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Will My Dogs Ever Get Along? Insights from a Dog Trainer and Behaviorist - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Will My Dogs Ever Get Along? Insights from a Dog Trainer and Behaviorist

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

will my dogs ever get along

As a dog trainer and behaviorist specializing in strong breeds, I’ve encountered many multi-dog households facing challenges with their pets not getting along. It’s a common concern: “Will my dogs ever be friends?” Understanding the dynamics between dogs is as complex as it is fascinating. But having dogs that don’t like each in the same house can quickly become a nightmare for any pet parent.

In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of canine relationships, offering insights and practical tips on how to nurture harmony between your four-legged friends. Based on my years of experience and insights from experts like Dr. Patricia McConnell and Dr. Karen London in their book “Feeling Outnumbered, “we’ll shed light on how to deal with this common problem. Whether it’s managing playtime, introducing positive reinforcement, or making tough decisions for their well-being, we’ll cover all the bases to help you guide your pets towards a peaceful coexistence.

In my experience, it goes both ways. Arguably, in most cases, yes dogs can learn to live together in peace just fine after some time. But it really depends on if the dog owner is willing to put the time in. Likewise, dogs who have been fine together for years, may suddenly no longer get along for all kinds of reasons.

However, it is possible that your dogs might never get along. There are certainly cases where there is so much tension that the situation becomes dangerous for everyone involved. Young dogs or old dogs may be bullied to a point where it is not a healthy situation for them to be in. Dog fighting can also be dangerous for the whole household, including any people trying to break the fights up. 

If your dogs are fighting, see our article on how to discipline dogs after fighting.

Let’s take a closer look at what kinds of things affect the chances of dogs in your home ever becoming friends.

Factors Influencing Whether Dogs Will Learn To Like Each Other

Answering the question “Will my dogs ever make friends?” is not always straightforward. It depends on a variety of factors. The dynamics between dogs can be complex, and understanding these nuances is key to finding a solution. Here’s a breakdown of the main factors that influence whether dogs in a household will learn to live in harmony.

1. Age and Personality

There are many different aspects around dogs’ ages and personalities that can affect how well they are likely to get on with each other.

Puppy vs. Older Dog 

Often, an older dog may nip at a lively puppy out of annoyance and to correct them, but as the puppy matures and understands boundaries, they usually learn to coexist peacefully. However, sometimes the older dog is too overbearing with the younger, and the constant intimidation can amount to bullying, causing the younger dog to become fearful, insecure, and reactive.

Individual Temperaments & Breeds

Just like humans, dogs have distinct personalities. Some are naturally sociable, while others prefer their own company. This plays a significant role in how they interact with other dogs.

Certain breeds are naturally less inclined to enjoy the company of other dogs. Also, some dogs are dog-selective, meaning they may like with some dogs but not others. Personality clashes are real and sometimes unavoidable, leading to situations where dogs must be kept apart. For more on this, read about dogs being aggressive to some but not others.

A good example here is that the average Beagle is far more likely to be friendly with other dogs, than a giant male Cane Corso. This doesn’t mean a Cane Corso won’t be fine with other dogs with proper socialization, but one breed is just naturally more happy-go-lucky.

Challenges in Seniority

As dogs age, dynamics can shift. A younger dog may start to challenge an older one, leading to increased conflicts. In such cases, it’s often best to keep the older dog more separate and supervise their interactions closely to ensure their comfort and safety. 

Socialization, Competition and Past Experiences

Dogs that are well-socialized from a young age tend to be more adaptable and do better with other dogs. This doesn’t just mean being playful; it includes understanding and respecting other dogs’ space and boundaries. Remember, an overly friendly dog that gets right in another dog’s space may have good intentions, but the high-energy levels and inappropriate greeting can still lead to ructions.

Also, dogs with negative experiences, such as rescue dogs with abusive pasts, may have trust issues that affect their interactions with other dogs. This is also true of dogs who may have been in fights in the past  with other dogs.

Jealousy and Resource Guarding

Competition over resources like food, beds, and toys can lead to fights. Additionally, if an owner shows favoritism towards one dog, it can exacerbate these issues.

