Sibling Rivalry (Mar. 23, 2005)

Dear Zelda:

In your photos you seem to work well with your canine companions. Do you have any advice for a 'human' who has a sister who continues to compete with her? My sister continues to try to 'one up' me and is only happy when she wins and I lose.
I'd like her to be my friend, but our relationship has been made worse by parents who encouraged us to compete against each other.   Help!


Dear Sister-in-Need

Help is here.

Sibling rivalry is rarely a result of spontaneous combustion. Parents lay the kindling, strike the match, and keep fueling the flames.  Being parents can be heavy . . .very heavy. They unknowingly breed competitiveness if they compare siblings with each other or jump in every time siblings have a conflict. How can you choose sides on a round planet?  Parents who do this need to be fixed.  Here's what I'd do: Buy or check out a copy of the best-selling book, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Have your parents read it. Hold a family bull session and focus on the reasons for this competitiveness. Write down your concerns, and then brainstorm together some effective ways to generate goodwill between you and your sister. In the meantime, when your sis starts to 'one up' you, don't play the game. Instead, catch her off guard by giving her a compliment or pat on the back. When you're wrong... admit it.  When you're right... remain silent.  Compete only with yourself; be humble, tolerant, and hopeful. Keep a stiff lower lip and stay in control.   Zoe, ZeeZee, and I are rooting for you.


Dear Zelda,

My name is Otis and I am an English Bulldog. I don't like other dogs at all and my parents really want to get me a brother or sister. Do you have any words of wisdom to help me like my fellow canines?

Otis (Bulldog)

Dear Otis,

Friends are like life preservers... you never know when you'll need them. There are dogs out there who could become your forever friends, so get to know some. Familiarity breeds acceptance.  Sign up for an obedience class where you can sniff and socialize. Join a bulldog club (  Go to the park or for a hike and cross paths with outdoorsy dogs.   Your owner will find Chapter 6 ("Packmates: The Social Nature of Humans and Dogs") in Patricia McConnellís book, The Other End of the Leash, a valu-a-bull read.  One good thing about getting a sibling is that you won't just be the 'only dog,' but because you have been in the household the longest, you'll be considered the 'Top Dog,' and receive preferential treatment.  When my owner, Carol, first introduced me to Zoe and ZeeZee, she  had us meet on neutral turf, actually at a park near our home. I wasn't territorial and once I met my new pals, I wanted to show them my house. The transition and my acceptance of Zoe and ZeeZee was easier than if they had just barged into my territory unannounced.

Along with this, however, expect some slight changes during the orientation period: Your owners will need to consistently treat you as the alpha dog... feed you first, give you first choice with toys, and let you lead the way for the new dog.  The new dog may not like this. You will be supervised more, and if you're too snappy or start a fight, expect to go into a time-out area.  These are short-term inconveniences that will work themselves out and that are outweighed by the luxury of having a live-in playmate, and being able to say,  "There's only one KING, and I'm it!"  Just think, now you don't have to take the blame for anything... you can sit on your throne and claim the new dog did it!


Dear Zelda,

I really need your advice! I live with two bulldogs and they always push me around! I know that you live with multiple bulldogs. What would you suggest that I do, so that those big bruisers leave me alone? I'm quite petite and delicate!

Miss Mocha Fudge, Cocker Spaniel

Dear Miss Mocha Fudge,

You are lucky, because to survive... it helps to be cute.  But the fact is, it's a dog-eat-dog world, and with a delectable name like yours, expect to be a definite target.   (Just hearing the words "Mocha Fudge" makes me salivate.)  If your family has two alpha (dominant dog) wanna-bes, there will always be a full-blown demonstration of social hierarchy in your household.   You're going to have to be your own watchdog.  Since life has handed you two big lemons, just plan to do some squeezing... to the chow bowl, though the doors, around the kitchen counter, and onto the bed.  Learn the rules, then break some.  Have a big-dog attitude.   Those two bruisers will be senior citizens before you know it.   Right now, about all you can do is be a party animal and play hard to wear them out.  Just ask ZeeZee; it works.  Keep telling yourself, "Hey... I can lick any bully in this house."