Living with Two Dogs Who Don’t Get Along: 12 Tools & Tips That Can Help



Ben Team


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living with dogs who don't get along

Living with two dogs who don’t get along is an unfortunately common problem. We get comments, emails, and messages about this very issue all the time here at K9 of Mine.

In fact, my wife Michelle and I actually experience this every day – our girls do not like each other.

But we’ve learned to manage this problem pretty well. So, I figured I’d share some of the things – 12 in total — that we’ve found helpful for managing two dogs who fight.

I’m going to explain a bit about our girls and living situation first, and then we’re going to talk a bit about the differences between training strategies and management approaches.

Then, I’ll move on to the actual tips (feel free to skip down to the list if you like).

Our Pooches: Two Dogs Who Do NOT Get Along

me with dogs
Forgive my goofy grin, but this was the one and only time they didn’t try to kill each other.

If memory serves, Michelle and I were already sharing selfies with our dogs by our fourth or fifth text.

To be fair, my dog is easier on the eyes than I am, so it was just good strategy on my part. At any rate, it worked, and we hit it off.

But trouble lurked in the tall grass ahead.  

The dogs are both clearly “ours” at this point, but I brought a 7-year-old Rottie to the relationship, while she brought a great Pyrenees of the same age.

They’re both super sweet with people they know, but both gals are a bit reactive around strangers and other dogs.

We tried to do everything “right” when introducing them.

This included parallel walks (see a demo of what that looks like below), off-leash greetings on neutral turf, and doling out lots of high-value treats when they were in each other’s presence (a technique called desensitization and counter-conditioning, which is designed to replace negative associations with positive ones).

We did it all.

But none of it worked.

They’d fight violently whenever they had the chance (save for the one exception from the photo above — and even that session ended with a fight).

The Rottie was (and remains) the primary instigator, but the Pyr certainly doesn’t back down.

And these fights are horrifying to behold.

These are big, imposing gals, and both have suffered injuries while clashing (as have I, while trying to separate them).  

The combatants girls, for your viewing pleasure:

J.B. (Rottweiler)

  • Sex: Female
  • Aliases: Jabbs, Protocol Patrol, The Brute Squad
  • Weight: 88 pounds
  • Favorite Food: Chicken, asparagus, bell peppers, cheese
  • Hobbies: Full-contact MMA with dad, sleeping by mom’s feet, farting, and monitoring everything to make sure everyone is behaving in accordance with established protocols
  • Special Skills: Demanding attention, antagonizing her sister

Willow (Great Pyrenees)

  • Sex: Female
  • Aliases: Wi (pronounced “Weee”), Weewoah, Crazy Pants
  • Weight: 90 pounds (+/- 2 pounds of outdoor detritus caught in her fur)
  • Favorite Food: Pizza bones (crusts)
  • Hobbies: Borking at things, borking in all directions at nothing in particular, eating acorns, covering her coat in Georgia red clay, and punching mom or dad with the “Pyr paw” in pursuit of pets (IYKYK)
  • Special Skills: Polar bear impersonations, wheelies

After trying to get the girls to get along for a few months, we eventually just threw in the towel and realized they weren’t going to be friends.

Hell, they weren’t even going to be neutral neighbors.

I still remember feeling utterly defeated as I drove to the pet store to pick up two heavy-duty dog crates so they could sleep safely in the same room.

Plus, I was beside myself with worry.

I worried about their quality of life.

I worried about their safety.

I worried about our sanity.

But all of these months later, things have worked out pretty well.

We just had to change our approach.

Training vs Management: Two Different Approaches to Dog Care

training vs management

You can approach dog behavioral issues in one of two basic ways: You can try to alter your dog’s behavior, or you can just manage the situation in a way that eliminates or reduces the issue.

Have a dog who pulls on the leash?

You could try to train your dog to stop pulling on the leash or you could just use a no-pull collar or harness.

Have a dog who won’t stop peeing in the house?

You could revisit housetraining, or you could simply throw down some pee pads in a puppy pen and call it a day.

Have a dog who barks out the window all day?

You could try to teach her a “quiet” command or you could just install some dog-proof blinds so she can’t see triggering things out the window.

See the difference?

