Competition Between Dogs

Competition between Dogs

When animals live together in close social groups such as a sled dog kennel, they often compete for limited resources and dominance of the dog pack. These situations create the need for social communication systems. If the dogs in the kennel do not communicate with each other, the competition is unregulated and uncontrolled. If there is no control over the competition the dogs waste time in pointless fighting and the risk of injury is greater for those dogs competing for those resources. One of Robert Forto’s dogs, Muffassa, would constantly be getting into fights over the daily food ration. It came to the point where human intervention was required to save this dog’s life. Communication systems have been developed for regulating such a conflict. Techniques such as threat and submissive displays make fighting less frequent, less disruptive, and less severe. If fighting is a problem in a sled dog kennel, then it will be the musher’s number one priority to find a solution to this problem. If the dogs fight at home, then they will surely fight at a race, which can cause severe consequences to both the musher and the team.

When dogs live in large social groups, such as a sled dog kennel, they can present significant problems to their environment. To prevent such problems, groups develop a territory for themselves and organize their groups with a definite hierarchy. The groups are maintained by a variety of auditory, visual, and olfactory signals.

Establishing a Territory

Wolves in the wild look as if to establish a territory and define an area through urine marking and vocalization. Sled dogs appear do the same thing. As males mature they begin to mark their kennel areas and their places on the dog truck to define their space.

If the wolves detect other wolves intruding on their territory they will threaten or attack the intruder if necessary. Establishing and defending a territory helps wolves to spread themselves over a wider geographical area, thereby preventing over-hunting, which results in a reduction in the number of prey animals.

Competition between individuals in the same group is regulated through the use of threat and submissive displays. The most easily recognized social communication displays are those associated with threat and submission. With sled dogs, threat displays may involve alpha takedowns, growling or snapping, and urinating in the water bowls and other the more subordinate dog’s faces.

Establishing a Dominance Hierarchy

Establishing a territory in the wild puts some distance between groups, which in turn helps to regulate excessive competition and conflict over environmental resources. Establishing a dominance hierarchy within a sled dog kennel will put distance between the individual members in terms of social rank or status. Social harmony between animals living in groups depends on a fine balance between competition and cooperation. Excessive conflict and strife between members of a social group will gradually cause the group to dissolve. Communicating through highly ritualized threat and submissive displays allows competitive animals to interact and cooperate with one another in relative harmony.


Michele Forto is the Denver Dog Training Examiner, a certified canine trainer at Denver Dog Worksand the co-host of the DogDoctor Radio Show


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