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Why Are My Female Dogs Fighting?

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

Fights between females can get pretty fierce and bloody.

Fights between females can get pretty fierce and bloody.

Why Are My Female Dogs Suddenly Fighting?

The issue you are seeing is a very common one and unfortunately very difficult to manage. Countless households like yours with two female dogs living together see them get along very well until one or both hits social maturity. Social maturity in dogs is generally reached between the ages of 12 to 36 months, according to the Merk Veterinary Manual. The hormonal changes during heat cycles and pregnancy can exacerbate things, potentially causing very heated fights even between docile females. However, such fights may well endure months after heat/pregnancy because they may be competing over rank and their breeding rights, especially if a breeding male lives in the same household as well.

In nature, two females close to the same age would not live in such close proximity. Because of this unnatural setting (forced domestic "pack"), you are likely seeing the consequences. In nature, only one female would breed with the male, and the other would either respect such breeding right or would leave the pack to form her own with another male. According to Gail Fisher, a dog trainer and breeder with over 40 years of experience, "A pack with several adult males and females of the same age would rarely, if ever, be found in the wild."

This is further confirmed by the Merk Veterinary Manual " At social maturity, in free-ranging packs, dogs that challenge the established social hierarchy may leave and form their own groups if they do not succeed in altering the extant social order. This situation may be analogous to one form of inter-dog aggression that occurs in multiple-dog households. Social maturity is also the time during which problem aggressions and anxieties develop. In multi-dog groups, the highest-ranking animals may be the only ones to breed".

While dogs are not wolves, we cannot ignore that they share the same chromosomes and that dogs tend to form social groups. It is wrong to assume that dogs no longer have rank drive among their own species because they are domesticated. According to dog trainer and owner of Peaceable Paw, Pat Miller, "Social hierarchies do exist in groups of domesticated dogs and in many other species, including humans, and hierarchy can be fluid."

What dog dogs most often fight for? Well, we mentioned rank drive, but there are particular triggers that can cause a fight to erupt such as:

  • Hormones, pheromones, being in heat.
  • Access to a male/ breeding rights
  • Access to the owner, who gets to greet the owner first
  • Access to resources, i.e., food/toys/owner's attention
  • Access to privileged areas, i.e., doorways, tight passageways, sleeping areas, feeding areas, boundaries

Note: While there is rank drive among dogs, dogs know well we are not dogs and that we ultimately control resources. The dominance myth is hard to debunk; dogs are not trying to climb all over us to assert dominance as some television shows want to portray. Rather, they are just opportunist beings that have not been taught better ways.

Note: There are no black and white rules when it comes to establishing rank. A dog may not allow a dog to get near to toys, but then can be totally fine in allowing the lower-ranking dog to get out the door first. This is why it is often difficult establishing which dog is higher-up rank, thus the need for a behaviorist to assess the situation. According to Pat Miller, "There are a myriad of subtleties about how those hierarchies work, and how the members of a social group communicate."

Note: Also that fights are more often triggered by two dogs very close in rank rather than dogs where the high rank lower rank positions are clear. Indeed, dogs are by nature conflict solvers where " The whole point of social body language rituals is to avoid conflict and confrontation, not to cause it" further explains Pat Miller in her article "De-bunking the Alpha Dog Theory."

How to Stop the Fights Between Dogs

When female dogs are fighting over rank and breeding rights, things can get bloody quickly. Also, attempts in separating the two fighting parties could put yourself at risk because of the risks for re-directed aggression. Getting in between two fighting dogs when they are both aroused indeed, may cause them to bite you as well, a very dangerous situation. Following are some options:

Veterinary Visit/CAAB Consultation

A good place to start is a veterinary visit. If the two dogs used to get along and now they are suddenly fighting, it does not hurt to see if there is anything physically wrong in one of both dogs. At times, an older dog may be getting weaker, ill, or deaf, and the other dog may perceive this weakness, which is why fighting may start. Other times, there may be endocrine disorders at play such as hypothyroidism, a know condition linked to behavioral problems.

