I remember when I went from one dog to two, more than 20 years ago. The best part of adding a second dog was that I stopped feeling so guilty when I left the house, because I knew my dog had a playmate. But I had a lot of things to learn about multi-dog households, too.
Feeding time in a multi-dog household
This week, we have five dogs in the house: three of our own and two visitors. Do I set five bowls down side by side in the kitchen at feeding time? That’s what would be easiest for me, but as a trainer I know this can be where problems start. Every dog in our house has their own spot for feeding time, behind a baby gate or in a crate. No one gets out until the slowest dog has finished eating. This means no one has to gulp down their food because another dog is trying to get it, and I have never had a fight at feeding time. I pick up all of the bowls after dinner, so there’s nothing at all to cause conflict.
Chewies and food-stuffed toys
Similar rules apply for all high-value edibles. If the dogs are getting bully sticks, stuffed Kongs, or are licking out peanut butter jars, again, they each go to their designated feeding spot, with a barrier between them and all other dogs. Many dogs will guard these things as highly as they will their food bowls. When I leave the house, each of the dogs gets a food-stuffed toy to keep them busy. All together in one room? Nope. All separated (are you sensing a theme here?)
When I bring a new dog in for training or boarding, I put all of the dog toys into the toy box and put it away. I want to know the dogs are all comfortable with one another and the house before I bring the toys back, starting with the lowest value ones. Some dogs are OK with the tug toys and stuffies, but become aggressive around antlers or real bones. And some of our visitors can’t have any toys at all when other dogs are around.
Another area where dogs can get competitive is while being hand-fed treats. I say each dog’s name as I hand them the treat. If the wrong dog grabs for it, I block them with my body or hand. Grabby dogs get treats last, and polite dogs get treats first.Grabby dogs get treats last. Click To Tweet
Gates, doors and cars
Many dogs are injured, lost or killed when they burst out a front door, a yard gate, or a car door. I teach each of our dogs (and visiting dogs) that we always wait at exits that lead to a road. If a dog tries to zoom past me, I simply block them with my body, like a goalie (dogs will always be on leash for safety while practicing). If a dog tries to launch themselves out of my car, I simply block with my hands or body, and place them back into the car. Even if I’m standing aside, dogs must never hop out without permission. You can either do a group “OK!” to release, or teach each dog to wait for their name before leaving important doorways.
“My dogs sound like they’re killing each other when they play!” I hear this one all the time. Dogs don’t have hands, so they have to play with their mouths and their teeth, and this can be scary to watch if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Sometimes, indeed there is cause for concern. Ideally, dogs should display soft and loose body language, lots of bent elbows (play bows and playful, popping movements), and gentle play mouthing. If you’re not sure if both dogs are OK with the play, take the one you think is being too rough and lead him away. If the other dog follows, begging for more, they were probably OK. If the other dog “shakes off” and walks away, you were correct to interrupt. Take a slow-mo video if you want to see how elegant and careful dogs can be with their teeth when they play.
Trish McMillan Loehr, MSc, CDBC, ACCBC, CPDT-KA, owns Loehr Animal Behavior in Weaverville, NC. To enlist her help, contact her at loehranimalbehavior.com.