Typically, dog owners use a combination of techniques and strategies from both sides of the spectrum.

You may teach your dog a “quiet” command, but still limit the amount of time she’s allowed to look out the window at squirrels. Or you may work on housetraining while also laying down some pee pads in a pupper pen until she gets the hang of things.

But in our case, we cranked the dial all the way to the management side.

These gals weren’t going to get along, so we simply had to implement protocols that prevented them from hurting each other (or driving us crazy).  

In a perfect world, behavioral modification is probably the ideal approach when dealing with cohabitating canines who don’t get along.

But that’s just not always realistic or feasible.  

So, as we are fond of saying, you have to do what’s right for you and your dogs. We all just have to figure this pet-parent thing out the best we can.

12 Tips for Living with Dogs Who Don’t Get Along

managing fighting dogs

Now that you understand the difference between management approaches and behavioral modification (and have likely decided the former is the better choice than the latter for your situation), we can share some of the things that have proven helpful for Michelle, me, and our pups.

Fair warning: There’s nary a magic bullet to be found among them. It’s still going to be tough.

But what can you do besides try?

So, I encourage you to consider these tips, embrace the ones that seem useful, ignore the ones that don’t apply, and tweak anything you want to suit your specific circumstances.

1. Use Doggie Gates Liberally

There’s no room for debate here: Dog gates are critical for managing two large dogs who don’t get along in the same home.

MidWest Gate7

I don’t know how we’d manage the girls and give them a high-quality of life without the one we have. In fact, we’re adding at least one more in the next few days.

We have placed ours between the living room and the kitchen.

Michelle and I try to hang out on different sides of the gate a fair bit so both of the girls have company.

For example, I cook a bunch, and Michelle will chill at the breakfast bar and game while I do. One of the pups is with me and the other with her.

We try to mix up the girls the best we can, but sometimes one just works in one place better than the other.

Now, doggie gates are annoying as hell. Having to open and close a gate 50 times a day sucks. But it’s still a net positive in the battle to manage two dogs who fight.

Just be sure that the gates are strong enough to withstand a full-blown throw down. I originally thought it would be strong enough without the mounting hardware, but the girls managed to partially dislodge it, so I busted out the drill and fixed the issue.

2. Use Double Barriers When Feasible

use double barriers for dogs

This is a concept that is common to many types of animal care – especially in situations involving animals who are dangerous. It’s occasionally called instituting a “double bubble” among canine behaviorists.

It simply means keeping two barriers between dogs who don’t get along, rather than only one.

For example, you may place one dog in your bedroom.

But instead of placing your other dog in the hallway outside the bedroom door, you confine her to another bedroom.  

You now have two barriers between each animal, rather than one. You also have an entire empty room (the hallway) between them.

This way, if something goes wrong – such as someone accidentally opening the wrong door or a pooch squirting out unexpectedly – you have a backup barrier in place to prevent a fight.

Now, honestly speaking, Michelle and I do not maintain a double barrier at all times. There are plenty of times in which the dogs are only separated by a single barrier – often a dog gate.

But we try to limit this to times in which we’re close by and paying attention to them. When we go to sleep for the night or are distracted, we’ll put an extra barrier between them, just for the additional safety it provides.  

3. Text with the Other Humans in Your Home Constantly

communicate with others in your home

Communication is key when managing two dogs who don’t get along. I’ll frequently text Michelle to find out who is where.

Where’s J.B.?

Is Willow with you?

Which girl did we leave in the bedroom?

This is pretty easy to do, but you have to keep your head in the game — you can’t get lazy and forget to check in with the other people in your home.

I have been a slacker a few times and opened the door while accompanied by one canine, only to find ourselves staring the other one in the eye (which is yet another reason to try to incorporate double barriers, as mentioned earlier).

That never goes well.

Note that I say “text,” but it doesn’t specifically have to be texts. You just have to check in in some way to make sure that you know what you’re getting into and what’s lurking on the other side of a closed door.

4. Feed Your Dogs in Widely Separated Areas

feed dogs separately

Some dogs will happily eat next to their brothers and sisters, but other dogs are touchy about their food — something called resource guarding. And these dogs may fight savagely whenever food is around.

