When one isn’t enough

For many of us dog lovers, our canine family members are like potato chips—we can’t just have one. There are so many dogs in the world, each with something to share, insights to share, and each in need of love and care, that the idea of ​​limiting us to just one canine companion is simply unthinkable. Our four-legged companions complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, filling our hearts and homes with joy and love (and fur).

Of course, the joy of caring for and loving multiple dogs comes with its own set of potential challenges. Fortunately, we can live with, manage, and/or overcome most of these problems.

Recently, my husband and I unexpectedly became a one-dog household for the first time in over 40 years. Our Kelpie seems lost and confused at first, then seems intrigued by the idea. No competition for resources – “The bed is mine! The human attention is mine! These chews are mine!” But to me, the house felt painfully quiet and empty. My heart hurts so much.

Then we added Sunny, a one-year-old Pomeranian mix, to the family. The introduction went well, and Kai, a mild-mannered, submissive man, quickly came to terms with the fact that he would be at the mercy of this upstart, who was 10 pounds lighter and three years younger than he was.

I am so happy to have another dog to hold, brush, feed and train. I smiled at the mess of dogs in the barn, like two fighting dogs in the aisles chasing each other as they spun around our racetrack at high speed. I love having a dog warming each side of me on the couch.

Still, I forgot that adding an extra dog to the house would complicate things. The baby gate is out again. We keep a practice pen in the bedroom. Once again I played traffic cop at feeding time. We watch closely for any signs that the apparent harmony between the two (for which we are very grateful) may be breaking down. When indoor training breaks down, we’re left scratching our heads trying to figure out the culprit. We thank our lucky stars that everything went smoothly.

Manage multiple dogs

My husband and I have lived with as many as five dogs at different times, so the many steps required to ensure that multiple dogs live in harmony are second nature to us. For those of you new to multi-dog life or struggling with canine sibling issues, here are some tips to help you and your dog survive and succeed in a multi-dog household:

1. Careful introduction

If you’re bringing a new canine family member into your home, a careful introduction can set you up for a successful future. If your dog develops a positive bond from the time he is first introduced, it will greatly reduce the likelihood of future problems. However, if the first introduction goes poorly and your dogs have a negative view of each other from the start, you may be playing catch up and mending bridges for a long time.

2. Listen with your eyes

If you’re good at observing your dog’s body language, you can detect subtle tensions between them before they break into all-out war. It’s much easier to resolve brewing trouble before it happens than to try to repair a relationship after it’s been severely damaged.

3. Management, management, management

Again, prevention is infinitesimally better than cure. Until you are 100 percent sure that your dogs are completely compatible, keep them separated when you are not present to monitor their interactions. If they used to get along well but for some reason tensions begin to arise, separate them when you’re not there to supervise and take steps to figure out why the relationship is deteriorating. Add management measures at any time when necessary.

Management is not just about suppressing the possibility of attack. Manage excessive play by giving your dog time to take turns enjoying freedom in the home. Manage trash-trolling incidents (especially if you don’t know which dog is responsible) by purchasing a trash can that your dog can’t open. Always remember to keep shoes out of reach of all dogs to prevent damage to your favorite shoes.

Food Puzzle Game for Dogs

4. Exercise!

Those noisy games and shoe chewing? They’re usually a sign that your dog isn’t getting enough exercise and their unused energy is causing them trouble. Take the time to make sure each dog gets enough, exhausting aerobic exercise, preferably every day.

You may be able to play with all the dogs together, but it may be more beneficial if you play with each dog individually. Please note that for most dogs, walking on a leash is not enough. It’s a sports appetizer at best. It’s slow and tedious for our dogs to be on our two legs – if they were off leash, they’d be running miles for every mile we walk!

5. Brain games

Mental games can be just as tiring as physical exercise. In addition to educational toys, cognitive exercises are another great way to tire out your dog, helping you survive and enjoy the multi-dog experience.

6. Smell work

While dogs are masters of using their noses, and most do enjoy a good chance to sniff, using their superior sense of smell can also be surprisingly tiring for them. Another great way to burn off canine energy!

