Who’s the Second Boss Dog? – The Woes of Unstable Hierarchy

Teddy, Truman, and Bear

The Problem

All is not well with the Three Musketeers. Occasionally there is a drop or two of blood from aggravated sparring. Will it resolve, or will it lead to substantial injury? I have to admit, Teddy’s life with us is at risk.

Don’t fear, the other dogs won’t kill him, and we won’t put him down. But if he causes too much blood to be shed, he may need to live somewhere else as a solo dog. Out of necessity, our home is a three-dog household. (Long story for another time.)

Eight months ago, we adopted Teddy from a caring, foster-only rescue. He had been dumped. For a year, the rescue attempted to find Teddy a suitable home. He was shifted through five homes, either for temporary “storage” (3) or potential adopters (2). We adopted him and he seemed to be a perfect fit for us.

Teddy and Bear immediately hit it off as best buds. But over time, things changed. Recently Teddy has attacked Bear, with Bear receiving a few minor puncture wounds. It is unnerving to worry about my beloved dogs.

My conclusion is the hierarchy is unstable because Bear is the High-Second during play, and Teddy is High-Second at all other times, and this creates instability.

I am open to hear related experiences or research on how to handle this problem.

The Hierarchy

Top Dog -Truman is top dog, no question. He is my long-time favorite, and everyone knows it. He’s a low-key leader, at six-years-old, and 76 pounds, he is bigger and wiser than the others. He rarely involves himself with disputes. I am not sure what triggers his choice to become involved, but I am watching to learn. If he gets involved, he jumps in between and growl ferociously. This stops the Teddy/Bear dispute immediately.

Truman Blue

Second Dog Descending – Bear is a happy-go-lucky trickster. Once a stray street dog, we adopted Bear 14 months ago, 6 months before we got Teddy. We still had two very old girls (now over Rainbow Bridge). Two-year-old Bear rarely barks and is always in the mood for play. He is somewhat obsessed with playing with other dogs. He plays hard and rough. When playing, he and Truman frequently “gang up” to chase Teddy (who seems happy to be the “prey”). When Teddy aggressively attacks Bear, he doesn’t fight back (yips & tries to get away)


Second Dog Ascending – Teddy is a bit high-strung and intense but very obedient and loves attention from his people. When he is playing, he tolerates rough play with no anger. I have seen the other two dogs roll him hundreds of times and he jumps up with a “happy face” and runs on. When he is done playing, he tells the other two he’s finished, and they respect that.

I have only twice seen play turn to fight with Teddy and Bear, and that was during relatively mild play. Notably, Truman wasn’t playing with them at those times. I wonder if it had something to do with Teddy’s injured tooth (soon to be repaired).

Then there are the fights that don’t seem to have a “reason.” They have become more frequent but are usually of short duration. We don’t interfere unless it carries on for more than a few seconds. I cannot determine the triggers. If we stop the fight, Teddy becomes very submissive to us.



  • Play
    • Bear is a premiere “predator” during play.
    • Teddy often plays the victim in play but seems to enjoy being chased.
    • Teddy doesn’t seem to mind being “caught” and roughed up. (He doesn’t get aggressive)
    • Bear and Teddy wrestle often
      • Many times a day, always at Bear’s bidding
      • From very gentle to hard wrestle
    • Truman usually sides with Bear in attack-play.
    • Truman occasionally sides with Teddy in attack-play.
    • Truman often drops out of play after a couple of minutes while the other two carry on for a long time.
    • Teddy and Bear amicably “hunt” together
    • If Teddy is tired of play, he does the doggie growl, snap-snap-grab-skin thing, but does not grab hard enough to puncture. Bear backs off and NEVER retaliates.
  • Aggression
    • Verbal commands stop all aggression.
    • Aggression can happen both indoors and outdoors
    • Bear never the obvious aggressor
    • Neither dog is a regular resource guarder or thief.
      • Bear and Teddy eat their meals three – four feet apart and there are no signs of food aggression.
      • Bear and Teddy previously shared the doggie sofa, but now Teddy guards it. (see video below). Bear complies.
      • If Bear is in a particular bed Teddy wants, Teddy hard-stares at Bear, and Bear growls
        • We stop them if it seems it might escalate.
        • There are more dog beds than dogs.
      • There is no problem when petting both Teddy and Bear at the same time. They are so physically close, they can both be petted with one hand.
      • Sometimes when petting Bear, Teddy noses in, but is always friendly. Other times, Teddy simply relaxes nearby.
      • Sometimes Bear will not come through the doggie door if Teddy (on the inside) hard-stares at him.
    • After a fight
      • Bear hides under a human’s legs
      • Avoids Teddy
      • Teddy postures dominantly
    • Truman stays out of the fights unless we verbally stop it, then Truman places himself between Bear and Teddy when they separate.
Play fight.
Teddy rarely shares the doggie sofa with Bear (they used to share). Teddy is not being aggressive here, but it is obvious that Bear is anxious even though Teddy is giving “no-threat” signals. Sometimes they play from this position. (Turn off the sound, it’s the TV)

Published by trumanbluemysteries

Truman Blue is the inspiration for the Truman Blue Mystery, cozy mystery series.

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