I have a confession to make. Part of the reason that I can confidently talk about what to do and not to do when building a multi-dog household is because I have failed spectacularly at it in the past. I do have a very smooth and stable multi-dog household now, but the first time I tried to go from one dog to two, it went horribly.
I was a very wise eighteen years old. I had just moved out of my parents house and had been successfully raising my own dog for eight whole months. I knew exactly what I was doing and was financially secure with two jobs. Nothing could go wrong! Hah. Yeah. I was an idiot!
Shortly after moving out I made the very wise decision to adopt a six week old boxer puppy. He was a tiny boxer, gorgeous, and the sweetest soul. Things started out pretty smoothly. My “older” dog, Tyler, and the new pup, Basil, were able to eat in the same room with no problems. They played well together, napped together, and went to work with me every day. The peaceful bliss lasted until Basil hit about eight months. Then we started having fights. Big ones. Knock down, drag out, resulting in punctures fights. It was in this heartbreaking time period that I learned one of the biggest lessons about having a multi-dog household: don’t lose your dog in the “pack”.
When we start building our multi-dog households we tend to get really excited at the prospect of the dogs entertaining each other. They will have friends! Our own little dog “pack” to keep each other happy and keep each other company while we are gone. A gang to go have adventures with. These aren’t horrible thoughts to have by any means, but it is so important that we don’t forget our dogs as individuals. Just like humans, dogs do enjoy their alone time. They can definitely run out of social energy and need time to be by themselves.
The main puzzle piece here though, is maintaining your own relationships with your dogs as individuals. It’s so easy to get used to them as a group and forget how they can behave when you have them one on one. With your second (and third and fourth) dogs it can even be difficult to know how they are one on one at all if all your time is spent together in a group. Personalities can definitely shift in a group dynamic versus a solo situation.
When Tyler and Basil first started fighting I panicked and had no idea what to do. I started feeding them separately, and spending more time with them one on one but the fights continued even after they had spent the whole day without seeing each other. Eventually I did a full month of complete separation. They saw each other briefly from their crates, but had no physical contact for a month. When I reintroduced them we spent a lot more time focused on one on one activities, and this is a habit I have continued into my current multi-dog household.
With four dogs currently, separate time for everyone can be a little tricky, but we make it a priority to make it work. For each dog it looks a little different, as they each have different needs to fulfill and different activities they enjoy. It also becomes a lot less daunting when you make it a habit, and
routine. We also try to be really aware of our limitations, and so we focus on weekly individual activities, rather than daily.
Each dog in our household gets one solo walk per week. For some of them that is an off leash hike, for some a long line walk, and sometimes a neighborhood walk. The walk itself depends on our schedule that day, and the dog we are taking. Once per week they each get solo evening time with us as well. Sometimes that is throwing a ball in the yard, sometimes it is cuddles on the couch, sometimes it’s just sharing the living space with us with no other dogs present. On top of that, about once a month I try and take each dog on their own solo public outing. Sometimes shopping, to a restaurant, or just to a park to sit in the shade and relax with a book.
Solo activities with your dog don’t always need to be long, or intense. Your main focus should be on doing something you and your dog will enjoy, and reconnecting with them. If you find yourself in this situation, take a step back and spend some time focusing on your dogs as individuals, and reach out to us if you need help! After the month long separation and refocusing our energies on individual activities, I was able to successfully reintegrate Basil and Tyler, and we were able to return to a peaceful and balanced household until different life circumstances got in our way. But that is a story for another day.