Sibling Rivalry

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, although it doesn’t deserve to be. It contains a few examples of what not to do, but hey, maybe that’s what I’m known for.

It starts with a success story.

Last month, my mom was in town for a week, and I’m thrilled to announce that we’re past the stage where I’m terrified of what my dogs will do when we have visitors. A month or so after we got Mia, the dogs got into a couple of scary fights during my mom’s visit. Since then, I hadn’t let Leo loose in the room with her. I’m not worried about aggression, but I don’t trust him not to jump on her when she enters the room. He’s 94 pounds and she’s 5’2″, so you know, that felt risky.

This year, I decided to usher in a new era. Mom was with me when we brought Leo home as a puppy, after all. They should be reunited! With my mom securely seated at the kitchen table, with treats in hand, I let Leo in from the backyard, and had her throw treats at him. Yes, of course that made him sniff around her more than she cared for, but only for a few seconds before he wandered off, and eventually, returning to lay down at her feet.

I cannot overstate how happy this made me. What a huge relief to not have to leave Leo outside. To have my family all together!

Everyone gets ice cream at my birthday party.
Everyone gets ice cream at my birthday party.


We had a hiccup a few days later. To celebrate my birthday, we had cake and ice cream. I served up two bowls of vanilla ice cream for the dogs, and wanted to take a picture to document the cuteness. Then I did something so stupid. I pushed the bowls closer together to get a better shot.

They got in a snarling fight about it. With Rob’s parents and my mom there to witness. Rob and I struggled to separate them and move Leo through two rooms to get him into the backyard (without him redirecting a bite on either of our mothers). Then I tried to reunite them too soon, and they got into it again, and in separating them on opposite sides of the chain link, I fell down, bumping and scraping my knee in the only injury of the whole kerfuffle.

I ran up the hill in the backyard and lay down on one of the mats outside Rob’s studio, hoping Leo would join me. He raced up, looked at me, ran back down the hill, then ran back up again. And down again. I lay there for a few minutes. I might have been a little drunk. We’d just come from kind of a weird dinner at a fancy restaurant where we’d had to wait 45 minutes to be seated despite having a reservation. They’d offered free prosecco while we waited, and I’d had a kir royale with my meal.

Not THE kir royale, but A kir royale.
Not THE kir royale, but a kir royale.

Everyone in the house assumed I’d run up there to cry. But I felt fine. This fight was not a big deal, and I totally knew what caused it. Me!

I walked back down to the chain link, got some dried lamb lung, gave it to each dog on either side of the fence, then opened the gate and let them reunite. All was right with the world again.

My mom asked, “Which one of them started it?” As if I could even tell. “Me! I started it.”

Rob was rattled, but if I know what started the fight, I know how to prevent it from happening again. No one got bitten. No one was bleeding. Not a big deal.

Think I learned my lesson?

A couple of weeks later, I was giving Leo his eye medicine near the back door. There’s something weird about this eye dropper, making it really hard to get the drops out. I was holding onto his face for longer than any dog should be expected to have his face held, with my face really close to his, and I could tell he was getting tired of it. Am I about to get bitten in the face? I wondered, just before he launched away from me onto Mia’s face.

Rob had just dozed off on the couch and was rudely awoken by the snarls and my shouting for him to come help me separate them.

Maybe I’m completely delusional, but again, not terribly troubled by this fight. Clear cut barrier frustration. I was holding Leo back, doing something unpleasant. Note to self: Do not administer Leo’s eye medicine when Mia is two feet away.

Again no one got hurt and a few minutes and a few pieces of lamb lung later, everything was back to normal.

I used to be really traumatized by this kind of thing, because it was a sign that I’m a terrible dog parent, and meant my dogs would never get along. But Leo and Mia have a five year history of mostly getting along, and most days, I’m an above-average dog mom. They have enough bite inhibition not to hurt each other, and Rob and I have figured out how to separate them without getting bitten ourselves.

Am I enlightened or just jaded? Do your dogs fight? How do you handle it?

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

14 thoughts on “Sibling Rivalry

  1. I love your honest presentation of life at home with sibling rivalry. Remembering how much our kids fought! (WAY more than you and Andy)

  2. Living with three dogs – I hear you and scuffles happen. I have a story that will make you feel better. When I trim nails sometimes we hold the doxies with muzzles on and even though it’s basically drama free I have made the mistake of putting down old Bruisy next to Sherm right after he’s done with his nails… and he has gone after Sherm as soon as I put him back down… it’s all re-directing and I learned my lesson. I think that when you have two or three dogs there are dynamics in play. I have learned SO much over the years….

