Living with more than one dog can be a rewarding experience. Dogs love the company of other dogs. Knowing how to prevent problems and teaching dogs how to share resources so they do not bully each other, or pester you, is pivotal to having a harmonious multi-dog home.
If you regularly let your dogs work it out among themselves, you give them a clear signal that you do not want to be involved when there is social conflict. If there is then an emergency, and you need to get your dogs’ attention, they will be less likely to look to you for guidance.
Dogs will frequently compete over resources. Resources include your attention, eye contact, affection, and praise; locations in the house and in the car; toys, balls, bones, food, and beds. A little preparedness on your part can go a long way toward preventing conflict. Your dogs should wait their turns for affection and food, respond to their names, and know how to sit, stay, look at you, and leave or drop objects.
- Teach your dogs that all toys, affection, games, play, and petting come from you only when they are nice to each other. If they misbehave or bully each other for resources and your attention, give them a time-out or remove what triggered the behavior. Make sure the situation is managed so the problem does not reoccur.
- Provide plenty of resources for your dogs so that there is little competition between them. If you have only one food bowl, dog toy, or dog bed, your dogs will be forced to take turns or fight over them.
- Say your dogs’ names routinely so each dog can figure out who is being focused on. If other dogs get involved when you are focusing on an individual, turn your back on the intruders or look away from them.
- Do not give your dogs attention for being nudgy, barking at you, jumping on you, or bullying each other. Don’t pet your dogs when they barricade you or push themselves on you. Teach your dogs impulse control, and reward polite manners.
- All dogs should wait for treats and meals or have places to go when they eat so that they do not intrude on each other.
- Dogs should wait or be taught to sit before they go outside. Please do not ask an older dog to sit; older dogs frequently have hip and knee problems, and sitting can be painful for them. Ask older dogs to wait or stay instead. The goal is not for your dogs to sit, but for them to not barge through doors when you open them. If you have a young dog who regularly hesitates when you ask him to sit, take him to a veterinarian.
- When you pet one dog and another dog intrudes so that he becomes the center of attention, if you reward him you are rewarding that behavior. The dogs then compete for your attention, and one dog will inevitably be driven away. This does not set a good precedent for you as a leader.
- If you are petting a dog and another dog barges in and pushes that dog away, ignore the dog who intruded by looking away or turning your back to him. Continue petting the other dog. If he begins to nudge or growl at the dog who is receiving attention from you, stand up and look away from both dogs. When the dog who growled or nudged his way in sees that his behavior did not work for him and loses interest, go back and pet the dog you had been giving attention to.
- If dogs growl at each other over an object or a bone, remove it. If a dog has a toy or other object and another dog intimidates him by staring at him, interrupt the stare and direct that dog to another behavior. If one dog takes a toy or an object from another dog or makes that dog drop the object or leave the area, remove the item from the dog who took it and give it back to the dog who originally had it. You may have to do this multiple times, but your dogs will get a message from you: bullying behavior doesn’t work. You will notice a remarkable change in your dogs’ behaviors. The dog who may be regularly harassed or bullied will thank you, and there should be less conflict between the dogs in the future.
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Alana Stevenson provides Skype and phone consults and can be reached through her website AlanaStevenson.com . You can purchase a copy of a her book Training Your Dog the Humane Way on Amazon.