Gender and Reproductive Status

Two intact males or females are more likely to have conflicts, often related to territorial or mating behaviors. Neutering or spaying can reduce these tendencies, but not always. Sometimes dogs of the same gender can be prone to fighting regardless if they are castrated or not.

Sometimes, mixing genders can influence dynamics, with certain combinations being more harmonious than others. In other words, having one male and one female dog is the best way to ensure that you have dogs that are friendly towards each other, rather than having one male and one female.

Health and Physical State

A dog in pain or discomfort can be irritable and less tolerant, affecting its interactions with other dogs. This is also true of aging dogs that are losing their cognitive abilities, or even dogs having underlying health issues like hypothyroidism, which can also cause anxiety and aggression.

Also, mismatches in energy levels can lead to frustration for both the more active and the less active dog. Suppose you have an elderly mastiff that is mostly a couch potato and you bring a young high-energy dog into the home. Unless the mastiff is very patient, there may be issues with the low-energy dog getting annoyed and overwhelmed by the more exuberant one’s antiques.

Environmental Factors

Limited space can increase tension, while a spacious environment with separate areas can reduce competition and conflict. Dogs need to have space to retreat from each other. Just like children who share a room, if dogs are forced to share the same space all the time, they may be more inclined to get snappy.

Owners also need to establish and reinforce clear rules, consistent routine, and boundaries. For example, instilling a rule of calm, disciplined behavior before walks can prevent over-excitement and subsequent conflicts.

If the household environment is chaotic and unpredictable, and the dogs don’t really know what good behavior is, they’ll be more prone to getting into squabbles.

Changes in routine, bringing in a new dog into an existing pack structure, or anything that upsets a dog’s normal environment can cause conflict between dogs. This is pretty much the same way these things can cause fights between children.

What To Do If Your Dogs Don’t Get Along

So, hopefully by now you may have spotted some of the reasons your dogs may not be friendly with each other. So, now let’s look at what you can do about it.

Step 1: Establishing Individual Spaces and Boundaries

When dealing with dogs that don’t like each, the first and most crucial step is to ensure each dog has its own space and belongings. This approach is fundamental in reducing tension and preventing conflicts.

Key Actions to Take:

  1. Separate Crates: Provide each dog with their own crate. Crates serve as a personal safe haven where each dog can relax without feeling threatened or the need to compete.
  2. Feeding Separately: Feed the dogs in different areas at the same time to avoid any food-related aggression. This separation ensures that each dog can eat peacefully without feeling the need to guard their food.
  3. Manage Toys and High-Value Items: Avoid leaving toys or high-value items like bones or chewables around. These can become sources of contention. Instead, offer toys only during supervised playtime, ensuring each dog has their own. If one dog shows interest in the other’s toy, intervene immediately to prevent any potential dispute.
  4. Supervision is Key: Never leave dogs that don’t get along together unsupervised. When you’re not there to oversee, they should be in their own separate spaces to avoid any chance of unsupervised interaction that could lead to a fight.
  5. Prevent Barrier Aggression: For dogs with serious aggression issues, it’s essential to prevent even indirect interactions through barriers like fences. This may mean relying heavily on the use of crates or separate rooms to keep them completely apart.

This step is not just about preventing physical fights; it’s also about reducing stress and anxiety in both dogs. By establishing clear boundaries and personal spaces, you’re creating an environment where each dog can feel secure and less threatened by the presence of the other.

As we proceed with further steps to address this issue, remember that patience and consistency are vital. Each step builds towards creating a more harmonious environment for your dogs.

Step 2: Veterinary Check-Up for Underlying Health Issues

The next critical step in addressing the issue of dogs not getting along is to ensure that both dogs are thoroughly checked by a veterinarian. This is to rule out any underlying health issues that could be contributing to their aggressive or fearful behavior.

