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Puppy Dog Play Fighting

We have two male Australian Shepherd Pups (5 months old). They are brothers from the same litter. They are scheduled to be neutered next week and to begin obedience school the week after. The problem we have with them is their puppy dog play fighting. It is driving us nuts. They nip and tackle each other constantly. Ears, legs, neck, etc. – they seem to be getting a little more aggressive every day. At times they even yelp when one bites the other. We try to pull them apart but it is getting more difficult. They are crated separately most of the day and are good about it – so I don’t want to put them in it when they fight, as they might start not wanting to go back in it. The second we let them out they start and it continues almost until bedtime. If we separate them into different rooms they cry until we bring the other one back. Do you have any suggestions for us? I am afraid they are going to really hurt each other!


Hi C&B,

What they?re doing is normal and in nature normal means necessary. At least up to a point. By rough housing they learn who?s faster, stronger, more agile and that generally boils down the road in adulthood to meaning who gets final say when there is potential for conflict. It avoids bloodshed. Interfering can build frustration and resentment and at some point what would be rough play or a minor scrap is a dangerous fight. Another way things can go south is when the two are so evenly matched that they can?t figure out who got what it takes to win and when we interfere things eventually escalate to a point where they need to be separated permanently.

I have noticed in households where the two-legged folk aren?t perceived by the dogs as the teachers, this sort of activity is more frequent and intense. Usually, once I?ve shown the dog?s owners how to behave in a way that elicits a natural respect from their dog a lot of the conflict between the two or more dogs evaporates. In situations where I?m sure the pups know who?s the true household authority figure (hint: two legs, not four) I give the go ahead to allow the dog owner to call the shots as to when it?s inappropriate for the pups to play basketball with each other?s head. While they still need to work things out – not necessarily everywhere all the time.

Part of your problem may be your breed selection. You didn?t buy one Ferrari, you bought two. Most folk can?t keep one Australian Shepherd occupied mentally and physically. Unless you?ve a flock of sheep hidden somewhere or have a lifestyle that is going to revolve around those dogs and agility, scent sport, competition obedience etc. you could be in for a tough ride. That breed is smart and physically demanding. If instead you?re living a mini-van lifestyle you may be just getting a taste of what is to come.

I?m glad your obedience is booked. I?m hoping it?s not a work for a treat only class though. Training with treats is all right up to a point. With dogs as smart as these I?m betting that the treats will only take you so far. Mother dogs are with their young like we are with ours, good behaviour should be reinforced but there is the normal other side of the parenting equation and as I said, in nature if it?s normal it means it?s necessary. If it were two kids banging each others heads against the wall non-stop and you couldn?t influence the behaviour you?d have to take a look at your parenting style. Same here.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade

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