Living in a multi-dog household is lots of fun and lots of work. Training around food, sleep, exercise, and sharing toys and treats is essential to keep the pack happy. However, it’s not a good situation for everyone or every dog.
Living in a multiple dog home can be rewarding — or outright dangerous. Success depends on becoming a benevolent leader and learning to speak fluent “dog.”
If you think this is the life for you, do everyone a favor. Prepare. Invest in positive reinforcement training that teaches what it means to be a “good dog” and a “good owner” in this new environment.
A leader without an understanding of pack culture can’t mitigate the stress caused by living with multiple dogs. Stressed dogs cause anxiety for their pack and caregivers. It becomes a vicious cycle.
We’ve had the privilege of living with various packs as we train the dogs and caregivers who share a world. We’ve helped them overcome the most challenging issues: feeding time, greetings, playing, toys and treats, sleeping and going outside. Let’s look at simple ways how to solve these issues.
Meal Time: Leverage senior dog’s experience to teach table manners
Fights can happen when you don’t have a plan or aren’t paying attention during feeding. Creating a solid foundation of manners and expectations with your first dog pays off during dinner time with a pack.
Leverage the knowledge of the dogs with more experience. Start with the first dog in the pack, a dog that already knows the preferred behaviors. Feed this dog first. Feeding the pack in order of seniority helps the newer dog learn their place.
Training Pro Tip:
- As you feed each dog, start by saying their name, then place the bowl on the floor, always in the same place.
- Feed them one at a time, following this same plan for each dog.
- Always closely supervise when teaching group feeding.
Begin by teaching your pack to politely wait their turn by showing them how to take a treat. Allow each dog to eat a treat only after you call the name and ask them to sit. Beginning with your first dog, the one with the most seniority, work your way through to the newest canine family member. With repetition and positive reinforcement, you’ll be able to ask them to sit patiently and wait for their turn.
Bed Time: Where do dogs sleep in a multi-dog household?
A dog can sleep everywhere and anywhere, but it’s best if they have a few dedicated spaces they know are safe for them. Like people, dogs need to sleep mostly undisturbed. Without a dedicated space for resting and deep sleep, your dog may exhibit unwanted behaviors like hyper-alertness or aggression.
Training Pro Tip: Provide a variety of safe places for them to sleep in your home. We have crates and a few dog beds scattered around the house so our dogs can choose where to sleep. They usually sleep/rest together, but they also know there are more private spaces available. Privacy helps when one of the dogs doesn’t feel well or is overstimulated.
Saying Hello: Managing greetings in a multi-dog household
Anytime you return home is probably the most exciting part of your dog’s day. When a group of dogs competes to greet you, it can be chaos. Any time company comes over is also an exciting time for dogs. Without proper training, they can develop bad habits around hearing the doorbell.
Training Pro Tip: If you’ve unintentionally taught your dogs to go crazy each time someone walks through the door (by mirroring their excitement), it’s time for a training reset. Intentionally display a calm, unemotional demeanor when you come home and instruct guests to ignore dogs upon arrival. You’re the leader of your pack, and demonstrating calm behavior teaches your dogs what’s expected and acceptable in your pack.
Once you’ve established that it’s not “freak out time” when someone arrives, you can level up a notch. Begin by giving the “wait” or “sit” commands when the dogs rush to greet the person at the front door. Have a friend or family member practice knocking and coming through the door. Do not open the door until the commands are obeyed and reward that good behavior with a treat. Repeat this exercise multiple times until it becomes a habit. If you are training a puppy, use a puppy gate or an imaginary boundary that you have already taught. Reward with a treat when the puppy respects this distance. This keeps the excitement level down, allowing the company to enter safely.
Going for a Walk: Exercising a multi-dog household
Walking on a leash, riding to the dog park, or hiking adventures are exciting for most dogs. Without training and setting expectations, this natural exuberance can put your dog in danger. An excited dog jumping out of a car in a public park can be injured running into the path of an oncoming car. They can get into fights unintentionally by running into an unfamiliar dog frightened by their energy.
Training Pro Tip Demonstrate a calm demeanor when loading your pack in and out of the car and attaching the leash. Your dogs will mirror your energy, and that skill makes everything about traveling a little easier, like going through hotel room doors, gates, or cars. If one member struggles to remain calm, work one-on-one with them until they learn that being relaxed is the key to participation.
Play Dates: Teaching safe, positive play to your pack
Play is a fundamental part of being a dog, and sometimes it gets out of control. Some dogs play more roughly than others, and some dogs display a behavior called “resource guarding,” where food, toys, and people become a source of conflict in the pack. Like human children, dogs can become attached to a particular toy or want to be the first in line for treats.
Training Pro Tip: It’s up to us, as the pack leaders, to manage how our dogs play. Initially, this requires supervision when two or more dogs are at play. Working with a professional trainer helps you identify when intervention is necessary, stopping a fight before it happens. If you don’t understand the signs dogs use to express unhappiness or discomfort and intervene, they may bite to alleviate their stress.
Interventions look like:
- A timeout for one or more dogs, in a private space away from others
- Interrupting aggressive play between two or more dogs
- Changing the mix of dogs that are playing
- Practicing sharing toys & treats a little at a time.
Solution: Knowing each dog’s personal quirks and what is important to them keeps peace and harmony in the pack. One of our dogs prefers the toys owned by the dog we are playing with at the time. She doesn’t care about those toys at any other time. So, we’ve made a training game to keep them both happy, and this kind of game reminds them of our benevolent leadership while they both get a chance to play with THE TOY.
Here’s how it works. We ask one to sit and stay while throwing the ball for the other one and vice versa. They love it. It reinforces obedience cues we’ve worked on for years and teaches them not to guard resources. After a few throws, I can throw THE TOY for either of them to fetch. Using obedience cues teaches dogs patience and focus while maintaining appropriate manners. All creatures feel more confident when they know what the boundaries are and what is expected of them.
How to have a harmonious multi-dog household — always supervise
Management and proper supervision are critical to a well-balanced and harmonious, multi-dog household. Dogs are naturally non-violent communicators. As their pack leaders, if we aren’t fluent in speaking dog, they are left to fend for themselves.
This can lead to anxious, unwanted behaviors expressed as aggression, destructive chewing, separation anxiety, and barking. Working with a trainer experienced in creating happy packs is how you can be accountable for each dog’s needs. Because happy individual animals mean a happy, healthy, and thriving multi-dog home.