You are the best owner because you went to the pet store for dog food but also got your mutts one bone each. When you give them their new bones at the same time, you expect excitement, jumps for joy, and gratitude in the form of kisses. However, they play with their bone for a minute, and then one dog decides he wants the other bone. They growl, bark, lunge, and chase each other to gain possession of this bone. A full-blown fight ensues over one of the two bones. You purchased one for each, so why are they fighting over one? You might question if you should ever buy your dogs a bone again because you don’t want this fighting to continue.
The Root of the Behavior
Guarding behavior such as this is natural for dogs. This behavior is identified as growling when another dog, or even human, approaches a toy, food bowl, or bone. A dog might bite or snap at someone who tries to take the guarded object. A good indicator of possession is if his body stiffens, ears stay back, or the whites of his eyes are more visible. Dogs will also growl or snarl when they are guarding their bone.
This behavior is concerning, but it comes from their instinct for survival. When dogs are in the wild, food and resources are not secured. Dogs must fight for everything to survive. The alpha dog will get the first pick at food, but the others get to have the leftovers. Even though our four-legged friends are domesticated, and many know they will have food, toys, or even luxurious fluffy beds, this instinct for survival is still ingrained in them.
A dog who has lived on the streets will demonstrate this behavior because he was fighting to survive every day. If you’ve adopted a dog who was found wandering the streets, this behavior is more likely to be prevalent when he is with other dogs. The dog is accustomed to fighting, so even if he has one bone, he might think it necessary for survival to have the other bone, too. And if a dog was in the shelter for a long time, he might have lost the fights to play with toys or a bone. Now he is so excited he has one, he’s going to fight anyone who tries to take it away.
This competitiveness to survive creates dog fights, some more playful than others. It’s important to watch your dog’s behavior and if you notice more aggressive guarding of the bone, talk to a vet or trainer.
Encouraging the Behavior
You might have two dogs from the same litter and they are being competitive when they fight over the bones. Or, you might have introduced a new dog into the house and the original dog is feeling threatened. Both dogs can bring some emotional baggage that leads them to fight over a bone. They could be following the instinct to survive or one could fear for their survival.
Guarding behavior and fighting over bones or food is necessary for survival in the wild. However, if your dogs are in your home with an overflowing bowl of kibble and at least one bone or toy each, they do not need to fight for survival. They are fighting because it is instinct. Guarding behavior can be scary for you as well as your dogs, and it needs to be monitored closely.
When your dogs are fighting over bones, it’s important to note their body language and aggressiveness. Sometimes, your dogs are simply having fun and being playful and other times it’s serious business. If your dog’s behavior escalates to severe bites that can lead to infections, you should take them to a vet to be treated, but also to get training tips. Allowing harm to either of your dogs, or even you, should never happen. Dogs should never be encouraged to fight, and it should never be okay for your dogs to harm each other or anyone in your household. Such behavior needs immediate attention from a vet and trainer.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While natural and instinctive, fighting over bones, toys, or food can escalate quickly. It’s important to monitor your dogs closely and take them to a trainer as soon as you notice this behavior. Some ways you can tame the behavior before you go to the trainer include consistently managing the behavior. If your dogs only fight over the bone but are generally friendly towards each other, you can try things like separating before they are given their bones. This will give each of them a sense of security while they enjoy chomping on the bone. If your dogs are fighting over a bone or exhibiting some guarding behaviors, it’s important not to punish them. Your dog is on high alert as it is, and if you punish him, it will add to his anxiety. It can also damage the relationship between the two dogs, as it could look like you’re favoring one dog.
A trip to the trainer or vet is key to mastering any behavior management technique. Keeping all four-legged and two-legged members of your household safe is the ultimate goal, so take a trip to the vet.
You did good when you got each dog a bone, but always be sure to monitor your dog when you give them the delightful treat. While it might seem a good idea to just throw a dog a bone, these guarding behaviors can be serious. Once this behavior is sorted out, you can give your dog all the bones you want to and once again, be hailed as the best owner.