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Sibling rivalry

Published: 
Sunday, July 22, 2018

This series of articles will cover inter-dog aggression. Readers must understand that these articles are for guidance only.

Aggression between dogs is a complex psychological condition requiring a professional dog behaviourist to evaluate and treat each case individually. In this article, we will continue to assess how and when inter-dog aggression develops.

Inter-dog aggression is fighting between dogs living in the same household. In the second article in this series, we started to discuss the two developmental stages of maturity in dogs. It is between sexual and social maturity that owners may first start to notice signs of aggression between the dogs. One of the most common scenarios involves brother fighting brother or sister fighting sister – this is why inter-dog aggression is often referred to as sibling rivalry.

As we looked at in the second article, the “alpha” concept is a myth. There is no absolute dominant dog. Rather, resources may be competed for and the winner most often depends on who wants the resource more. Dog A may be food-motivated and will guard a treat from Dog B who is less interested in the treat. In this scenario, Dog A is being more assertive over Dog B in the presence of food. On the other hand, Dog B may be very attached to the owner and will vie for the owner’s attention while Dog A is more independent and does not seek to be in the owner’s company all the time. In this case, Dog B is the one exerting the assertion when the owner is around.

Dogs who are unrelated will not share genes. Siblings, however, are more likely to have similar behavioural traits because they share not only the same DNA, but they have also shared the same womb. It is, therefore, possible that these dogs will naturally compete for similar resources instead of having vastly different preferences.

In addition, siblings grow up together and will attain both sexual and social maturity at the same stage. When there are two dogs in the same household who are likely to be interested in the same resource, and they are of similar temperament, and they are the same age–meaning that they start challenging at the same time–fighting can be quite likely.

Fighting also occurs between dogs that are not related. In these cases, it is most often that a younger dog attains social maturity and starts challenging the older dog. The natural canine social dynamic is that the older dog defers to the younger, fitter dog.

However, if the older dog has been the resident dog for years on his own and is accustomed to getting and having everything for himself, he may find it difficult to learn to share his resources–and even harder to give them up to the newcomer.

The owner may exacerbate the situation by feeling sorry for the older dog and punishing the younger dog while giving preference to the older dog. This increases the tension because it goes against the grain of nature and the result is a fight.

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