7. Alone time

When you have more than one dog, it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing everything as a group. If you regularly spend time working individually with each dog, it will strengthen your relationship with each person and benefit their relationships with each other. If they each have their own time with you, even if it’s just a ride to get coffee or a walk to the mailbox, they won’t feel the need to compete for your attention.

8. Train, train, train

I can’t say this out loud – the more dogs you have, the more important it is that each dog is trained to respond to a healthy range of good manners cues. (This is also a great opportunity to enjoy some “alone time” – kill two birds with one stone!)

With our previous family of five dogs, I could have them all “wait” at the door and invite by name the dogs I wanted to go out with while the others politely stayed indoors. They responded to my signals at dinner time, so we didn’t have a food fight, despite our corgis’ eagerness to compete for resources. When it’s time to separate, I can easily send them to their own crates – a real sanity saver.

9. Zen Human

The calmer you are around your dog, the more you encourage them to stay calm. If you notice tension brewing, take a deep breath and intervene gently and pleasantly. If you jump in with a loud, strong “No! No! No!” you’re more likely to send someone over the threshold and cause conflict. Instead, calmly ask a more intense dog to do a behavior she enjoys, such as “Touch!” to shift her brain from nervousness and emotion to positive associations and thoughts.

multi-dog family

10. Protect vulnerable groups

Old, young, smaller, sick, or disabled members of your canine family may not be able to defend themselves, especially if one or more of your dogs is determined to cause chaos. You must separate these fragile members from the rest of the pack to ensure their physical safety. This may be a temporary solution until the patient recovers enough to rejoin the group, or it may be a permanent solution if size/strength differences between participants persist or conflicts are too severe.

Puppies can be a nuisance, and it is common and appropriate for adult dogs to scold a puppy for bad behavior. However, some adult reprimands are too harsh and should not frighten a fragile puppy.

Older dogs also need protection. It is not uncommon for older adults with declining senses to lose the ability to sense signals from other dogs, or to move quickly after seeing a communication message. Older dogs are often attacked as a result. Your 14-year-old Australian may need to be safely separated from other people when you are not present to monitor them. Protect the vulnerable.

11. Go to the vet

Medical conditions can create or exacerbate tense dog-dog relationships. Physical conditions or illnesses that cause your dog pain or discomfort can cause stress for you. Arthritis in an older dog can make her grumpy, and Lyme disease can make any dog ​​painful and prone to aggression. Two dogs that normally play well may suddenly start fighting if one dog is in pain and thinks the other dog has hurt her, even if this is not the case or was not intentional.

Other medical conditions may be less obvious but can still cause tension in your canine household. Ask your veterinarian to perform a complete thyroid exam on any of your dogs that seem particularly anxious and aggressive. Thyroid levels on the low end but still within the clinical normal range may lead to aggressive behavior.

12. Consider the quality of life of all family members

If the dynamic between your dogs is causing you or your dog family so much stress that your (or their!) quality of life is poor, and if your efforts to improve the relationship aren’t helping, it’s time Consider other options.

First, seek the assistance of a qualified non-violent professional. She may be able to help solve problems that make life difficult and/or come up with additional management solutions to ease tensions for everyone. She may also recommend that your veterinarian set up a phone consultation with a veterinary behaviorist to see if there are medications that can help with the situation (many veterinary behaviorists offer this service to other veterinarians for free). Alternatively, she may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for additional professional assistance.

Finding a new home for one or more troublemakers may reduce stress on other members of the family, although finding a new home for a difficult dog can be a challenge. You may choose to keep the more difficult dogs and place one or more easy-going or fragile dogs with friends or family. It’s a win-win for everyone, creating an extended family for your canine friend while making everyone’s lives more peaceful.

all is well

Dog lovers have always had success caring for multiple dogs, and most of the time it goes pretty smoothly. With good planning, good management, and good luck, you will hopefully find that this is the case for your multi-dog household. However, it is important to remember that assistance is available if needed. In fact, I’m on my way out right now to meet with a client who is facing challenges with her family of five dogs, ranging in age from 15 weeks to 10 years old. I look forward to helping her find a solution that works for her family.

Read our accompanying article: How to teach your dog to “search.”

Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is a training editor at WDJ. She lives in Fairplay, Maryland, where her Peaceable Paws training center is located. Miller’s latest book is “Beware of Dogs: Positive Solutions for Dog Aggression.”