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No More Dog Fights: Learn the Cues of Stressed Dogs

A dog’s body language can tell us a lot about what he or she is feeling and thinking. Too much stress and a dog may react negatively. (Most people do, too.) Here are 4 situations to look for and take action to de-escalate.

It’ll make everyone — resident pups and Guest dogs — feel better.

1. Keep introductions small and neutral. 

Coming into a new environment can be overwhelming for a Guest. Set the dog up for success by not overwhelming him or her at arrival. Being rushed at the door by multiple already-acquainted dogs can make a new Guest feel anxious or even react defensively.


  • Keep introductions calm, one-by-one and in a neutral location.
  • Allow the new pup to acclimate to other dogs and the environment.
  • Ease them in, while in the home, by separating them with baby gates or taking them on a walk together.

2. Prevent food fights.

Some dogs may be food-reactive, which means they guard and react to dogs coming near their food. This can lead to fights at meal time. While eating, if a dog has stiff body language, holds its head over its food in a guarding manner or starts growling and snapping, you have a food-reactive dog on your hands. If another pup comes too close, this can quickly escalate into something more serious.


  • Always keep an eye on all dogs during feeding times.
  • Give dogs plenty of space to eat.
  • If you recognize or know a dog is food-reactive, feed him or her in a completely separate room.

3. Stop the hoarding.

Even though it's not their home, pups can quickly become possessive over toys, beds or even YOU. Similar to food reactivity, you may notice that they stiffen up, their ears go back or they even begin growling and snapping if another pup approaches whatever the Guest pup is resource guarding.


  • Pay attention to how a pup reacts to high-value items (toys, beds, attention).
  • If the dog guards at all, immediately remove the stimuli from the situation and separate the pups involved.

3. Don’t let rough play escalate.

Part of the fun of being on Vacay is playing with other pups. This can quickly become not-so-fun for some dogs if it escalates into bad behavior on the part of their playmates. High-intensity play often devolves into unexpected scuffles.

Look for bad behavior such as:

  • Excessive chasing
  • Rolling the other pup
  • Pinning the other pup
  • Bullying of one dog in particular by another
  • Two pups playing well and another trying to force its way in
  • Two or more dogs bullying one dog

Watch for body language including:

  • Stiffness
  • Freezing
  • Direct stares
  • Snarling/growling
  • You may see pups snarl/growl in play. If the movement is fluid and constant, this is O.K.


  • Pay attention to body language during play sessions.
  • If a play session is escalating, separate the pups and give them a break.

Remember: You’re in control in the home. You set the tone for what’s acceptable and what isn’t. A fight can’t happen if it never starts.


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