Dogcharmer: Sisters

Even pups from the same litter have trouble getting along sometimes.

Golden retriever siblings take a nap after they have totally exhausted each other. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hi Tom:

My daughter and I have 1-year-old sister golden retrievers from the same litter. We thought they would be great friends. They fight terribly when together, to the point where they actually will become very aggressive with each other, growl, nip, and scratch, and cause scrapes that will bleed. They definitely are not playing. Both dogs are sweet, loving, and nonaggressive with other dogs. I walk my dog Marlowe every morning with a friend who has a Portuguese water dog, and they are best buds. When my dog sees other dogs, she will either want to play or she will hide behind me. She is only aggressive with her sister, Quinley. We can’t have them in the same room together. Is this something they will outgrow, or is there anything we can do to help them behave better together?

Michelle Scarpone

Dear Michelle,

As I reread your question, I’m finding ambivalence, which is a good sign. Growl, nip, and scratch causing scrapes sounds like overly rough play to me, as opposed to a real fight, which would result in real bite wounds. Saying you can’t have them in the same room together would normally indicate a serious fight. But in this case, with the noise and bedlam of two 60-plus-pound dogs “killing” each other playing rough, it just sounds like there’s too much mayhem and confusion, which makes it impossible for you to relax.

In my experience I’ve come across several cases where a sibling had to be rehomed. I can think of one situation where one of the mix-breed sisters was a bully, constantly dominating her sibling, until the underdog “had enough.” The ensuing, serious fight ended any chance of their owners being able to relax, as the dogs were constantly on the verge of exploding in real violence after that. Had a similar situation with two male German shepherds, which was especially scary with a 1-year-old child walking around in the mix.

When asked about keeping two pups from the same litter, from my experience I’ve always suggested, if possible, take a male and female as opposed to same sex. As for Marlowe and Quinley, I think there’s a good chance things will work out. Since they don’t live in the same house, I’d suggest that when you do get together, the initial meeting not be at your or your daughter’s home. Let them meet several blocks from either home, or at a dog park, or someplace like that, ideally off-leash. If they had some tiring exercise prior to meeting, all the better. Then go home, letting the nonresident dog enter the house first. Either have a lot of dog toys around, or none at all, depending on how they react to each other when one grabs a toy. No food bowl, but two water bowls might be advisable. Also, let each sister drag a 2-foot piece of leash (in the house) with the handle cut off, so if you do have to break them up, you’re not putting your hands in jeopardy by having to grab a collar. Most important, GET THEM TRAINED. If they’re cooperative when you say, “come,” “leave it,” or “stay” while in each other’s company, everything will get better. The picture you sent me of them sleeping together is a good sign. Best of luck, and stay in touch!

The Dogcharmer

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