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Canine Behavior/Possession and aggression in dogs


QUESTION: I have 2 maltishu puppies. Brothers from the same litter. They are 9 months old. The past 2 weeks they have been fighting with growling and biting each other. It seems to be when we are petting one or the other. The bigger of the 2 also seems to be constantly standing between us and the other guy. Like he does want him near us. This is a new behavior. They have always gotten along and played nicely. It scares me that they are going to hurt each other. What can I do short of giving one away??!

ANSWER: What you describe (standing between us) is called splitting.  The larger of the two is making a social statement to the other dog (and to you, by the way).  It is not ever (EVER) a good idea to get two puppies from the same litter, even from the same line, as temperament can be so close and can cause problems such as you describe.

Who initiates the growling/biting while they are being petted?

Who greets you first?

Who is adamant about going through doorways first (observe carefully)

Who is at the food bowl first (observe their eating behavior)

Who may be trophying toys

Answer the above questions.  I will then make an educated decision regarding social promotion of one over the other while putting both clearly in a psychological position under adult humans in the home.

Meanwhile: put tabs on these dogs (lightweight house leashes).  Any attempt at aggression, remove the dogs using the tabs, put them behind separate closed doors, count to ten, allow them out again.  Do not tolerate any nonsense.  As you do this, use a "growling" voice as in "Nah, nah, nah" with direct eye contact to both (aggressor first, the other might just be a victim).  Answer questions ASAP using followup.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: To answer your questions.....

They both initiate growling/biting depending on who is being pet. It's the one not being pet.  More often it's the bigger one, the little guy just walks away.

They both greet us together. they come running at the same time.  We have the invisible fence and the bigger one is more hesitant to come closer to us toward the fence, whereas the little one ventures out further.  

Going through the door is funny.....the bigger one goes out first but the little one comes in first.

They have separate bowls for food. I keep them separate by a few feet. There is mo conflict in that area.

They each have their own toys and bones but they tend to each take an end of which ever they are playing with at the time. Not in a violent way at all. They will walk together each carrying either end of the toy as if they were helping each other getting to a different location.

I hope this information helps you to help me.

Thank you.

Try this for the next week, report back using followup feature:

First: ask the dog you are about to "pet" to sit.  Train this in both dogs out of sight of one another as you see here:

Now: after dog A (or B) has "sat" and you are giving attention, the moment the other dog growls, snaps, etc. pick up the house tab and remove that dog behind a closed door for ten seconds.  Go back to normal.  Do this repeatedly regardless of whether A or B growls or demonstrates any sort of behavior that is aggressive.  The "first" dog (A or B) is following a command to get attention (earning it); the second dog is observing this (alternately A and B); either dog, if so removed, will quickly associate its removal with its own behavior (growling, etc.)

Make both dogs "sit" at door before going out, coming in.  Electric fence is a huge problem for me and might actually be contributing to this mess since the larger dog fears the beep (warning signal) and the smaller dog appears not to fear it.  I hate those fences.

Try this behavior modification and report back.  You may have to put both on Nothing In Life Is Free but in this situation it is QUITE difficult for me to determine WHICH dog is the most naturally highest in social hierarchy between the two.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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