Jules & Toby: Sibling Aggression Case Study
No one likes it when family members fight. When we think of humans, we might think of our own families, with our arguments or debates during the holidays. In many ways, dogs have these “disagreements” as well. But what does one do when those disagreements become full-blown fights?
This was a dilemma that the owners of Jules and Toby faced. Their dogs were perfectly content with each other for many months after being adopted together. But at around eight months, Jules started becoming more dominant and aggressive toward her brother Toby. Soon there was snapping, and then it escalated to bloody battles between the two siblings. Due to his sister’s aggressive behavior, Toby became more anxious in his home. He would shake at the sight of Jules, and it got to the point where the dogs had to be constantly separated from one another.
Their owners, Kate and Mike, called me right after a vet visit, where Jules had attacked Toby, leaving a nasty scar on his hind leg. When I came for the initial consultation, Jules was kept in her crate while Toby sat close to his owners, obviously very tense at the occasional barks coming from his sister. We discussed in-depth what they wanted to achieve with the dogs, and soon we had a training planning for both Jules and Toby.
It was advised that in the beginning stages of training that the dogs receive one-on-one training, still separate from the other so that they would not be distracted and could focus on what we were trying to teach them. Along with instilling consistent leadership within Kate and Mike, and teaching obedience and focus with the dogs, we also really wanted Toby to regain his confidence. We would work on it with his sister later, but we also wanted to start with just rebuilding his own self-confidence. Once both dogs understood that Kate and Mike were leaders of the home, then it would be time for them to slowly start reintroducing the dogs to one another.
Siblings can fight over many things—food, toys, attention of the owner, or they are still just trying to sort out who is head of the pack. If owners communicate to the dog that neither dog runs the pack, but in fact the owners do, then the dogs will take their lead rather than trying to establish it themselves. Aggression is a serious issue that takes time to overcome, so it is crucial that owners take very small steps before putting and training the dogs together again. The last thing we want to do is set the dogs up for failure.
With Jules and Toby, there have been massive changes. Things are still rolling very slowly in the household, but Toby has clearly become comfortable in his own home again. With Jules, she has now learned that she is not the head of the pack, and is taking cues and commands from Kate and Mike beautifully. The other day, Jules and Toby were in the same room together, both at peace. They laid on their beds nearby one another, and there was so much relief and calm for everyone all around. It takes a lot of patience and consistent work, but change is possible, even with sibling aggression!
If your dogs are constantly fighting or you’re concerned about some growing sibling aggression, act now! Call 800-749-7297 to ask any questions or to set up your first appointment!