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A Real Doggy Dilemma
updated: Feb 16, 2013, 3:00 PM

Dear Poncho,

I have two male Yorkshire Terriers, Smokey and Charlie, who are about two years old. They're half brothers, having the same father, and up until four months ago they slept together, played with one another, and even ate and drank from the same bowls. 

After breeding Smokey we noticed that in certain situations he started to become upset with Charlie.   

We've taken them to our vet, who says there is nothing physically wrong with either dog. At our trainer's suggestion, we tried desensitizing them by placing each in his own crate, facing one another. They bark and go nuts trying to figure out how to get out of the crate to get to the other dog, so this hasn't really helped. 

It has now been close to four months, and both dogs are living in the same house, but in separate areas. They no longer can be in the same room, and if they actually see one another without warning they charge at each other aggressively. 

I'm about ready to give up. Please help!

Smokey and Charlie's Mother

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Dear Smokey and Charlie's Mom,

Wow, this is indeed quite a doggy dilemma you have on your hands. I'm sure this is a scenario you never imagined. Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animals!

There's often an increased likelihood of aggressive behavior between intact males, especially those living under the same roof. You can check the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, website for more on inquisitive canines and aggression. If you haven't done so already, ask your vet about whether having both Smokey and Charlie neutered is an option. There's no guarantee, of course, but it could very well help. Plus, do you really want to make more dogs who have aggressive tendencies?

Whaddya Want?

You want a harmonious environment, right? Each dog should still have walks, outings, and play time with each family member. The only change in their routine should be that they are isolated from one another, unless you are in training mode. So figure out what you want from each dog, as an individual and as a sibling. Then, create a plan so you can reach those goals.

Manage Your Environment

Continue to keep the boys separated until you can work with a professional certified pet dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist who has experience with aggression cases similar to yours. One management tool is a plastic basket muzzle for Smokey, to help prevent biting. However, this should not take the place of training. A muzzle won't train Smokey to like Charlie, but it can help prevent an actual bite incident.

Reward. Reward. Reward.

You do mention that you've worked with a trainer, but it sounds like they suggested you use a technique called "flooding," as opposed to "desensitization." Depending on the animal, the anxiety- producing trigger, and the timing of rewards or punishments, flooding can actually make matters worse.

Right now, the mere sight of the other causes emotional turmoil-so more exposure isn't the answer. To reverse the hostility the dogs feel toward one another, you need to pair each dog with something the other dog loves. If you do this consistently, they'll eventually learn to once again love each other. A "slow and steady wins the race" plan will often get you to the finish line faster.

Think of it as you would learning to swim: First, look at a picture of a pool. Then, dip your baby toe in a kiddie pool. Progress to sitting in the shallow end, then wading, then walking around, then putting your face in the water for a split second, etc. I'm sure you'll agree that this method is much more effective- and less traumatic-than being shoved off the high-dive into the deep end. Like humans, dogs learn best in this incremental way, too.

Paws and Reflect

You've done the right thing by managing your environment. You certainly don't want your dogs behaving in ways you don't want, or being unnecessarily exposed to more stress. Because this situation has gone on for some time, doesn't seem to be improving, and appears to have put both dogs and humans at risk of injury, I'd highly recommend that you seek professional help to restore your happy canine home.


Poncho Mayer is a 10-pound inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. He and his mom work together running the family business, providing dog-training services to other inquisitive canines and their humans. For additional training and behavior tips, subscribe to their blog.

Let's connect!




Got a question about behavior, training or daily pup life? Email Poncho directly.


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