Willow is probably the less problematic of our two dogs, but she does have some resource guarding issues. She’s always extra alert and reactive around mealtimes.

But we’ve found that we can keep the overall stress level pretty low by simply feeding them in widely separated locations.

Funnily enough, I screwed this up recently.

The gals had been extra irritated with each other all morning, and I just couldn’t figure out why. But being smarter than I am, Michelle came upstairs and pointed at the bag of dog food I’d absentmindedly stored by the gate between them.


It’s a wonder I can dress myself in the morning.

Once I moved it, they both chilled out quite a bit and domestic harmony was restored.

5. Incorporate a “Cooling Off Period” When Returning Home with One of the Dogs

give dogs space

Because our girls don’t get along, I have to walk them or take them to one of their favorite Atlanta-area dog parks separately.

We’ve found that our ladies are most likely to flip out and engage in “gate fighting” when one returns from a walk or outing.

Whoever didn’t get to go on the outing will be waiting right at the gate, clocking the other with what behaviorists call a “hard stare.” The moment we unclip the leashed pooch, the doggos will both fly toward the gate, flipping out and generally causing chaos.

So, we try to preemptively diffuse these situations by keeping them separated for a brief while after returning. We generally do so by having one or both of the girls go lay down in a place that’s away from the gate. Usually, 30 minutes or so is plenty, but your dogs may require more or less time than this.

For example, we may have one lay on the couch while having the other one “help” with dinner.

Then, a half hour or so later, we can let them move around naturally. They’re generally calmer at this point and less likely to have a showdown at the dog-gate corral.  

Canine Body Language

All owners should pick up the basics of canine body language, but it is especially important that owners with multiple dogs learn how to interpret the clues your dog provides.

6. Use and Install Lots of Visual Barriers

visual barriers for dogs

Again, in a perfect world, you’ll keep your dogs separated by a double bubble most of the time. But that’s not always feasible or even possible.

In these times in which your dogs are only separated by a single barrier (like a gate), it can be helpful to install visual barriers. Dogs typically don’t get as upset about other dogs they dislike when they can’t see them.

That’s what we do when letting the gals hang out on opposite sides of the gate for long periods.

We’ve yet to figure out the perfect cover for the gate. Blankets, sheets, or towels are our go-to choices, but these look horrible and they’re a bit of a trip hazard.

For that matter, we’ve seen J.B. deliberately pull the fabric down so she can scream at her sister.

I’d like to figure out some kind of semi-rigid-PVC-sheet-and-Velcro situation, but there are only so many hours in the day. At any rate, towels work for the time being.

At other times, we’ll just keep them on opposite sides of a closed door or play with one in a portion of the backyard that doesn’t have a direct line of sight from the back door.

We’ll even pile couch cushions up pillow-fort-style at one end of the sofa if we’re snuggling with one dog. The other doggo is rarely happy about this arrangement, but simply preventing her from seeing us cuddle with her canine sister helps keep the chaos at a manageable level.  

7. Split Up the Sleeping Schedule

dog sleeping arrangements

Both of our girls were used to sleeping with their respective person, but this obviously won’t work anymore.

For a while, we just crated them both in the room with us, but that was hardly ideal. They’d still flip out at each other several times a night, and the morning procedure was tricky at best.

So, we’ve simply adopted an every-other-night schedule. One night, J.B. sleeps with us in the bed; the next night is Willow’s turn.

Both girls have adjusted pretty well to this – J.B. loves sleeping on the couch when it’s not her turn with ma and pa, while Willow prefers sleeping with one of Michelle’s kiddos.

We also try to give the girl who’s not sleeping with us that night a wee bit more attention during the afternoon.

It still makes us a little sad to go say goodnight to whomever isn’t going into the bedroom with us, but it’s just one of those things we must do to make things work.  

8. Use Crates to Address Temporary Challenges

crates are great for dog management

We don’t have to crate either of the girls for housetraining issues or because of destructive tendencies (Willow has a bit of separation anxiety, but she rarely does anything worse than dumping a trashcan).

They’re pretty good little ladies.

But we absolutely love having crates at the ready. Crates are amazing tools for getting through unexpected problems or circumstances that arise.

For example, when guests visit, we may have to put both girls up. And because there are only so many rooms available, we may be forced to put them in the same room.

