You’ve gone through all the steps. You spoke with your existing dog and agreed that you were ready for a multi-dog household. You took your time and made sure that you got the right dog from the right place. You took your time introducing them slowly and now your new dog and your existing dog are getting along like lifelong friends. Your work is done!
Not necessarily! There are a few ongoing aspects to running a multi-dog household that help keep things running smoothly. Just like in every household with multiple people who live in close proximity (even spouses!) there will be arguments, so it is important that we set ourselves and our dogs up for success. Our main goal is to avoid the incidents altogether, but it is important to have a few things in place to help us out when those arguments happen anyway.
What exactly does “management” mean anyway? Basically management is what we do to prevent undesirable behavior, when we aren’t able to train. Good examples of this are crating a puppy when we aren’t home so that they don’t destroy the house, putting our dog on leash so that they don’t run away, or putting our dog behind a baby gate so that they don’t jump on guests.
So how does management play into our ongoing lives in a multi-dog household? It is key. As we talked about it Don’t Lose Your Dog in the “Pack” [LINK], it is extremely important for our dogs to get one on one time with us. It is also really difficult to do this in a multi-dog household without some level of management. Crate training is a great skill to keep on top of, even in our older dogs. You never know when they might need to be on crate rest for an injury. Having at least one crate per dog in your home that they will happily go spend time in is a great management tool.
If you would prefer not to crate, or that’s not an option for your dog, that’s perfectly fine. We have plenty of other options! Baby Gates are a great option. Use gates to block off a room or two where your dog can hang out unsupervised. It is important to make sure that there is nothing in this room that they can destroy, or that you would be very upset about them destroying. If blocking off an entire room is difficult, which it can be in some of our newer open concept houses, you can try setting up an ex-pen in a room. An ex-pen acts very much like a crate, it just doesn’t have a roof, so make sure that your dog won’t be able or willing to jump out of the pen.
You can also always just shut a dog in a bedroom or out in the backyard. The big thing to keep in mind here is if that will end up being more stressful for your dog, or result in any destruction of doors or furniture. Really, every option boils down to your personal comfort level and preferences. The important thing is to have a plan and a way to isolate each of your dogs in a safe, low-stress way for everyone involved.
Managing your Resources
This may seem like a pretty arbitrary thing to be talking about but it is very important. Our dogs can deem certain resources very valuable, and one of the most common issues that comes up between housemates in the long run is some form of resource guarding. Dog’s can begin to guard things like food, toys, sleeping spots, space in general, people, and even other animals in the house.
Luckily there are a lot of things we can do to avoid these issues. The major one is usually food. If you
haven’t had a household with food aggression issues it seems so silly to think about. So many people successfully feed their dogs right next to each other and never have a problem! The thing is though, even if your dogs have never had a knock down, drag out over their food, it doesn’t mean that they are comfortable eating next to each other. It creates an unconscious atmosphere of competition for this limited resource, and really is unnecessary. I always recommend separating dogs at meal times. This is a great time to use your crates, by feeding in them, or just put a doorway between your dogs. At a bare minimum, put them on opposite sides of the room, and watch to make sure your dogs aren’t getting uncomfortable.
We can also watch our dogs body language to start seeing if we are dealing with any resource guarding. Are they tensing up when another dog approaches while they have, or are interacting with, the resource? Does their tail stop wagging and body get stiff? Do they start eating faster, or squeaking the toy a little more furiously? Do they walk away with their resource? Are they staring the other dog down?
Watch your dogs and prevent as much as possible. If they are guarding toys, pick them up and put them away. Only bring them out during your one on one time. If they are guarding you, get up and remove yourself from the situation before it escalates. If they are guarding food or stuffed food items/bones, start feeding those things in separate spaces. And of course, if you see any of this, get a trainer in to help you work through it.
As always, there are certain things we expect our dogs to do, and those things tend to vary from household to household. In a multi-dog household the major factors to keep in mind are that your new dog just doesn’t know the rules at all, and your existing dog has never had to follow the rules with another dog running around. Remember, context is key for our dogs.
So the first step of creating a harmonious household is to make sure that both (or all) of your dogs understand the skills that you need from them separately. Make sure that they understand sit, down, coming when called, walking on a loose leash, leave it, and whatever else you might need them to do completely independently from each other. Then, the really difficult step is putting it all together.
Learning to train together is a really important skill for our multi-dogs and a really tricky one for owners. There is suddenly so much going on! What I usually recommend at the beginning is having two handlers, one per dog, and then try to work them alone after the dogs have become more proficient around each other with dedicated handlers. If that isn’t an option for you, start easy! Start with super basic things like name recognition and sits, and slowly make it harder.
Basically, don’t jump straight to taking both dogs on a walk together by yourself, especially if neither of them can actually walk on a loose leash by themselves.
There truly are so many different aspects to having a multi-dog household, and each one is completely different. It is so much fun to have them and can be so rewarding, but also very exhausting and stressful. Enjoy the moments that you can, and remember that multiple dogs means more work, not less! And, as always, reach out to us if you need help. We are always here for you!