If nothing wrong is noticed health-wise, the vet may provide a referral to a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB). These specialists would carefully assess, evaluate, and ask several questions such as what triggers the fights, who starts the fights, which of the two is trying to establish rank the most, and so forth. Afterward, they may suggest a behavior modification program if they feel there are good chances of success. Note: Generally, the earlier the behavior is addressed, the better the prognosis.

Management

This is by far the best option if you decide to skip the dog behaviorist route. Do not force your dogs to interact peacefully, no matter how eager you are to get them to get along again. Many owners of two female dogs have felt tempted to try to get the two dogs to get along only to report back their dogs have gone fought again in a bloodier fight than ever. There are countless stories such as these, which is why I am so concerned and take fights between same-sex dogs so seriously. Handling this situation in the wrong way may actually cause the fights to intensify rather than subside. So unless you are dealing with a dog behavior specialist, don't try anything on your own! The risks at stake are too high, and you may risk your two dogs hurting or even killing themselves while also sustaining serious injuries yourself as well!

So how do you manage the situation? NEVER leave these dogs together without strict supervision. (i.,e. dogs must be leashed and possibly, muzzled). With management, you are virtually forced to keep dogs separated for life. This means crating the dogs, keeping them in different runs, different rooms, or divided by secure barriers. You would have to rotate the dogs in your home, allowing one dog a certain time with you and then move to the other, never allowing them to meet in between. Keep in mind that countless breeders/owners have the same problem, and they are forced to keep the dogs separated for life.

Re-Homing One Dog

It is up to you to determine if you want to go the management route or if you would rather save yourself heartaches and re-home one to a family that will keep her as the only dog. This option is often in the dog's best interest since she may live in a constant state of arousal and fear even if the other dog is several feet away.

Note: Please consult with a dog behaviorist if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors. Only a dog behaviorist may see and assess behaviors and offer the most appropriate behavior modification program tailored for your dog. Use extreme caution and make safety your top priority.

What About Spaying the Dog?

While spaying both dogs may sound like a possible solution, this may most likely take care of fights occurring due to hormones, but there are no guarantees it may work if the fighting is due to rank drive. Unfortunately, there are countless stories of bloody fights among spayed females as well!

My Neighbor Has Female Dogs and They Get Along, Why?

This does not mean you should generalize and think that just because your neighbor's dogs get along yours will too. There are so many variables to keep in consideration such as breed, age, temperament, training, level of exercise, management of resources, and so forth. It is unfair to compare one dog to another because as in people, there are social butterflies and asocial, aloof beings in the dog world as well. However, even the most placid females known to get along may totally change when they are in heat, and a male is added to the picture!

For further reading

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a nine-year-old female dog that I rescued when she was six months old. We just brought home another female that is two-years-old, and they are not getting along. My older female is initiating the fight, and the two-year-old retaliates against it. Is there any chance of getting them comfortable and living in the same house?

Answer: This is not easy to answer. It depends on various factors such as what triggers these fights, what happens during these fights (it is just noise? or actual injuries occurring?), what breed your dogs are (some dog breeds are more likely not to get along) whether the dogs are responsive to training and behavior modification, etc. Only a dog behavioral professional (not the average dog trainer) coming into your home and conducting a functional assessment and evaluation can tell you whether things may be manageable (albeit no guarantees can ever be made).

Sometimes, it is best to re-home the new dog when things don't seem promising. At 9, you have an older dog who is mature and may have a hard time coping with the boisterous, potentially bully behaviors of a younger dog who is not only female but also in the adolescent stage.

Things have been likely balanced well all these years you have owned your dog, and now her comfort and bliss have been challenged by the presence of another dog. It is not easy, and life for both dogs can get stressful. Here's a read on introducing new dogs and heightening the chances for success, but as mentioned, not always things work out and since your dogs are giving signs of not getting along, consulting with a professional may be your best bet to see what can be done and whether there is hope. https://hubpages.com/animals/Introducing-a-New-Dog...

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli

Comments

mari. on August 28, 2020:

Hi!

I have two female dogs, one Scottish Terrier that's 8 years old and a stray dog -we really don't know what breed her parents were- that came when she was two months old and is about to turn one year old.