But crates allow us to put them in the same room for a brief time.

It’s just nice that we always have a place we can temporarily store either of the dogs, while knowing that they are completely safe and pretty darn comfortable.

9. Be Ready to Use Multiple Vehicles

dog-friendly cars

One thing you may not think about when trying to live with two dogs who don’t get along is transportation. Your pups aren’t going to set aside their differences for a car ride – in fact, the close quarters will likely exacerbate any underlying tension.

Crates will work for small dogs, but fitting two large dog crates in a car is a pretty tall task. Michelle and I both drive small to medium-sized SUVs, and it’s difficult to fit a single crate inside either one – never mind cramming in two.

So, you may just need two dog-friendly vehicles.

We tend to just bring one gal or the other when running errands so we can all ride in the same car, but when we have to take both girls with us, we simply have to take two vehicles.

Now, I’m not saying it is easy or advisable to add an additional car to your fleet simply because you have two dogs who don’t get along well. But it may be the only way to reasonably take both of your dogs on the road at the same time.

And there’s one other thing to think about: emergencies.

If you only have one vehicle, you may find yourself in a sticky situation if you’re forced to flee your home in a hurry. But with two cars, you’ll be able to get away from floods, incoming snowstorms, or poltergeists by splitting your dogs into multiple cars.

10. Pick Up a Couple of Multi-Function Leashes

use multi-function leashes

I’ve always been a HUGE fan of multi-function leashes (sometimes called 6-in-1 leashes) for general dog care. But I’ve found them even handier now that I must manage two antagonistic pups.

For the unfamiliar, multi-function leashes are typically about 8 feet long and feature clips at each end. Then, along the length of the leash, you’ll find three or more rings. By fastening the clips to various rings, you can create several different “types” of leash.

You can set them up like standard 6-foot-long leashes, but you can also use them as a double-ended leash you clip to the front and back ring on your pet’s harness. You can also set them up like a hands-free leash (either over-the-shoulder or around-the-waist).

But I love using them as tethers.

Need to attach a dog to the porch railing? Need to keep a dog from running back inside an open door? Need to stop and tie your shoe while on a walk with your woofer?

Just clipity-clip-clip-clip and Bob’s your uncle.

At this point, I honestly feel weird when not using a multi-function leash. I doubt I’d ever buy any other kind of leash again.   

11. Install Trolleys or Tie-Outs in Your Yard

best dog tie outs

We’re fortunate enough to have a fenced backyard. We all love it, and it has provided one more “dog management zone” we can use to keep the girls happy and safe.

But while this is great during work hours (one girl chills with us while the other enjoys the backyard), it causes some issues during nights spent around the grill or weekends when I’m doing yard work.

One of the girls gets to enjoy the great outdoors, but the other must stay inside.

But there is a solution: We installed two dog trolley lines (essentially, long fixed wires that connect to a freely moving leash tether).

Now, both gals can hang outside with the fam or watch me mow the lawn drink lots of beer while staring at my mower.

You could also use simple tie-outs, which utilize fixed anchors instead of a trolley system. However, trolley lines give your dog much more room to roam.

Each or our trolley lines is about 100 feet long and has a 6-foot-lead, which essentially provides each doggo about 1200 square feet of useable space. We’ve placed the trolley lines about 25 feet from each other, so the girls to hang out safely and enjoy the backyard at the same time.

12. Provide Your Dogs with Tons of Exercise

exercise for dogs

I almost feel bad including exercise as a tip; we recommend it as a management strategy for addressing just about every canine behavior problem there is.

But there’s a reason for that: It. Works. Wonders.

To paraphrase the old saying: “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.”

And this holds true for reactive doggos living with another dog they hate.

Don’t get me wrong, a couple of games of fetch aren’t going to magically transform your fighting Frenchies into friends. But lots of canine exercise will most likely ratchet the intensity down quite a bit.

Mental enrichment is huge too — regularly adding frozen dog toys, lickimats, interactive dog toys, and puzzle toys to your dog’s daily routine will go a long way to helping your pups chill out (especially for those smarty pants working breeds who need to be performing a job to feel good).