Key Actions to Take:

  1. Schedule a Vet Appointment: Make an appointment for each dog to be examined by a veterinarian. It’s crucial to communicate to the vet the behavioral issues you’ve been observing, as this can guide a more focused examination.
  2. Look for Signs of Pain: Dogs in pain can exhibit increased irritability or aggression. A comprehensive check-up can identify any pain points or conditions like arthritis that might be causing discomfort and, consequently, contributing to aggressive behavior.
  3. Screen for Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, can influence a dog’s mood and behavior. A thorough medical screening, which may include blood work, can help diagnose such conditions.
  4. Discuss Behavioral Changes: Inform the vet about any recent behavioral changes you’ve noticed in your dogs. These insights can be critical in diagnosing underlying health issues.
  5. Follow Vet Recommendations: If the vet prescribes medication, a special diet, or any other treatment, it’s important to follow these recommendations closely. Improvements in health can lead to improvements in behavior.

Understanding the Impact of Health on Behavior

Physical health and behavioral health are closely linked in dogs. Issues like chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, or other medical conditions can manifest as aggression or fear. By addressing any underlying health issues, you may see a significant change in your dogs’ interactions.

Remember, resolving conflicts between dogs is a process that involves understanding and addressing a variety of factors, both behavioral and medical. Ensuring that your dogs are physically healthy is a foundational step in this process.

Step 3: Walking Dogs Together to Build Positive Associations

Walking your dogs together is a crucial step in helping them make friends and even bond with each other. This activity is not just about physical exercise; it’s about creating a sense of teamwork and establishing a pack dynamic. Studies have shown that dogs who exercise together tend to display less aggression towards each other.

Implementing the Walking Routine

  1. Start with Controlled Walks: If your dogs have been fighting, it’s wise to have two people involved, one handling each dog. This ensures control and safety. For solo walkers, consider using tools like no-pull harnesses or head collars for better control.
  2. Aim for Long Walks: A short walk around the block is often not enough, especially for energetic or young dogs. The goal is to cover a good distance, allowing them to expend energy and bond over a shared activity.
  3. Neutral Territory: Dogs are often less territorial and aggressive in neutral areas. Plan walks in places where neither dog feels the need to claim territory.
  4. Off-Leash Time in Safe Areas: If possible and safe, allowing the dogs to run off-leash in secluded, dog-free areas can be beneficial. This freedom can help them form positive associations with each other, but only do this if there’s no risk of them running away or getting into danger.
  5. Monitor Body Language: Keep a close eye on how they interact. Look for signs of relaxation or tension, and be ready to intervene if necessary.
  6. Build the Pack Mentality: Use the walks to reinforce the idea of being part of a pack. This means working together and respecting each other’s space. Training commands during walks can also help reinforce this.

Why Walking Together Works

Walking together taps into the dogs’ natural instincts to roam and explore as a pack. It helps redirect their energy towards a common activity, rather than on each other. Plus, physical exercise helps reduce pent-up energy that could otherwise fuel aggressive behavior.

Walking together is a process, and it might take time for the dogs to adjust. Patience, consistency, and being alert to the dogs’ reactions are key in making these walks a tool for improving their relationship. Also see our article on when you can take puppies on a walk.

Pro-tip: If both dogs love playing fetch, playing fetch with them together at the same time can also help them learn to focus on you and the ball, while playing together.

I like to make sure each dog has their own ball to prevent one dog from monopolizing it. I also make sure to only throw the ball when they are relatively calm to teach them not to get overexcited. 

Step 4: Individual Training and Promoting Neutrality

Proper individual training is a foundational step in resolving conflicts between dogs. Training each dog separately ensures they understand basic commands and are responsive to your guidance. This individual attention also helps in building a bond of trust and respect between you and each dog.

Key Actions for Individual Training:

  1. Basic Obedience: Focus on essential commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and ‘leave it’. These commands not only promote good behavior but also provide a way to manage potential conflicts.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: Use treats, praise, and play to reinforce good behavior. Positive reinforcement encourages dogs to repeat desired behaviors.
  3. Consistent Routines: Consistency in training sessions helps dogs understand what is expected of them. Regular, short training sessions are more effective than sporadic, long ones.

Training for Neutrality

Once individual training is solid, the next step is to train the dogs to be neutral in each other’s presence. This involves teaching them to focus on you instead of reacting to each other.