They used to get along nicely, but for the past days, they have been fighting a bit. It all started over a toy; after growling and throwing bites (they didn't really hurt each other), they left and we hid the toy. Now they fought over their food: they used to eat together, but I decided to place their bowls on different sides of the room. Still, the Scottish terrier wasn't eating anything and ran to the other bowl to fight the younger dog over their food. She hasn't eaten anything in the day due to fights and we're really worried they'll start fighting for real.

None of them is spayed, but we want to do it as soon as possible.

cass on March 30, 2020:

Hi I have two female cattle/Irish wolf hounds who are 1 years old. One is very alpha over all the dogs but the other has always avoided conflict to the point where she will try to climb any surface to get away from the other dogs. Today the quiet one growled for the first time and attacked the other dog. They are both work dogs so they need to get along to some degree. What should I do to ease the tension and make them not fight?

Kayla on March 03, 2020:

I have a 2 year old (F) pit and my friend has a 4 year old (F) german shorthaired pointer, my pit tries to play and the pointer is afraid and gets nippy which has my pit getting defensive. How can i fix this?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2020:

Hi E Day,

It can be challenging at times finding out the exact triggers. I am glad that nobody was seriously hurt. If empty food bowls are a trigger it would be important to remove them after the dogs are done eating. I do this by giving each dog a treat/kibble placed away from the food bowl as soon as done eating as I take the empty food bowl away. You may have to feed your dogs at a distance for safety.

It is true that hormones can make dogs more on edge and more likely to fight, but you will have to determine if they are truly nearing their heat cycles.

At 2 years, your younger dog is also reaching social maturity which is a critical time when relationships among dogs often tend to deteriorate.

E Day on February 05, 2020:

Hi,

I have a mother and daughter pair 5yrs and 2yrs. Recently they've had 3 squabbles. 2 over an empty food bowl and 1 where I didn't see trigger.

I've broken up squabble each time and my older girl has come away with a minor cut on her head or face each time. Younger isn't marked.

Afterwards they curl up together and wash each other/ interact like they always have.

I'm wondering if they are coming into heat, if it's a maturing hormones thing or something else.

Only other sign of change is they are less fluid in play.

I noticed the younger girl hackling and ducking out of play. I have called away when I see any unusual or uncomfortable behaviour.

I can get older girl spayed but was hoping to wait until she was older around 6-8yrs.

Michele on December 18, 2019:

I got a female dog that don't get along with female dogs since she's been fixed. I tell people she don't get along with them what so every.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 28, 2019:

Danielle, things can get quite tense in these cases and one must consider the emotional well-being of the dogs. Strict management to prevent these episodes to occur are an option, but many dog owners struggle with this as it requires crate/room continuous rotations. Re-homing to a home with no other dogs is another option. In some cases, a behavior professional can help out, but there are no guarantees and when there is a history of injuries there are often too many risks involved.

danielle casus on July 01, 2019:

very helpful. Recently two of my female dogs keep fighting without any significant trigger. At first they would just growl at each other but just the other day it got quite bloody. I thought it would help if i keep them it the same room forcing them to get along again which worked at first but now yes theyd be okay after fighting then another minute fighting again causing both of them to get injured. I'm not really sure how to deal with them anymore. how to make them get along and remove that tense feeling that is causing them to be aggressive towards each other.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 02, 2019:

I am not familiar with the method your behaviorist is employing so cannot comment on that. You should follow up with the behaviorist and report what is happening. It sounds like things are exacerbating. If you are not already using a dog behavior consultant using force-free behavior modification I would urge you to do that. Cases like this may benefit from counterconditioning and desensitization, however, there are never guarantees that fights will not erupt anymore, as dog behavior is unpredictable at times. Management is always the safest option.

A on May 10, 2019:

I have a one and a half year old aussie mix that we've had since she was a puppy and a one year old great dane that we rescued this past winter. Both are females and they are both spayed. The first few months they were best friends, we never had any problems. Then two months ago they were playing together and they started a small fight that my husband and I were able to break up quickly. Then a month later I was home alone with them, they were playing and it escalated quickly into a huge bloody fight.