Tiring your pooch out physically and mentally is a great management technique for most dogs, in a variety of scenarios in which your dog is having behavior problems.

At this very moment, our Rottie is sprawled out on the floor between us, having just chased the ball in the backyard a few times. Meanwhile, our Pyr is in the backyard screaming at the squirrels for existing.

Were the Rottie not in post-exercise recovery mode, she’d probably be pretty upset about her sister’s repeated vocalizations. But as-is, she doesn’t care.

And the same would be true in reverse.

So, no matter which management tips or tricks you try, consider including a bit more exercise and mental enrichment as part of your daily gameplan. It’s certainly not easy to do so with two dogs who don’t get along, but it is possible.

Pet-Care Pro-Tip: Keep a Ton of Food and Water Dishes on Hand

It’s always a good idea to keep several food and water dishes — think four or five per dog – on hand.

This doesn’t specifically relate to managing two dogs who don’t get along, but it’s just good advice I wanted to share with those who have multiple pets.

Honestly, I think every dog owner should have multiple sets of food and water dishes – even if you only have one pupper. The convenience it provides is simply amazing.

If you only have one food dish and one water bowl, you’re going to have to stop what you’re doing, wash out the dishes, fill them, and give them back to your pet multiple times each day.

That gets old quickly.

In fact, it often leads to our beloved pets eating and drinking out of dirty dishes.

But if you have a dishwasher and a ton of food and water dishes, it is easy to keep things clean and hygienic.

I am constantly picking up bowls, tossing them in the dishwasher, and rotating them back to the shelf where we keep them. It’s time to feed or water one of them, I just grab a clean bowl from the shelf and go.

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Living with two dogs who don’t get along – particularly when they’re both big pups – is trying. In fact, many owners probably opt to rehome one of the dogs when faced with a dogs fighting situation.

But if you’re like Michelle and me, that just isn’t a consideration – dogs are full-fledged family members.

So, you will just have to make things work one way or another.

Hopefully, some of the tools and tips shared above will help you the way they’ve helped us. But we’d love to hear about some of the things you’ve done to make life easier with two dogs who hate each other.

Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by

Ben Team

Ben is the managing editor for K9 of Mine and has spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife educator and animal-care professional. Ben’s had the chance to work with hundreds of different species, but his favorite animals have always been dogs. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA with his spoiled-rotten Rottweiler named J.B. Chances are, she’s currently giving him the eyes and begging to go to the park.

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  1. Breanne Avatar

    This is a great article and honestly made me feel a lot better about my situation. I have a strong-headed, opinionated bulldog mix who is very selective with the dogs he likes. He HATES my mom’s giant (110-pound) male dog. He has no issue with the two large female dogs but that male dog is his arch nemesis. Every time they are around each other they fight and it’s very ugly (it’s 100% my dog’s fault because he is an instigator).

    I love my dog as if he were my child, so not being able to take him to “grandma’s” when he loves her so much is devastating. I appreciate how you worded everything in this article. He is somewhat trained but is a bulldog at heart, they are not known for their brain (or desire to listen). I am at the point where he is who he is and I will accommodate him the best I can. These tips are genuine and I appreciate every single one. I plan to use these when we visit for the holidays, instead of leaving my pup at home. Thank you!

    1. Ben Team Avatar

      Awww, this made my day, Breanne!
      We’re so glad you enjoyed the article and that it’s given you some hope.

      Just be sure to tweak the tips to suit your specific situation and doggos.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start the dog-swapping process so the Rottie can get outside and the Pyr can get some scritches.

  2. Tricia Avatar

    Hey Ben,
    I really appreciated your article. I have recently fostered an Alaskan husky. I have a rescue German Shepherd who is challenging already. I’m definitely overwhelmed and it is my 4th day. I’m giving the pups many walks and they are fine together in the dog park, but for their safety I can not have them in the same vehicle. Unfortunately, I’m the big dog lover in the home, but my husband tried his best. I appreciated your tips but above all it gave me hope ti realize we could make this work.

    1. Ben Team Avatar

      Hey, Tricia. I’m glad you found the article helpful.
      If it helps give you even more hope, my girls are definitely getting more accustomed to each other. They still can’t be allowed on the same side of a gate, but they don’t “fence fight” very often any more.
      Best of luck!

