Ask the Trainer

Ask the Trainer: When Two Dogs Compete to be First

Dear Kevin,
I have a 4 year old male malti-poo and a couple of months ago rescued a 3 year old female shih-tzu. We wanted a companion dog for Jack- one that was comparable in size , playful but not too hyper. She and Jack get along pretty well overall- except when it comes to playtime. Jack has never responded well to high-energy dogs. And while Francie is not a hyper dog, she has a tendency to be a bit bossy- always pushing Jack out of the way to be first etc. And she plays very rough- it’s really the only time where she really gets hyper, but she nearly body-slams Jack whenever she starts running. He snarls at her, but it doesn’t seem to have an effect. On the other hand when he tries to engage her to play more at his level, she doesn’t respond at all. Any suggestions?


Hey there Jess,

One thing I recommend is for the human to referee the play sessions. If you feel things are getting too rough feel free to step in and safely separate them. This way if everything goes as planned they will never rehearse those unwanted behaviors because it will never escalate to it.
Another thing that is good to do is practice doing little training sessions with both of them at the same time. This will allow them to have some structured time together where they are interacting with you/each other and it is calm and structured. You can actually substitute some of the play time with this. Having them do some obedience together will actually work their brains which will tire them out.
In regards to Francie’s bossiness, if it is becoming a problem I would start to make them both to wait for things. Whether it’s going out of the door first, or if it’s running to get a treat first. This will teach her that there is no advantage to being first.
Ironically you could also use this behavior of needing to be first to your advantage for training. What you could do is make the training games a competition. If you do recall (dogs come when called) whichever dog gets there quicker gets the bigger reward!

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.




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