All three of us got pretty hurt. I kept them separated for a week and when my husband got home from his work trip they were just fine and friends again. A week after that they were just sitting there and randomly got up and into another terrible fight where I ended up in the ER with a couple broken fingers and a lot of stitches. When we got home, my husband accidentally didn't shut the gate separating them all the way and they got into it again and he got bit. So since then we have kept them completely separated, we had a behaviorist come and give us tips. So they're still separated, but she had us keep their crates are next to each other. They've been fine for the last month, but the past two days when I have been feeding them, my aussie mix has been growling and attacking the bars of her crate towards our great dane. I just do not understand why she's randomly starting to do this. Is there any hope that they'll get along again? I just feel so bad for them. I don't want to re-home either of them, but I don't want to make them share a house if they hate each other.

Mary Walker 4 on March 21, 2019:

I have a 3 year old female dog, and a spayed older female dog who get along really well, but recently I added a younger female and an older one who is 7. My 3 year old got along with the 2 new ones at first, now she doesn't get along with them and they don't get along with her. They fight over nothing it seems like and they don't get into bloody fights they usually get just a few scratches. My 3 year old is pregnant and no more less likely to fight. I also have 3 other male dogs. Will whelping most likely calm my dog down? Do you know how I can stop their fighting? They all get put in kennels at night and get let out at different times of the day.

Thank you so much!

mel2501 on January 12, 2019:

Hi, we had one spayed female, 2 years old. We added a 10-yr-old male(unneutered) and another spayed female, 2 years old, when a friend passed away and someone needed to take her dogs.

The two females got along great for 2 months, then randomly our dog started attacking the new female. We keep them separated now; someone has suggested that neutering the male would help the situation. We have our doubts, and are trying to give away one of the females. Any advice? Thanks!

Adrija Bhaduri on December 28, 2018:

I have a 1 year and a 2 year old dog. They both are female. During some recent days, they always start barking agressively at each other and if anytime their leash is opened, then they start a bloody fight and it becomes very hard for us to stop them. My two year dog is a street dog and one year dog is a Labrador mix. Is not their any way by which their aggressive nature can be healed? They are just seeing each other and starting to bark without any reason

Jason Lindsay on December 21, 2018:

I have a 8 year old chattahula leppard and a 1 year old jack Russell. Here recently the older one has been starting fights but they are usually good together. My older dog is fixed and the younger is not could that be the cause of all the fighting? I dont want to give anyone of them away and i cant afford for a behavioral analysts to come here and see them both in the same house because that would start a fight. I just dont know what to do.

Blanca on December 16, 2018:

I have a 5 year old unspayed female chihuahua/ pekegnese I recently rescued a 5 year old that was also unspayed Chihuaha mix. The new dog is timid and the old is very territorial. They were not playing but they were okay until the new one went on heat. Now they are fighting. One fight got really bad. I have to supervise them all the time. I made appointment to spay my dog tomorrow and since the new one is in heat we will do her later in a couple weeks. Will this help ? I can take them out for walks and they are okay. This happens at home. I really want to be able to keep both dogs. I only had the new one for almost 4 months. Please help.

Richard Holster on November 03, 2018:

Brian, I have the exact dogs as you, what a coincidence. I wondered for years what to do about this situation, even lost sleep over it. Then I read the article above this comment section, and found the answer.

Brian on October 03, 2018:

Hi i have had a female boarder colly/lab mix since she was a puppy and now she is nine and spayed. We just got a 4 year old black lab female yesterday that is not spayed and she is always wanting attention. She is a very happy dog but as soon as she sees my nine year old she runs right at her and starts the fights. I dont know what to do to help them get along. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Anita on September 20, 2018:

I have 3 Aussies. One male is 15 yrs old and one female was 2 in June and the other female is just 3. The 3 yr old is a rescue I have had for over a yr. All dogs are fixed. The rescue is always pushing for attention as I believe she was very neglected and good or bad attention is attention to her and I am very loving and affectionate to all my dogs. The 2 yr old we raised from a puppy. She is the one acting aggressive towards the 3 yr old. This just meaness started. The 2 females, because they are busy and untrustworthy, are crated and the male isn't. Now the last couple of days, the younger female attacks the other one, who is bigger, and she cowers away and looks at me almost for help? My daughter recently has gone to college out of state and spoiled the younger one because she refers to her as her dog. I am thinking its an attention jealousy issue with the younger one. I have always been the alpha of all our dogs. I want to nip this before anything happens. She's been a little intolerant before as the rescue plays rough sometimes but in the big picture the younger smaller one can be a little too rough too and the other one puts up with it. She can give it, but cant take it?

Sally on August 13, 2018:

We have a yr old puppy..and a three yr old Chaweenie...they have always gotten along until the one yr old went into heat...now they fight but not all the time...will spaying them both help this...the one yr old is done with being in heat and they are getting a long ok now?

Jenn Mead on July 01, 2018:

Hi! I have an inherited situation with four female dogs from 11 mos - 3 yrs old. Typically things are great between them, but when one or more is in heat my oldest (3 yrs American Pit Bull Terrier) will attack my next-to-youngest (1 yr 5mos Black Lab/Great Dane mix), when someone comes to the door and they all take off to greet them (which can be very chaotic). It can be stopped and both are apologetic and lovey afterwards, but I just cannot figure out how to make it stop. Any suggestions?

Shaun Stewart on June 08, 2018:

Hi I have a 4 year old spayed female border collie and a 2 year old spayed female border collie they have always got along and played well together unfortunately during the past 6 months or so the older one attacks the younger one it doesn't happen all the time but the last couple of times she has drawn blood and caused some minor injuries we thought it could be food aggression but food isn't always present it happens mostly when I am at work and my wife and son are home it is starting to stress her out can you help with some advice thanks

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 01, 2018:

Marie, I suggest keeping them separating for now when both of you are around and consulting with a professional. Dog fights are unfortunately prone to escalating and are stressful on both dogs.

Marie on May 29, 2018:

I have a female dog and my boyfriend has a female dog when we're not home they get along ,and when only one of us is with them they get along but when we are both home the fighting is on and it's real bad . What should I do

Thomas on April 23, 2018:

I have 2 female spade dogs. They are both have chow mix in them. T hey used to get a long very well but last week my Lab attacked my other dog on 2 days in a row for no reason and again today. Have no idea what is wrong with my Lab

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 01, 2018:

Mabel, is she just whelped she doesn't want her sister anywhere near her pups, please install a baby gate or keep in separate rooms for their safety.

Mabel on January 30, 2018:

I have 2 females both sisters...one gave birth recently and the other is preggie...i also have 2 other males...

Today they got into a fight where i had to swing a plastic chair at both of them to break it off and had to put them both in a separate cage...

After 2 hours..i release the one who gave birth...but she goes back to the cage and growls and my other female dog...

Looks like i have to spend a bit of cash to separate them both....

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2018:

Unfortunately in these cases, often the safest option is to keep separated or re-home. You can try having a professional behavior consultant do an assessment but there may be too many risks for another fight to erupt.

Cody St. Clair on January 03, 2018:

I have two female fixed dogs, one Catahoula/black (Abbie) lab and one Husky/German Sheppard (Callie), Callie is 5 and abbie just turned one and probably 5 months ago they started fighting viciously and breaking them apart either got one of us hurt or was very difficult and dangerous. After a couple we watched them and seperated them, abbie at first would start them, they would run into eachother coming in the door and fight would be on. But after a while stopped and liked eachother again. Now just recently Callie started the fights and now that abbie is grown Callie is getting hurt, she had a couple minor puncture wounds, then they stopped again for maybe 2 weeks, then one day Callie gets something stuck in her throat and is gagging and abbie straight up attacks her luckily we got her off, and not 4 days later callie coughs and abbie jumps her again, i get in there before she latches on and get my knee bitten but get her aeay fast enough. Now tonight while im at school they get in a bad one leaving Callie and my step dad with stiches and they are going to get rid of her unless i find a way to stop these fights. So if anyone has any info or knows any proffesionals that can help me please email me at mtwrestler8@gmail.com this is our last hope

