For pet parents, spending time with your dog is one of life's greatest pleasures. And the mantra for some of us dog lovers is "double the pleasure, double the fun." Yes, two dogs, or even three or four (or more) make our world go around. Multi-dog households start simply enough when newlyweds or roommates move in together, each with their respective dogs, or suddenly come into full bloom when you introduce a new dog or dogs into a formerly one-dog domain.
No matter how the magic begins, keeping the peace among multiple dogs is vital, but it's not always a walk in the park. Read on for expert tips, ideas, and resources that will help you create a peaceful, enjoyable environment for every family member, furry or otherwise.
Guidelines to avoid conflict
According to Research and Markets 2017 report "Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.," 105 million Americans own dogs, and most dogs have canine companions of their own. Also, they report that multiple-dog households are growing at a faster rate than other segments of the pet market.
If you're one of the millions of multi-dog households in America today, you may be experiencing the bliss of living with a cohesive, happy pack of tail-wagging dogs who are super-compatible. On the other hand, you're certainly not alone if you're living in turmoil, not quite knowing how to stop the squabbles in your chaotic multi-dog household. Managing a multi-dog household is not a piece of cake and it often takes a lot of work to keep it rolling along smoothly. But don't worry: you, too, can learn the skills you need to facilitate harmonious multi-dog relationships.
Here are some of the most important keys to a happy, multi-dog home in a nutshell:
- The dogs in your pack should be spayed and neutered.
- Dogs fight due to stress, so create a stress-free environment for them.
- Learn about dog body language.
- Know your commands and train your dogs daily to reinforce their manners.
- Be calm and patient.
- Nip behavior problems in the bud.
- Provide adequate attention, playtime, exercise, and mental stimulation one-on-one and as a group..
- Don't give separate rooms to arch-rivals since isolation backfires; work on socialization.
- Establish dinnertime and bedtime etiquette.
- Access training resources and practice continuous learning about dogs.
Dog body language
Learning dog body language is necessary when you have even one dog. Imagine then, how crucial it is when you have two or more dogs who are not only interacting with you but also their pack mates all day long. Learning to recognize all the body language signs your dog is communicating at any given moment alerts you to pending intra-pack aggression.
Canine body language runs the gamut from the signs we all readily recognize and love about dogs, such as relaxed and approachable and playful to warning signs we need to take heed of, like, fearful and aggressive (includes tail tucked, lips slightly curled), stressed and distressed (includes tail down, rapid panting), and finally, fearful and worried (includes body lowered, paw raised).
Stress and access to resources
Along with stress, access to resources can become a bone of contention for dogs, as it is for all animals. Ensuring your dogs each have their own beds, toys, food and water bowls, and all receive equal attention from you, their guardian and person they are most attached to, is vital to avoid stress and give each dog equal access to everything that is important for them to thrive.
Feeding time etiquette
If your dogs are partial to their crates, you can feed each of them in their own crate. If not, you should feed your dogs in separate rooms, or at least separate areas, to avoid involuntary sharing of meals or outright pilfering. Baby gates are handy for designated feeding stations.
To crate or not to crate — that is the question. Many multi-dog households use crates extensively for training their dogs, and many dogs grow to love their crates in which they feel safe. Bedtime for multiple dogs can be their crate with a soft, cozy blanket inside, a dedicated dog bed, or even your bed, but when you have multiple dogs, it can get a little crowded, and experts recommend against it.
Training and essential commands your dogs must know
Well-trained and well-behaved dogs who regularly receive positive reinforcement training are essential for a harmonious multi-dog household.
Teach your dogs to "Wait" so that when you're on your way out for a group walk, they don't all run out at the same time. Each dog needs to wait his turn to exit at a walking pace. Wait works as well for entering a vehicle one-by-one, giving treats, and comes in handy for many more situations that arise in a multi-dog household.
Teach the word "Enough," which is a nice way of saying stop doing what you're doing right now. This simple command is used frequently in a multi-dog household.
