Today, I’ve been hanging out with two of my dogs as well as a few of my clients’ dogs. Watching all of them together got me thinking about multi-dog households. Many of my clients struggle with having moe than one dog in their home. Their dogs get into fights, become destructive, or simply feed off each others’ misbehavior. When someone rings the doorbell, they have two or three dogs barking up the walls rather than just one. That’s enough to drive anyone crazy!
Multi-dog households present unique challenges. I frequently see two dogs from the same household begin to fight. This can happen to dogs who’ve been living together for months or even years. They coexist and seem to be getting along, but one day they suddenly get into a fight. A week or so later they fight again, and then in no time they’re at each others’ throats every day.
This situation occurs because the dogs were only “getting along” under the banner of a lack of control. Their owners weren’t giving much leadership or structure to the dogs, so the only thing that kept the dogs from fighting was the fact that they are friendly animals. There was no strong foundation—so when something in the environment changed, they did not have anything to fall back on. A problem like this requires a lot of difficult work to fix, so I’m not going to focus on that process here. Instead, I’d like to share some of the things you can do to prevent multi-dog issues before they present themselves.
One of the main steps you can take is to implement obedience training for all of your dogs. I know that sounds obvious, but very few people train even one of their dogs—much less the three or four that are living under their roof! Obedience training is very important because dogs need to have that structure to fall back on. If they don’t, they will follow patterns that they choose for themselves. Some dogs are naturally well-behaved, but plenty of others will begin to have issues.
If I have a lot of dogs hanging out together, I very often practice a group down stay or take them on group walks. A lot of people like to refer to these as “pack walks,” but I don’t like that term because it implies that the trainer is a member of a “group” that the dogs created. Plus, certain evidence suggests that dogs aren’t even pack animals in the first place!
Instead, I would prefer to think of my dogs as part of my family. My wife and I stand at the head of our little family. We aren’t “pack leaders.” We don’t focus on being the “alpha” of the group. It’s more about us calling the shots on the dogs’ safety, nutrition, and happiness, just like we do for our kids. At the end of the day, the grown-ups make the executive decisions when those are necessary. We are a family, and the dogs need to fit into that family.
That being said, a group walk certainly doesn’t just mean that you take all of the dogs on a walk together. Rather, it means that you’re placing yourself in a leadership role and requiring that the dogs pay attention to you. If your dogs are vying for who can pull on the leash the hardest or who can run the furthest in front, then the walk will bed very counterproductive. But if you can keep your dogs calm and under control, paying attention to you and to their surrounding, then that will have a huge collateral effect for all of them.
You’ll also want to work on your dogs’ manners. Don’t allow them to jump, chew, or run around the house fighting and wrestling with each other. In combination with obedient group down stays and walks, this training will provide the foundation you need to avoid multi-dog aggression and destructiveness problems. It will also help to solve your dogs’ aggression if it’s already become a issue.
If you have a multi-dog household, then ask yourself some of these questions: When was the last time you took your dogs on a focused group walk? When did you last practice down stays with your dogs? Do you regularly insist on proper manners? Neglecting these things won’t guarantee that your dogs will become aggressive, but they will be much more likely to fight each other, become hyperactive, or destroy your house. If you’re looking for the most value for the amount of time invested, then look at the three factors I’ve outlined in this post. You’ll get your home back in harmony in no time!