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This blog post was originally published in November 2012; it has been updated with new information.

I am not a dog trainer. If you are experiencing behavioral or training issues with your dogs, please contact a qualified, professional dog trainer. Please request a referral from your veterinarian, a local shelter, or a local pet store.

We have two sets of littermates (5 dogs total) and we've experienced littermate fighting and it's not fun. In this blog post, I shared what we did to stop the fighting and turn our family into happy dogs that get along.

One of the warnings we received before adopting our littermates, Rodrigo and Sydney, was that they would fight.  I’m not a follower of Cesar Milan, but someone gave me one of his books to read and what I picked up from it was that dog owners need to project an air of confidence.  I know that many people bristle at the term “pack leader,” but when we grew to a multi-dog family, I could see that we had become a pack (or family) and my boyfriend and I are leaders (or parents).

Over the years, I've stopped buying into the “pack leader” theory because it ruffles so many feathers. Watching my partner interact with the dogs showed me that confidence is key. They listened to him without question while and the took my commands as suggestions/requests. I learned that I had to transition from treating my dogs like babies to treating them like dogs. The difference has been amazing.

Littermates Fighting

Our dogs starting fighting when they were around 4 months old and this is how I handled it…

  • I would act quickly and separate them by the scruff of their neck with a firm “No.” They were small and the extra skin around the scruff makes it so that I'm not hurting them. I never pulled them apart by the collar, however, if they were wearing their harnesses, I would grab those. By acting quickly, I was able to separate them without harming them or myself. I wouldn't do this if they were adult dogs. Many people have warned me about this and I wouldn't recommend this step to others; I'm simply sharing this here because, for me, it worked for two puppies.
  • I began paying attention to their signals and I still do this today with all of my dogs because dog fights happen. Thankfully, they're mouthy fights with no injuries, but they can still be stressful. When they were puppies, Rodrigo and Sydney usually fought over toys or my attention. I learned to play with them together and separately. I learned to be firm and not allow one puppy to interrupt my time with the other when I greet them. And I started buying two toys when shopping. Buying two dog toys didn't always stop the bickering, but it did decrease the angst. If I noticed them growling over a toy, I could always interrupt by giving a puppy their own toy. Problem solved. Most of the time.
  • I started making the puppies take a Time Out. When I noticed intense eye contact, growling, or raised hackles, I would loudly say TIME OUT and remove the offender from the room.  Time Out in our house is the laundry room or downstairs bathroom and it only lasts for about 15 seconds. There were days when I would have to take a puppy to Time Out three of four times in a row, but eventually, they would get it and the behavior would change. Today, my dogs no what TIME OUT means and our newest puppy will even lead me to his Time Out when his behavior needs some work.
  • And, finally, an exercised dog is a well-behaved dog and this is equally true for littermates. We were already walking the puppies, but we started building the distance up to one mile, then two, and now we walk them for 3 or more miles.  When Sydney and Rodrigo were growing up, we had to walk them at least 5-6 days a week; we'd walk them 2x a day on the weekend.  Now, we can get away with 4 walks a week and play time in the yard.

How We Use Time Out

Time Out is brilliant and we picked up this idea from Victoria Stillwell’s show.  We used it to stop the fighting and we continue to use it to stop unwanted behavior (barking in the house, biting ankles, and aggression).  It doesn’t take long for the dogs to connect the behavior with Time Out.

Funny story:

We started using Time Out when Rodrigo was barking in the house at his sister.  He would go in, sit for 10-20 seconds, and then he was released.  There were days when he would come out, run to Sydney and start barking again.  But he eventually got it.

One day Sydney had a toy that he wanted and he was itching to announce his displeasure and kept looking from me to her, whining the entire time.  I was waiting to see what he'd do, prepared to bring back Time Out.  Finally, he stood up, looked at Sydney and barked 3 times loudly, then he walked to the laundry room and sat down.

It was the funniest thing in the world, but I was too shocked to laugh.  He sat there for 15 seconds, returned to the living room for a different toy, and life went on.

Tips from a Professional Dog Trainer

Certified Dog Trainer David Fitzpatrick has extensive experience working with aggressive dogs. He has three tips for dealing with littermates fighting in the home:

  • Most importantly, never grab a dog by its collar or head when it is fighting with another dog
  • When separating the dogs that are fighting, attempt to remove the aggressor first
  • Grab the aggressor by its hind legs or tail and pull the dog away from the other one until it is far enough away from the other dog that the situation will be diffused.
We have two sets of littermates (5 dogs total) and we've experienced littermate fighting and it's not fun. In this blog post, I shared what we did to stop the fighting and turn our family into happy dogs that get along.

Wrapping it up…

When we were dealing with littermates fighting, I learned that it's important is to identify who is causing the trouble (in our case, Rodrigo), identify the triggers (toys, attention), and learn the signals (stares, growling, raised hackles) so that we could prevent a fight before it started.

Not all littermates will fight. While Rodrigo and Sydney had their bickering for a period of time, Scout and Zoey NEVER had an issue with each other or our other dogs.

I am not a dog trainer. If you are experiencing behavioral or training issues with your dogs, please contact a qualified, professional dog trainer. Please request a referral from your veterinarian, a local shelter, or a local pet store.

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