Cynthia Pulidi on December 28, 2017:

I have three dogs, 2 female and one male. One female and one male are 7 months and the other is 4 Year’s old. Early this morning at 4 in the morning they were all doing fine, they seemed happy as usual, but like at 8 in the morning my mom took all three of them out to use the restroom and the two females were fighting and my mom heard a large cry from the 6month old female because she got bit real hard on the face from the 4 year old. Apparently the male has been fighting with the dog that just got bit as well. We have those two and the one that got bit separated, we brought them in to see what they would do and they wouldn’t stop smelling her behind and that made the one that got bit hide from them hide behind our couch. The 4 year old seems she wants to get her paws on the one she bit, she whines to get to her she dodges our arms that are blocking her away from the one hat got bit and i don’t know why. The four year old is a lab coyote mix, and the other two are siblings, they are maltipoos,Please help.

La_yoye1385 on July 04, 2017:

I have two female fixed dogs... They get along well all the time... Except when we serve them food... They start eating and one of the dogs (Layka/Golden Ret.) attacks the other (Mhia/Pitbull/boxer mix) and wont let Mhia eat... Its never gotten bad as in they dont fight each other the rest of the time just when theres food on the bowls.... Layka wont eat from her bowl nor Mhia's but wont let her eat either... We have resorted to take Mhia out and feed her sepparetly and reuniting them after we pick up their bowls... Its been like that for 2 years... Theyre 3 and 4.. And i spayed them when L was 2 and M 1.... Does anyone know why that might be? How to fix it? Have anyone have had this happen to them?

Susanne Maddison on June 17, 2017:

i have 2 female dogs one is 2 years the other 10 months they use to get on fine but now the puppy is in heat the older one snaps at the puppy and the older dog 10 years a Samoyed . is it because young one is on heat and will it stop after shes not on heat, I notice the older dog the 2 year old wants my attention alot and if i cuddle her and one of the others come up to me she will growl or snap at them .Its driving me nuts and i hate to see them like this

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2017:

Shere in severe cases as such, you may have to make the difficult decision of keeping them always separated or re-homing one to a family with no other dogs. Not sure what type of behavior modification the animal behav did, but hopefully there was a program in place along with the calming pills. Were both dogs screened for any health problems (thyroid test?)

Shere on May 25, 2017:

Hi, I have 2 female dogs that want to kill each other every time they see each other they go wild. They get into intense fights and I'm not sure what to do anymore as Iv had a animal behav and tried the vets calming pills and yet today the one smashed through the window to get to the other one, please help I'm heart broken and not sure how to control this anymore as they were always happy togeather

Lasharia on May 24, 2017:

My dog suddenly turned on her 5 month old pup and attacked her. Now any time she sees her she's growls and has a vicious bark. She's never like this with other dogs or people. They're separated now but I can't do this forever. Has anyone ever seen this happen?

Denise on February 16, 2017:

My two female intact girls are suddenly fighting, my two neutered girls just watch from a distance and they don't get involved. Everyone use to get along. My new neighbors have two intact males a few feet away in the next yard. After reading this I know how to stop the problem, thank you.

Jennifer on January 25, 2017:

I have two female puppies and they're starting to get in fights, but one of them always attacks the other for no reason. We think is because of my male dog.

tex on December 19, 2016:

Thank you for your info. Explains now why the young female mixed husky that showed up in our backyard is fighting with my young female dog. Even thorough my dog Pax is fixed. The new comer female dog does listen to me when I command her to stop fighting. But I have to separate them. I am trying to show the new comer that she is lower in rank. The new comer is having to get tired down when she starts to fight. She does behavior when I am outside .

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 05, 2014:

Could be some competition set in, which is quite normal among intact dogs.

maria Mendoza on September 04, 2014:

My dog is pregnant I am happy that my other female dog is not fighting but she didn't let her have sex with my other dog why?even though they did it.