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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 20182
Experience:  Dog breeder/Trainer and Behaviorist 18+ years
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I have two 12 month old pups, (brothers), their father was

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I have two 12 month old pups, (brothers), their father was a border collie and the mother was a cocker spaniel / XXXXX XXXXX cross. We had to have them castrated at 4 months as they were fighting a lot, to the point of drawing blood and locking jaws on each other. Since we had them done there has been a massive improvement, they have the odd ruck when they will bare teeth and snap at each other but that is normally over a toy or food. However, today they have gone for it big time and I had to drag them attached to each other out into the garden and put the hose on them to get them to separate. My husband is of the opinion that we should rehome one of them but I would like to explore all other potential avenues first as 99.9% of the time they are fantastic together and I do not want to separate them unless I really have to - besides how on earth would I choose which one to keep!

They are very well behaved, (other than the odd period of playing when indoors when they cause mayhem in the house), well trained and exercised for a minimum of 1.5 hours a day. I work from home and my husband is retired so they are not left on their own other than to go out to the shops. We both love them to bits and devote our weekends to taking them out on walks to different environments, the beach, woodland, open fields, country parks etc. They are excellent on walks and we have never had a problem with them with other dogs - we have socialised them with our neighbours two dogs, my brother-in-laws two dogs and my step son's dog as well as any other dogs they come across during their walks. As I have said there has never been an instance where either of them showed any agression to another dog - not even the staffy that pinched and punctured their ball at the park the other day, or the XXXXX XXXXX that bit one of mine on the ear!

Any help, training tips, suggestions would be more than gratefully received and will save me having to make an agonising decision that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Many thanks
Hi JaCustomer,

My name is Jane. I have been working professionally with animals especially dogs in both health and behavioral issues for over 18 years. I have over 14,000 satisfied customers. It will be my pleasure to work with you today.

As I'm sure you already know, dogs are pack animals and the normal pack order is most dominant intact male followed by the most dominant intact female, then less dominant males and females and finally most dominant neutered male then most dominant spayed female and less dominant males and females.

Male dogs frequently start their play fighting quite young when not neutered and that can turn nasty if one should bite too hard which sounds like it might have been the issue. However, even neutered dogs eventually will mature and the fighting for dominance may start. In addition, many cocker spaniels have aggression issues anyway.

Now it can be controlled if there are no underlying medical issues. So one thing to do would be to have your vet check for medical conditions that might cause aggression. You can read about them here:

The other thing you can do is continue intense obedience training. This serves to keep the dogs under your control by reestablishing or strengthening the leader role you have with them. Training works best if you train at least 30 minutes a day (two 15 minute sessions). I would start making your dog work via the Nothing in life is free program (NILF). It is outlined below.

In addition, both dogs need to have leashes on. You will need to give corrections if any sign of aggression is seen including a prolonged look, hair raised on the shoulders, a growl or even a stiff legged walk. A correction is a quick tug of the leash and a firm low toned "NO". Once you have done this couple of times, you should notice the dogs ignoring each other. When that happens, you will want to reward them for the desired behavior. Use tasty treats like the hot dog slices or raw liver slivers so the dogs find that more appealing than fighting for dominance. This teaches the dogs that you WILL not tolerate fighting in YOUR pack.

I'm going to give you some sites that go over dog body language to make it easier for you to determine if the dogs are being aggressive, dominant or playing. Even when playing you need to monitor it because it can turn nasty if one should accidentally hurt the other.

Unfortunately, the site does not allow me to make clickable links, so to view the supporting websites, you will need to copy and paste the link into a new browser window or tab.

You also need to determine which dog is the dominant dog and start treating that dog as the next in command. This means letting him go through doors after you but before the other dog. Feeding the alpha dog first as well as giving attention or treats to that dog first. Do not allow the other dog to push the alpha out of the way. This lets the more submissive dog know that you acknowledge the dominant dog's position and are willing to reinforce their roles and reprimand the submissive dog thus eliminating the need for the dominant dog to reprimand the lower ranking dog.

In addition, if the situation is not improving using the techniques I describe, you may have to consult a professional behaviorist. You can usually find a behaviorist by asking your Vet for a recommendation or you may be able to find one using the following site.

I hope this information is helpful to you and you are satisfied with my response. If you would like any additional information or have more questions please don’t hesitate to press the reply to expert or continue conversation button so I can address any issues you still have .
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hi Jane


Many thanks for your speedy response.


We have noticed the starring and raised hair as signals before aggressive behaviour particularly in one dog - when this happens we try to divert his attention with play to diffuse the situation.


I have in the past read up on dominant male signals, however at different times each dog displays these, such as the placing their head over the top of the other dogs, and they have also both displayed submissive behaviour - such as rolling onto their back in front of the other dog - so it has been very difficult to establish which one is going to be / is the dominant dog! But I will read through the links you have provided and now they are that bit older we may be able to identify which is alpha male.


We also keep an eye on play fighting as you say it can escalate but since they were neutered they tend to check themselves at teeth barring stage. Today's episode was completely out of the blue - they had just come back from a walk and no food or jealousy over attention was involved!


Within minutes of me separating them they are fine with each other and in fact seem to comfort each other, it seems to come as much of a shock to them as it does to us!


It is interesting what you said about Cocker Spaniels as we always assumed this trait came from the XXXXX XXXXX side!


I am just relieved that you did not come back saying that one should be rehomed as that would break my heart and I think if you had then i would have to of rehomed them both as i would not be able to choose.


We are very committed to both our dogs, (by the way their names are XXXXX XXXXX Lewis - I am a bit of a Colin Dexter fan), which I am sure you can tell from my messages, and we are willing to work as hard as necessary to ensure they are both happy and have a fulfilling life.


I will book them in with the Vets for a check up - they are a couple of weeks off one year old now anyway so they will be going in soon for their booster injections.


When you say the dogs should be on a leash - can I assume you mean just during the two training sessions?


Assuming we follow all your directions, which we will, how long would you anticipate it taking before we see a difference, (also bearing in mind that today's flare up was the first one of this scale in 8 months).


One last question In your opinion does the fact that they are siblings make any difference / cause any more problems? We have been told time and time again by different people that it is never a good idea to have litter mates but then where we live, in a mainly farming community in Norfolk, most people have litter mates normally working dogs.


Thanks again for your time.


Siblings can be a challenge but only because as you have pointed out, there is no clear dominant dog. They are often similar in size and temperament. In addition, one may be stronger and more dominant until the other catches up in size or maturity. In those ways it can be a challenge to raise litter mates together esepcially the same sex littermates.

At a year of age, you still are not going to have a good idea though by 18 months, it should be clearer. You might need to just pick which one you feel is the more dominant one and go with it.

As for the leash reference, I did mean let them trail a leash around especially in the house if that tends to be where the issues are occuring or have occurred. This allows you to give reprimands easily but also gives you something to grab to allow easier separation. I can understand if you don't feel it is able to be done when they are outside if they are not contained. If an altercation should occur outside, I would keep some hooked canes handy and an umbrella. The hooks can be used to grab collars and separate them. An umbrella can be placed between them to create a barrier even if it is just for a short moment.

Usually it takes a few weeks for obedience and the NILF program to make a difference. However, the closer you get to full maturity, the more stable the dogs relationship will be. I did forget to menthion that taking them together to places where there are large numbers of dog like parks can help draw them closer again. It brings them together as a pack. In these situations, I just recommend the dogs stay on leash and not interact with the other dogs, just be there together to help strengthen the existing bond.

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