Steps to Foster Neutral Behavior:

  1. Controlled Introductions: Start by introducing the dogs in a controlled environment where you can manage their interactions. Keep them at a distance initially where they can see each other but not interact physically.
  2. Use of Muzzles: For dogs that have been fighting, consider using muzzles when they are around each other. This ensures safety while they are learning to be neutral.
  3. Focus Training: Train each dog to focus on you in the presence of the other. Use commands like ‘look at me’ or ‘focus’. Reward them for maintaining focus on you instead of reacting to the other dog.
  4. Gradual Proximity: Slowly decrease the distance between the dogs over multiple sessions, ensuring they remain calm and focused on you.
  5. Reinforce Calm Behavior: Whenever one dog is calm and neutral around the other, reward that behavior. This reinforces the idea that being calm and non-reactive in the presence of the other dog is desirable.

Step 5: Positive Reinforcement and Rewards

It’s important not to punish dogs for not getting along. Punishment can cause more insecurity and resentment and make things worse. Instead, focus on the following:

  1. Identify Rewarding Behaviors: Observe moments when your dogs show positive behaviors towards each other, such as calm coexistence, gentle play, or respecting each other’s space.
  2. Choose Appropriate Rewards: Select treats or toys that your dogs love. These rewards should be highly motivating to encourage the behavior you want to see.
  3. Timely Rewarding: Immediately reward your dogs when they display positive interactions. This could be a treat, affectionate praise, or a favorite toy. The key is to make the reward immediate so they associate the good behavior with the reward.
  4. Consistency is Key: Be consistent with your rewards. Every time your dogs interact positively, they should receive a reward. This consistency helps reinforce the desired behavior.
  5. Gradual Reduction of Rewards: Once the positive behavior becomes more regular, gradually reduce the frequency of treats, replacing them with verbal praise or petting. This helps the behavior become a normal part of their interaction.

Step 6: Structured Playtime

When it’s safe, it’s time to start teaching your dogs to play together. Here’s how:

  1. Set the Scene: Choose a neutral, distraction-free area for playtime. This should be a space where neither dog feels territorial.
  2. Supervise Closely: Stay present and attentive during playtime. Your role is to ensure play remains friendly and to intervene if it gets too rough.
  3. Keep Sessions Short and Sweet: Start with short play sessions. Gradually increase the duration as the dogs become more comfortable with each other.
  4. Use Appropriate Play Activities: Encourage games that promote positive interaction, like fetch with two balls or tug-of-war where each dog has a clear side of the toy.
  5. Ending on a Good Note: End the play session before any signs of tension or tiredness arise. Conclude with a positive reinforcement like a treat or praise.

Step 7: Creating a Calm Environment

Environmental management is key whenever you have behavior issues with dogs. Here’s how to use your home environment to set your dogs’ relationship up for success.

  1.  Establish a Routine: Dogs thrive on routine. Set regular times for meals, walks, playtime, and rest. A predictable schedule can reduce anxiety and tension.
  2. Personal Safe Spaces: Ensure each dog has its own safe space, like a bed or crate, where they can retreat and relax without being disturbed.
  3. Reduce Environmental Stressors: Identify and minimize stress triggers in your home, like loud noises or crowded spaces.
  4. Use Calming Aids if Necessary: Consider using calming aids like pheromone diffusers, calming music, or anxiety-reducing pet products.
  5. Maintain a Peaceful Atmosphere: Keep your own energy calm and positive. Dogs often mirror the emotional state of their owners, so a calm environment starts with you.

