Canine Behavior/Dog Fights


Hi there, How are you? I live in zimbabwe, africa so Its hard to find a reputable dog trainer etc here. Long story short, I have ended up with two male litter mates. They are Jack russel cross foxy cross chihuahua :) I know its a weird mix. They are 2yrs old now. Lately they have been fighting eachother and its escalated, normally when im home they are a bit wary of eachother but fine, if they o have a confrontation I can stop it with a command, rarley have I had to seperate them physically. This started last year when we moved, I think because my Brothers jack russel was the oldest so he "bossed them around" now they are on their own it seem they both want to be dominant and niether want to submit. Feeding times are peacful. I cant pet zorro infront of RJ as RJ gets jealous and pushes between zorro and I, But zorro wont inerfere when I pet RJ. I was out yesterday and they had a heck of a fight so they were both moderatly injured. Im worried it will be worse next time. They stay inside the house mostly as there is a rogue pack in the area and they keep getting in my yard because the other tenants on the property refuse to close their gates. I have identified "hotzones" for their confrontations as doorways and the passage way. Neither have been neutered. What should I do to combat this issue? I will check in everyday here to beas interactive as you need me to be. I have a two year old toddler too so i was not able to spend as much time as I would have liked training RJ and zorro but we have the basics down. They are gentle and patient with her, thats another worry for me is if they fight and she tries to stop them. Though she generally stays away from them if thy seem antsy at all.

Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts,
Conflicts are common to arise in multi-dog households and things can get challenging at times with litter mates once they reach social maturity. It's good that you are able to stop the conflict from escalating with a command; however, it's also important to address the underlying cause of the conflict. It's also good that they are able to eat without getting into squabbles. The fact that RJ gets in conflict with Zorro over petting, is not uncommon, many multi-dog household face this problem. You mention they had a fight when you were out, but I'm not sure if it occurred in your absence or the moment you came home?

If it happened during your absence, it's very important to keep your dogs separated from now on. I know you mention that it is difficult to find a trainer in your area, but consider that it;s close to impossible to offer specific advice from a keyboard thousands of miles away as I cannot see the interactions. Also, consider that behavior modification comes with risks, and having a professional help you out is also for safety purposes. Since I cannot actively monitor the interaction, in my limitations, I can only share a few examples of behavior modification I have done in somewhat similar cases in the past. Consider though that every case is different which is why you should have a behavior professional assess the situation, monitor the interactions and coach you directly. So this is what I would do for now.

1) Manage the environment when you're away

Since the fight occurred in your absence (I am assuming so), it's important to keep them separated when you are away. While you mention you can separate them at the first signs of conflict, when you're not there obviously nothing stops them. And because they don't get to fight when you're around as you're able to timely intervene, consider that when you're away, it may feel reinforcing to let go of all the accumulated tension that's been building up for some time. While preventing dogs from going into conflict helps prevent major fights from erupting, it won't help at a deeper level as the underlying cause for tension isn't addressed. For sake of an example, if a person dislikes his boss, the fact that he must behave professionally in public won't make him start liking him. It's a fact that when a fight occurs, it's very likely to occur again. All it takes is for the same exact dynamics of the first fight to repeat. A common cause of fighting when the owner is away is one dog barking at a stimulus, say a person or other dog walking by, getting very aroused and letting the arousal steam off by attacking the other dog. This can happen in the yard or behind a window. And as you mention, tight passageways, entrances and exits are a common area of conflict. So since you cannot control what your dogs do or see in your absence, it's best to keep them separated as a safety measure than coming home to a bloody mess. Unfortunately, there are no other safe solutions when two dogs who get in conflict are left alone.

2) Behavior Modification to Reduce Conflict
As mentioned, this is only an example of possible work I may do when I am presented with dogs competing over the owner's attention. The below examples are for mild cases though, and dogs I have assessed carefully first. I am quite reluctant offering this for dogs who engage in serious conflicts and who have a history of fighting for a long time. As the saying goes, better be safe than sorry. Even though behavior modification can be successful, consider that there are never guarantees when it comes to animal behavior.

This is an overview of conflict over owner attention:

This article goes more in depth and shows a few examples of behavior modification using          counter-conditioning.

This is a great read for owners of dogs who are undergoing conflict:

Tips for lowering arousal:

3) Neutering for Hormone-related behaviors
Neutering is often portrayed as a cure-all for behavior problems when it's not. Neutering will generally not resolve aggression between two dogs based on guarding resources or competing over areas (not related to mates) and  over arousal from seeing stimuli. However, it can help reduce behaviors based on hormones such as roaming in search of a mate, fighting to compete for a mate, sexual behavior and marking territory to claim territory. So if there are dogs in heat nearby (consider that dogs can smell a female in heat even miles away) and belief that fights erupt because of that, neutering may help reduce conflict arising from competing for a mate. Just something I think is worthy of mentioning, in case you were wondering whether neutering could stop their behaviors.Here's a read of what neutering does and doesn't do.

4) Re-homing one dog
Successful cases where behavior modification works for multi-dog conflict take a combination of factors. Owner commitment, effort, time, strict management protocols, correct implementation of behavior modification under the guidance of a professional are a few factors. Truth is, it's not easy. At times, one must consider what's in the best interest for both dogs and the family. While re-homing a dog that is aggressive towards people is like passing a hot potato and a high liability, re-homing one that does well with people but not that well with dogs can be a good solution as long as the owner discloses everything and the new family commits to offering a one-dog family only. I know of re-homed dogs who do very well once they are removed from the constant stress and conflict they are subjected to when they're living with a dog they don't get along with. Also, dog owners feel relief as well, as they're rarely able to relax due to the needed for frequent supervision and separating dogs all the time. I know it's a tough decision, but you must also consider the risks your child may be exposed to should one day the dogs fight in her presence. The risks for a re-directed bite are high. Here's a read of how to break up dog fights. Hopefully, it won't be needed, but it's always good to be prepared.

Consider breed. I don't like to generalize behaviors seen in breeds. As Patricia McConnell states "genes are written in pencil." However, the Jack russell component in mixes sometimes can be quite prevalent and you may see some traits such as challenges getting along with other dogs. Here is a general write-up of the breed:

So to recap here is what I would recommend: always have dogs who are fighting see a vet as sometimes aggressive behaviors may stem from a medical problem. Keeping dogs separated when you are away. Seeking the aid of a reputable professional for correct implementation of behavior modification. This can be quite a challenge, and I am not sure is force-free methods are popular in your area. A trainer using harsh methods will very likely do more harm than good. It's proven that harsh methods exacerbate aggression. Keeping both dogs away from your child if very important. Best to play it safe and only allow one dog at a time around her under your strict supervision. Evaluating the option of re-homing one dog to a family committed to keeping only one dog. Friends, relatives, neighbors can be an option.

I hope this helps somewhat, as mentioned, I cannot give specific advise to your specific situation because of the limitations of being far away and being unable to asses and monitor interactions. Sending you my very best wishes. Best regards,

Disclaimer: all answers, articles and recommended reads specified on this site are not represented as a substitute for a hands-on assessment. If your dog is exhibiting behavior problems or aggressive displays, for safety purposes and correct implementation of behavior modification, please seek the aid of a reputable force-free behavior professional. By reading my answers on this site, you automatically accept my disclaimers.  

Canine Behavior

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA


I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.


I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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