If you have 2 or more dogs, you have a multi dog household! Hopefully, most of the time, everything runs smoothly for you. However, it’s worthwhile assessing your management and training so you can prevent any issues developing in the future and you know what steps to take if any issues do arise.
Our first tip is to learn to read Canine Body Language. Learn the top 3 signals for each of your dogs to indicate they have had enough, and that the other dog/s may be annoying them. It may be moving away, stillness/freezing and lip licking. This is BEFORE any growling or snapping occurs. It’s up to you to intervene and help create harmony. We do not recommend leaving dogs to ‘sort it out’ by themselves. This can be detrimental to their relationship in the long run.
You require some sort of management if you have 2 or more dogs. Crates and baby gates are the obvious ones, or you may have a separate area outside such as a courtyard or simply the ability to separate dogs inside and outside or in another part of the house.
Your dogs may choose to be with one another all the time or choose their own resting spots. Be sure to give each dog the ability to remove themselves away from the others if they need to. It may be in another room, or in a crate. Give as many options as your house or yard allows.
Create Calm Time
Once dogs are all adults this becomes easier, but if you have a puppy or adolescent dog, you need to teach the younger dog/s to settle while in the presence of the other dogs. You can do this by using your management such as exercise pens and crates. You could use a tether but ensure any dog on a tether is not left unsupervised.
If your dogs are outside in the yard while you are at work, it can be helpful to monitor their activity by using cameras or activity monitors. You may find it beneficial or necessary to either separate your dogs while you are out or keep them inside in a smaller area so there is less chance that activity and arousal levels can increase.
Having one dog without basic training skills is one thing, having 2 or more is hectic to say the least. All dogs should learn basic cues such as responding to their name, sit, down, target, place/station and be comfortable in a confined area such as a crate or play pen. Practice these skills regularly, both one on one and in a group.
Other helpful skills are:
- Impulse control and learning to share/wait your turn.
- Control at thresholds – doors (wait)
Play and Interactions
Where possible, all interactions and play should be supervised until you are absolutely certain that the dogs can settle together and that any altercations can be settled amicably and without escalation.
Teach yourself and the dogs an ‘interrupter/diffuse’ cue. Our favourite one is to cue a word that means small treats will be scattered on the ground in the dog’s general area and to stop what they are doing and search for them. Cue words could be “’treats!” or “scatter!”.
Tip: Do not use a food scatter if any of your dogs resource guard. In general, we find that having a heap of tiny treats in a reasonably big area can be fine.
Inside play needs to be monitored and sometimes different rules applied than to outside play. For example, you may allow calm ‘bitey face’ games or gentle play inside, but there is no jumping on furniture or creating racetracks inside by chasing each other around. There is also an increased risk of injury and more of a chance arousal levels increase too rapidly.
To reduce stress and anxiety, feed multi dogs separately or in their own space. Supervise all meals until you are sure no resource guarding is occurring. (See resource guarding below).
High value treats like raw bones or chews should only be given under supervision. If you leave your dogs with enrichment toys, ensure you practice this using monitoring cameras to ensure no bullying or fighting is occurring.
Most dogs show subtle guarding behaviours around other dogs. It can be as simple as one dog eating faster if another dog comes too close, or positioning themselves to block another dog from seeing what they are eating. This is normal behaviour and in most multi dog households you just want to maintain harmony by supervising.
Ensure each dog knows the rules about mealtimes and you avoid any altercations by supervising and managing. Again, it is best to give each dog their own safe space to eat meals peacefully and in their own time. Some dogs take longer to eat than others so ensure you manage this by giving appropriate bowls/puzzle toys so that each dog finishes around the same time.
If leaving food or puzzles toys out for dogs when you leave, the general rule is to leave enough toys for each dog plus 1-2 extra. One dog can’t guard all the toys at once, so monitor using cameras. You may find that you can’t leave food toys out unless the dogs are separated.
It’s recommended to remove bowls and toys after meals are finished, especially if any of the dogs resource guard.
Dogs living together can form close relationships and as a result can become reliant on each other. This can often show when they need to be separated.
You can practice separating your dogs for very short periods and get them used to being apart. Start with just separating them inside/outside or leaving one at home while you take the other for a short walk. Work within all your dog’s comfort levels. It may not just be the one who is left behind that is upset – it can also be the dog who is with you.
You also need to separate puppies from older dogs, dogs who only tolerate each other and protect elderly dogs.
Meeting Individual Dogs Needs
Every dog is an individual and has different needs. Some may need or want more physical exercise, more time out and about, or with their person. Some dogs love to play with other dogs (usually younger dogs). For example, if you have 2 dogs, one is aged 10 years, the other is 6 months, your 10-year-old probably isn’t going to be keen on play dates with other dogs.
Similarly, some dogs benefit from going to daycare, but not all dogs. Avoid sending all your dogs to daycare if they don’t all benefit from it just because you don’t want one to ‘miss out’.
Exercise requirements differ between dogs too. Again, your 10-year-old dog may like a short stroll around the neighbourhood, but your 2-year-old dog likes a 5km run. You get extra fit having multiple dogs.
Consider each dog’s life stage and meet their needs.
Hopefully you are not at the stage where you are seeing displays of aggression between your dogs and that most of the time they like and tolerate each other.
Aggression can often be triggered by high arousal and stress levels.
Redirected aggression is very common in multi dog households. This is where a dog redirects aggressive or hostile behaviour to a different place or purpose. That may be towards another dog/s, a person, or an object.
Redirected aggression often happens in high arousal zones such as doorways, upon your arrival/departure, postman/delivery people and visitors, and at neighbouring fences. Arousal levels are almost always high in these scenarios. Your job is to manage these zones and situations where possible.
Fear can also trigger aggression between dogs – for example if one dog is reacting to a storm or environmental trigger, other dogs can aggress to them.
Health/medical conditions for example pain/tension can also trigger aggression.
If your dogs have a sudden onset of aggression towards each other a thorough vet check is recommended as is seeking the help of a qualified rewards based trainer.
Relationships Change Over Time
It’s normal for dogs’ relationships and behaviours to change over time and through developmental stages. Puppies run out of ‘puppy license’, older dogs become less tolerant, and preferences change. It’s all normal so adjust and train according to each individual dog’s needs and you will be well on the way to having a harmonious multi-dog household.