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Dog behavior: Why are My Female Dogs Fighting?

Updated on December 25, 2016
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

Why are my female dogs fighting?

Fights between females can get pretty fierce and bloody.
Fights between females can get pretty fierce and bloody. | Source

Why are 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, 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 owner, who gets to greet owner first
  • Access to resources, ie food/toys/owner's attention
  • Access to privileged areas ie doorways, tight passage ways, 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. To better understand this please read:

Dog Dominance: Truth of Fact?

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 of 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'.

Now What? How to Stop the Fights?

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 as these This 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. (ie 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 as you are forced to keep dogs separated for life.

  • Re-homing one Dog

It is up to you therefore to determine if you want to go the management route or if you 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.

Disclaimer: 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. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and assume full responsibility for any of your actions or lack of.

And 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!

But my neighbor has female dogs and they get along?

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 picture!

Do your two adult and intact females get along?

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      maria Mendoza 2 years ago

      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.

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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

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

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      tex 7 months ago

      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 .

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      Jennifer 6 months ago

      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.

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      Denise 5 months ago

      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.

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      Lasharia 2 months ago

      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?

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      Shere 2 months ago

      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

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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 weeks ago from USA

      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?)

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      Susanne Maddison 5 weeks ago

      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

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