the “Petting Wars” chapter of my new book, Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home. Read on for an excerpt outlining one of these very effective techniques, which I call “You Guard It, You Lose It.” I hope you will find it helpful.

When a dog guards his owner and another dog backs down, the guarder is inherently being rewarded. Why would he ever stop the behaviour when it works so well? But what if, instead, the valuable resource were to disappear when he tried to guard it? To put it in a human context, imagine that you love pizza. You certainly do not want anyone coming near your very own yummy slice of heaven, so whenever someone approaches, you tell them to back off. But what if every time you warned someone away, the pizza vanished? How many more times would you say something when someone approached? In no time at all, you would learn that quietly enjoying your pizza even if someone was close by was the best way to keep the prize to yourself.


Here’s how to apply the principle to your dogs: At the exact moment your dog pulls the “She’s mine!” routine, say in a light voice “Too bad!” and immediately stand up and walk away. There is no need to reprimand your dog or to use a stern voice. The phrase is merely a verbal marker that lets your dog know that was the exact moment he was doing the thing that resulted in the consequence of losing his valuable resource—you. If your dog follows you, ignore him. You are effectively giving him a time out, so you need not ignore him for longer than a minute or two. No talking to, looking at, or interacting with him while he’s being ignored!

If necessary because of your home’s layout or for convenience sake, you can instead tether your dog (assuming your dog has been conditioned to a tether ahead of time) to the leg of the couch near you. Pet your dog as you normally would. If another dog approaches and the tethered dog shows guarding behaviours, when you move away, he will be unable to follow. You could even move to the opposite end of the couch out of his reach and give the other dog attention. Imagine the guarder’s surprise! 

The “You Guard It, You Lose It” technique offers a very clear, easy lesson for dogs to learn, and it is very effective. Think of scenarios in which one of your dogs guards you or your other family members, and formulate a plan. Choose a marker word that everyone will use, and make sure it is used at the exact moment your dog begins to show any guarding behaviour. Be sure everyone knows to stand up and walk away immediately after the word or phrase is spoken. Plan ahead of time where they will move to and for how long. If everyone in the family is on the same page, your dogs will learn much more quickly. As with all behaviour modification, consistency is key.

Last Updated:

By: Nicole Wilde
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