  3. I have two sisters that we got together when they were 9 weeks old. There have been a few scuffles and one nasty fight but like you I have become real good at reading the dogs body language and at any sign there might be trouble, they are redirected. I would never trust them to be home alone together except in kennels (I have always had dogs work their way up to being in the house alone with free roam) but that is something that is in the best interest for everyone. Thank godness I am quite happy to be the homebody and don’t go out too often (unless my husband is home to stay with them).

  4. It happens occasionally around here. We do everything we can to prevent it, but yes, sometimes we forget ourselves and screw up. I do get less upset about than I used to, as long as I know why it happened.

  5. I’m glad everyone is OK! Mr. N is a pacifist really. He’ll tell the other dog off but it has never escalated into anything physical. Not even when our foster dog stole a piece of lamb lung from Mr. N’s mouth. Mr. N just came running over to tattle. I do try to take precautions and separate during meal times and during chew times and whatnot. Thanks for joining the hop.

  6. So grateful you shared this with us. Too many times we don’t want to disclose things that we “think” we’re negatively responsible for. But the truth of the matter is – we all have them in some capacity. Happy to hear that everyone is fine, and there’s harmony back in your house (ain’t it a blessing!) My sister has 5 Mastiffs (don’t ask!) and she suffers through little scuffles often. You’re not alone. Have a fabulous Thanksgiving.

  7. Absa-freakin-loutly! Hey, I have Australian Cattle Dogs. I think they are the original ready-to-rumble dog. Look, they were bred to push rank cattle around the Australian outback so they don’t suffer fools gladly. And they don’t particularly want to be a team player. Their owner is their teammate and even that is asking a lot sometimes. So yeah, you put several ACDs in one house and you’re going to have a fight. It’s not a matter of “If” but “when.” I’ve had ’em. Some uglier than others. A couple fights resulted in stitches and ears that will never look quite the same. But if you scour the Internet you’ll find lots of pictures of ACDs with pirate ears that have been notched in fights. So I’m not alone. Not by a long shot. Does that make me feel any better when it happens? Hell no! I feel like I ought to be wearing the cone of shame along with whoever gets injured. And sometimes it REALLY makes you mad at the dog who goes rogue, especially if the other dog was infirm or a puppy or simply not asking for it and it gets hurt. But you DO get much better at managing your dogs. (Although I did have one who never postured or warned when he was going to jump someone) You grow eyes in the back of your head. You learn to stay one step ahead of them. So there’s that. But herding dogs tend to be the fun police; all work and no play. And they see the weak link and tend to go after it instead of cutting it some slack. They are not for the faint of heart and you have to approach that with eyes wide open.

    1. Feels so good to share stories! I’ve heard that dogs sometime pick fights with other dogs when their health fails. So I’m always a little worried that Leo suddenly behaving aggressively to Mia will be a signal that she’s declining. But so far, they’ve been pretty clear scuffles over high value rewards.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. WOW! Glad everyone is ok, we don’t like instigators at our house. Thankfully we haven’t had to deal with it too often. We had Dante first, and before we got Ziva we scoured the rescues for the perfect personality match and nailed it! They have never gotten into any scuffles and .They have been 100% trustworthy together alone. That being said, I am still careful to not let them have any high value treats without supervision.
    But we have had a few issues with fosters. Ziva is a bit snarky when a dog gets into her face so we have to be careful with our introductions and do it really slowly. Even then we use leashes for the first couple days (on the foster dog) to help teach boundaries and manners, and establish their own places (everyone has their own beds except Dante and Ziva like to share with each other). We had a bulldog last year that went after Dante a couple times, that was scary, he was a bit competitive and didn’t know how to share so that was a bit of a challenge. Thankfully since we have our rules for introductions and are careful with picking the right personalities we’ve never had any bad scuffles. Going to my aunt’s house is a different story. My aunt has a naughty australian cattle dog that likes to pick fights and he always starts it. He’ll wait until Dante has a toy then he attacks Dante, and then my grandma’s dog piles on top. Over the summer we had a three way brawl and Dante is the biggest of them, the aussie is about 50 pounds and my grandma’s dog is around 40, with Dante weighing in at 75 pounds. Thankfully it was mostly noise and we were able to break it up without anyone getting hurt but now I don’t tolerate my aunt’s dog so he gets to be on a leash when we are around to keep the peace.
    I’m sorry you have to deal with this with your pups. I have a friend whose dog gets into bad fights that end in blood and sometimes stitches, I think personally when it gets to that point it’s in everyone’s best interest to re-home a dog at that point and their is no shame in that. But if you can figure out what the triggers are and you are actively working on it and seeing progress then you’re doing great. 🙂

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