Use playtime to hone your dogs' obedience skills, making positive reinforcement fun and entertaining for the whole pack. Add new lessons often to keep your dogs' engaged and excited about what they are learning.
Dealing with a behavior problem
When one of your dogs refuses to get along with one or more others in the pack, it's difficult for the whole household. But rather than sequestering your troublesome dog in a separate room, you will need to work on correcting the behavior with positive reinforcement and socializing techniques with the dog or dogs he is having issues with.
Separating during conflict?
Even the most balanced dog pack may occasionally have a fight. If a dog quarrel erupts in your multi-dog household, take charge, redirect your dog's attention, and break it up quickly, all while staying calm and not shouting. While your first instinct is to let your dogs chill out in separate rooms, it's only a quick fix that works very short-term for minor scuffles. Separation only magnifies the conflict, turning into an obsession, and making a potentially violent fight imminent when they meet again.
The hardest thing about dog fights is trying not to worry that it will happen again because if you do, your dogs will pick up on your nervous energy, and you can be assured, it will happen again. Dogs forget quickly, and you also need to move on.
However, serious dog fighting is a complicated issue and needs to be dealt with appropriately. Again, access resources such as professional dog trainers or dog behavior consultants or visit the websites of experts like Patricia McConnell or Kim Brophey for articles that address your problems before making any rash decisions to re-home a dog, or worse.
Resources to help keep or regain the peace
Keep in mind, a relationship with one dog is significantly less complicated than dealing with groups of dogs. You have to be vigilant and consistent in training when you have multiple dogs. But if the pack dynamic takes an ugly turn for the worse, spiraling beyond your control, many resources are available to help you navigate the storm.
Understanding each of your dog's personalities, energy (varying intensity), motivators, insecurities, limitations, and strong points is key to successfully supervising a pack of dogs. One excellent learning resource for newbie or even veteran multi-dog owners is "Meet Your Dog, the Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog," a ground-breaking book by Kim Brophey, an award-winning Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA).
Through reading and practicing the precepts in this book, you will come to know what makes each of your dogs tick. And from that knowledge, you can forge a new relationship with each individual member and the pack as a cohesive unit, working constructively on individual issues to achieve healthy dog-to-dog interactions, which naturally makes for a peaceful household.
In more challenging circumstances, you might consider the services of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer or Certified Canine Behavior Consultant in your area.
Sharing your heart and home with multiple dogs is infinitely rewarding, but can be challenging at times, too, when personalities clash, dogs get stressed, or their access to resources is compromised. Keeping the peace in a multi-dog household requires that you choose pack mates wisely, spay and neuter, have strong leadership skills, train your dogs often in basic obedience, even during playtime, and teach helpful commands like "wait" and "enough." Ensure your dogs all get adequate exercise, play, and mental stimulation to stay fit and thrive in your multi-dog household.
You also must learn dog body language fluently so you can defuse a flare-up between your dogs, give equal and stressless access to resources such as food, water, beds, and toys, and deal with battling dogs through socialization, and major, deep-seated behavior issues via dog experts' online resources or consultation with a dog trainer or canine behavior consultant before things get out of hand.
- Patrica McConnell, The Other End of the Leash: Multi-Dog Households
- Whole Dog Journal: How to Manage a Multi-Dog Household
- Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash: Serious Dog Fighting
- Dog Door Canine Services
- Cesar's Way: How to Help Dogs Get Along
- CCPDT: Certified Dog Trainer Directory
- Modern Dog Magazine: How to Read Your Dog's Body Language
- You Tube: Management of a Multi-Dog Household by Patrica McConnell
- Research and Markets: "Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 2nd Edition"
- Cesar's Way: Is Your Dog Dominant or Submissive
- Pets4Homes: What Dog Breeds Are the Keenest Pack Dogs
- Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash: When to Intervene in Dog-to-Dog Interactions