multi-dog home

Anytime we gather a group of animals or unrelated people together for that matter and they have access to limited resources, social dominance hierarchies will form because status will matter when there are conflicts over resources. But if we control the resources in a generous manner and focus on taking care of those in our charge in a fair and equitable way conflict is reduced. Dogs like children need a loving, patient, self-controlled, faithful authority figure that can instruct and guide them, every bit as much as they need a best friend. When living with, working, or training dogs, it is important that we act like a leader, not an adversary, or a food dispenser.   

What is important to you, status or affiliation?  Generally speaking those approaching leadership with a “status” mentality often come with the mindset of not "wanting the dog(s) to get away with that" so the relationship and focus is based on power and submission. This is the alpha or boss approach to being in charge. Often the end result of the “Alpha” approach is a dog motivated out of fear, so the dog’s primary motive is to avoid punishment by submitting.  If we take the, I’m bigger than you and I’m taking charge route, we potently leave everyone else vulnerable (people and dogs) who are not as large or as capable thereby contributing to the very problem we were trying to prevent or solve.

Affiliation on the other hand is not about winning, but rather about being part of a group, on the same team and not treated like an adversary.  Our dogs should be treated like a member of the family. That doesn’t mean we treat them like humans, they are not our peers, but we should be their best friend. After all, we were the one who chose them.

Our dogs’ genetics and previous learning gives opportunities for behaviors to develop, but the environment we establish gives the dog the opportunities to develop and practice both good and bad behavior thus strengthening it. Those things practiced become habits and/or patterns of conduct that are hard to break.  One of the first questions I look to the dog for an answer is how does the dog perceive their role within the environment and what are the dog’s expectations of how to behave?

Our goal is to always be in control and when necessary “take control” and not “fight for control.” Understand that all reactive/aggressive behavior is caused by the need to establish control. When you are not in control it creates a vacuum which can create conflict. So it’s important for you to be in control and remove opportunities for dogs to practice (or continue to practice) the wrong behavior. Behavior that is practiced becomes stronger and opportunities/patterns create habits and expectations. When a negative behavior is predictable, prepare by limiting the chances of the behavior occurring with management not confrontation.

Conflict and aggression is often confused with dominance. Conflict is not necessarily dominance based. People as well as other creatures have conflicts as a normal part of life. Everyone has disagreements… including your dog. Many dogs are labeled “aggressive” when in fact they are responding in a perfectly appropriate canine fashion to rudeness. The big challenge for most owners is they do not know what is appropriate behavior and what’s inappropriate behavior from dogs in specific contexts. Our goal should be ensuring our dogs do not feel the need for conflict nor should we be approaching most circumstances with the attitude that the dogs will “work it out”.

Many dogs mistaken for “dominant” in the household are just lacking self-control, and were never properly taught etiquette and proper decorum for living in a home with others. In most every case the dog is either untrained, confused, fearful, bored & unmotivated, experiencing pain, or just an opportunist which dogs are by nature. It’s important to understand that dogs as a whole are not status-seekers. Dogs are not attempting to move up the social ladder at every opportunity to assume the leadership role and take over. Dogs are opportunists! Most will take advantage of a favorable situation to get things to go their way and to get the things they want. Like people they do what is right or favorable in their own eyes.

50-300 Rule

To varying degrees most dogs show a desire to compete for resources, food, attention, toys, etc… A common reason dogs fight is due to limited resources. Many problems can be prevented with the 50-300 rule. The 50-300 rule is simply provide 50-300% more toys, chew, water bowls, etc. so resources are not limited. If there are two dogs leave at minimum three identical toys, chews, etc. out. Leaving six out is even better insurance.   

Self-Control

Avoid situations where dogs may become over-aroused and lose control. Teach, build, and require self-control be exercised by dogs in every situation. Dogs should learn that you will give them clear and specific instructions on how to act, and use space in a variety of situations.  {Front door, feeding time, treat time, play time, during walks, in the presence of other animals etc.}  This requires dogs to learn to wait for information from you and not to assume. e.g. permission to go in/out door or gate, etc.  You decide who gets a treat first and when, not the dogs.

Play

Dogs can play fetch at the same time, or play tug games with a toy, chase, etc… as long as they can control their arousal and no roughhousing is involved. Do not allow dogs to play rough with one another and bite. Do not permit dogs to put their mouths on another dog even in “play”. They are not permitted to do anything with dogs they know that would be inappropriate if they ran up to another dog they did not know. e.g. jumping on another dog, biting even in play, etc… we want dogs to put their teeth on a toy and not another dog or human. If the dogs’ excitement level spins out of control during play resulting in conflict separate the dogs and play with each dog individually.

TEETH ON TOY

Door

Avoid having dogs near front door if they become unmanageable due to high excitement. With some dogs the greater the distance from the door the easier it is for them to exercise self-control. A dog may need to be 8’ or it may be 15’, or 20’ from the dog to maintain control. We can start to teach self-control by starting at a distance the dog can maintain control and then work in small increments to build their self-control in closer approximations to the door.  We can teach them to sit at a distance or teach them to go to a designated place before you go to open the door.  

Feeding

Dogs can become highly aroused around food and naturally being competitive eaters we do not want to enhance this trait by feeding them close together. Feedings should be supervised so there is no chance for them to go to another dog’s bowl. It best to avoid feeding your dogs at the same time each meal. “When feeding your dogs try not to have a set meal time. If they know they are going to be fed at 6pm every evening, then at 5.30pm they start to look forward eagerly to being fed. At 5.45pm they begin to get excited. At 5.55pm they can hear their owner preparing their meal and start throwing out challenges to one another. Then at 6pm, when their owner walks into the room with their dinner, they start fighting as the first bowl is placed on the floor.” The Dog Vinci Code by John Rogerson

Space

Dogs who get along well and are comfortably with one another can generally share space without conflict. Even when this is the case the larger the area they share when unsupervised the less chance of conflict. Watch how dogs use space and interact. Some dogs are clueless space invaders (think retrievers) and others can be more sensitive to the use and control of space. (think herding breeds) This can create conflict with some dogs. Confident dogs can control space with the slightest eye movement from across the room. This can require close observation at time to see the small signals between dogs.

Small Animals

If you have an existing dog that is good with small animals, don’t assume they will still be well-mannered around small animals if you bring a new dog into the home. Multiple dogs can create higher levels and you may see behavior that was not characteristic of the existing dog due to higher levels of arousal sending the dogs out of control. Proceed with extra caution and allow extra time before assuming everything is good.

Puppy’s and Older Dogs

You should never allow your puppy to pester an older dog to play. This is not cute behavior; it is rude and is not appropriate. Veterinarian and behaviorist Ian Dunbar speaks of a “puppy license”, that is, other dogs tolerating a puppy’s rude behavior up until about the age of 4 or 5 months. The caveat being, that some dogs may not have as much tolerance for nonsense or rude behavior from another dog regardless of its age. If the humans do not stop the puppy’s from bothering another dog, the other dog may put a stop to the behavior in a canine way. The problem is not all dogs know how to give an appropriate correction. You may now have a puppy that becomes fear reactive around other dogs. If you step in and scold the other dog for correcting the puppy (which likely was appropriate) you may be contributing to ensuring your puppy grows up to be a rude and out of control dog. Stop Poking Grandma! What’s Fair Between Older Dogs & Puppies