  3. Connie Avatar

    I just loved your article. Your sense of humor cracked me up. My problem involves multiple dogs. As in a total of 6 dogs. (*What* were we thinking?? ‍♀️) They are all different kinds, ages and sizes. At that time our youngest dog was 4 years old. Most of them are rescues. The first 5 get along pretty darn good 98% of the time. I volunteer to walk dogs at our local shelter. Red flag #1. An employee had brought in a 3 month old Black Lab that he found wandering around on a busy road. He was adorably cute with all the usual puppiness that made him even more special. Red flag #2. I called my hubby and told him about the pup. He told me to send him some pictures. At that point I knew that that little guy would be coming home with me. We got him, now known as Max, when he was 3 months old. Our other dogs did not like him. No surprise. But Max is a year old now and they’re still not feeling the love. Especially, the 2 smallest ones. Little Man, a 4 year old male Chihuahua mix and Lacey Lynn, a 7 year old female Yorkie Poo. They growl, snarl and physically attack him by jumping up and biting his jowls. Even when Max is just minding his own business and not anywhere near them. Max is a big loveable Lab. He’s big but means no harm. He just wants to play. I feel sorry for him. If we only had 2 or even 3 other dogs I don’t think this would be a problem. But we have 6 dogs and it gets real crazy real quick. Any suggestions?

    1. Ben Team Avatar

      Hey there, Connie.
      Managing six dogs is going to be a handful in even the best of circumstances, so we certainly sympathize with your situation!

      I don’t have any additional tips to provide for your specific situation, except to say you probably just need to install some pet gates so that you can keep the Lab separated from the rest of the pack.
      Fortunately, because your other five seem to get along, they can all keep each other company — just make sure the Lab is getting plenty of attention from you and your husband while he’s separated.

      And thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. AC Avatar

    We have a pack of four. Most of the time, they all get along and do not need separation. However, there are a few triggers that we are working around. That said, these silly idiots will occasionally just get a case of the grumpies and go into a scrap. We use gates to allow everyone to calm down, as the back door and hallway areas in our home are real crunch points, unfortunately. (We are reworking that in a remodel, but not there yet.)

    Our youngest male is 37% Hound 13% Husky, and 50% thirteen other breeds. However, that means half this dog is super smart, chooses whether he wants to obey, and talks back very vocally. His sister probably had a different father, as she definitely has some Labby mixed in there. They love each other, and they love our other two.

    But. –> They are also very easily amped animals. And they sometimes get into political discussions where punches are thrown but no one connects.

    However, our oldest, a passive aggressive standard poodle-lab-golden mutt, has been grumpy towards our female Hound mix from the start. This has now escalated where Hound mix has had enough of being barked at while fetching, or snarled and snapped at while she’s trying to be loving. She has started getting quite aggressive with our older girl and escalated with her brother, a sort of bottom of the totem pole syndrome.

    Our Anatolian Shepherd is a super mellow and non-confrontational leader, but he will occasionally intervene if he thinks enough is enough. Our Hound male often tries to start nonsense with him, and, aside from one occasion where he put him in his place with just his massive bark, our Anatolian looks to me to handle things. He did, however, put our Hound female in her place twice, and she will not challenge him.

    They actually do all like each other most of the time. We’re working to manage triggers since we cannot always figure out what sets them off.

    I have occasionally used the kitchen faucet sprayer to break up a scrap, rather than getting chomped trying, and that does seem to be getting Hound boy’s attention at least. It is also a handy way to keep the kitchen floor clean.

    Thank you for helping me see that we already ARE doing a lot right. Oddly enough, that helps!

    1. Ben Team Avatar

      Hey there, AC. We’re so glad you found the article reassuring.

      You certainly have your hands full with a pack of four. The dynamics have to be really complex and challenging to manage.
      The kitchen faucet sprayer is probably a good idea if it works — we sometimes have to bang a metal backscratcher on the gate between our girls when they start “fence fighting.” Despite being big and imposing gals, they’re both softies (especially the Rottie), so loud, clangy noises like that almost instantly stop their quarrels.

      It’s all about just finding what works and trying to do the best we can for our dogs! Keep doing what you’re doing!