Step 8: Using Body Blocks to Manage Dogs

Dr. Karen London advocates using body blocks as a non-confrontational way to manage dogs who have tension. Here’s how to effectively use this technique:

  1. Understanding Body Blocks: A body block involves using your torso to control space and influence your dog’s behavior. Dogs naturally use their bodies to establish boundaries and control space, so this method is more understandable to them compared to using hands.
  2. Application in Situations of Conflict: When you see your dogs starting to vie for the same toy or invading each other’s space, you can intervene using a body block. Position yourself between the dogs and the object of their attention (like the toy) or between them if they’re invading each other’s space.
  3. Asserting Your Presence: Stand firm and use your body to create a barrier. The goal is not to push or shove the dogs but to assert your presence as a boundary. Your calm, assertive stance communicates to the dogs that you are controlling the space and the situation.
  4. Preventing Escalation: The body block is particularly effective in preventing a situation from escalating. By physically separating the dogs in a non-aggressive manner, you’re redirecting their attention and defusing potential conflict.
  5. Consistency and Timing: It’s crucial to be consistent and timely when using body blocks. Intervene as soon as you notice the potential for conflict. This not only prevents escalation but also helps the dogs learn what behaviors are not acceptable.
  6. No Physical Contact with Dogs: Remember, the purpose is not to make physical contact with the dogs but to use your presence and body as a barrier. It’s about space management, not physical confrontation.

When Dogs Pose a Danger to Each Other

Sometimes, in a household with multiple dogs, things can get pretty rough. It’s heartbreaking, but there are cases where one dog bullies the other so much that it’s not just about hurt feelings anymore. We’re talking about a real danger to their wellbeing, even their lives, especially when dogs have started to bite each other. 

Or, you might notice one of your dogs becoming really scared and insecure, a shadow of their usual happy self. This isn’t just sad; it’s a serious issue.

In these tough situations, it’s crucial to call in the cavalry – professional behaviorists and trainers. These experts can really dive into what’s going on and give you advice that’s tailored to your dogs’ unique personalities and the dynamics in your home. They’ve seen it all and can offer solutions you might not have thought of.

But here’s the hard truth: sometimes, even with professional help, the best option is to keep the dogs permanently separated. It’s like managing a delicate dance – one dog in the front yard, the other in the back, juggling their outdoor time, keeping them in separate crates at different times. It’s a lot, I know. This kind of constant vigilance can really put a strain on your household, and it’s tough to keep up.

In the most severe cases, like when dogs are actually fighting, it’s time for some really tough decisions. It’s heartbreaking, but the safety of your pets has to come first. Often, it’s about protecting the older dog, the one who’s been with you longer. Then comes the really hard part – considering rehoming the younger dog. It’s a decision no one wants to make, but sometimes it’s the kindest option for everyone, especially the dogs.

Remember, these decisions are never easy, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. What’s important is the safety and happiness of your furry family members. And sometimes, the most loving choice is the hardest one to make.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Does It Take Dogs to Get Used to Each Other?

The time it takes for dogs to get used to each other varies. It can range from a few days to several months, depending on factors like their personalities, past experiences, and the approach taken by the owner. Patience and gradual introductions are key.

Can Two Dogs That Fight Ever Get Along?

Yes, two dogs that fight can eventually tolerate each other and even bond, but it requires careful management, training, and sometimes professional help. Factors such as the reason behind the fights and the dogs’ individual temperaments play a crucial role in resolving conflicts.

Will My Dog Eventually Accept Another Dog?

Many dogs will eventually accept a new canine member in the household, especially with proper introductions and positive reinforcement. However, it depends on the dog’s personality, age, past experiences, and the introduction process.

How to Tell if Dogs Get Along

Dogs that like each other typically display relaxed body language, soft eyes, and lolling tongues. Play is polite and not overly aggressive. Signs of trouble include stiff or high-held wagging tails, hard stares, and one dog constantly trying to gain height over the other, which can indicate an impending fight.

How to Get Two Dogs to Bond

Encouraging dogs to bond involves creating positive shared experiences, like walks, to promote pack behavior. Supervised, calm, and neutral interactions are essential. Remember, you can’t force a bond any more than you can with people. Sometimes, it’s about teaching them to interact politely or even just to peacefully coexist without interaction.

Conclusion

Navigating the relationships between dogs in the same household can be a challenging yet rewarding journey. Every dog is unique, and so is every bond they form. While some may become fast friends, others might require more time, patience, and sometimes professional intervention to establish a sense of peace. Remember, the goal isn’t just to prevent conflict; it’s to foster an environment where each dog feels safe, loved, and understood. With the right approach and a heart full of patience, you can help your dogs not just tolerate, but genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.