Creating Harmony in a Multi Dog Household

Hi everyone, Kathy and Sarah here. 

And today, we're back with a brand-new episode of Dog Sense!

If you've listened to our episode about bringing a new dog into your household, then you probably remember we promised we'd do one about living in harmony with multiple dogs.

Well friends, we're here to deliver, so there we go: Our best tips and tricks for creating harmony in a multi-dog household.

If you've lived with more than one dog, then you know the struggle is real. It can be messy and hectic, and, in all honesty, pretty overwhelming.

However, we're here to help!

So, if you're living with more than one dog (or thinking of adding another!), this episode is for you! 

Tune in now!

Owning Several Dogs Isn’t Always Easy

[Quote: You need to develop a relationship with each of your dogs.]

Owning several dogs and creating harmony can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Take Sarah and me, for example; we’ve never had a single-dog household, and we’ve become experts in multi-dog ‘zen’. 

I know, I know. You don’t want to compare yourself to professionals, but  many of our students have more than one dog and with our guidance, are doing awesome!

The last year has seen an increase in the number of people adding dogs to their families, and for that reason, we decided it was imperative to discuss this subject! 

First of all, I need you to know that you need to intentionally create harmony. It’s not something your dogs can just work out on their own because, often, they don’t work it out the way you want them to.

How do you do that? I answer this question in today’s blog. 

But before we begin, let’s discuss the bigger issue here: How people don’t realize that their dogs need to understand that the humans own all the valuable resources that they (the dogs) want. 

What do I mean by “resources”? A lot of times, people think it’s just food, but it’s also toys, blankets, bed, a water bowl, or even the freedom to go outside. 

Making sure your dogs understand these resources are yours is only one of the keys to canine pack harmony. Keep reading to learn more.

Individual Time Is a Must

Spending individual time with each of your dogs is a must. Maybe one of your dogs loves to go for bike rides and the other one prefers to play with toys in the backyard. You can do these things with them individually.

We know that spending individual time with each of your dogs is crucial in making sure your bond with them is stronger than their bond with each other.

So, foster their individuality and create a relationship where you’re not just the person who feeds them and walks them. 

I can hear you saying “But Kathy and Sarah, it’s so much easier to do everything with them *together*!”  And I get it, but if you treat your dogs as a unit, you risk them having their own little tribe, and having them see you as the help who brings them food and takes them out. But we want them to see you as the leader of a group that you’re *all* in. 

This also is good for them in another way. Your dogs should learn to be cool with being separated. They have to be comfortable being by themselves, because you never know when you’ll need to take one of them to the vet alone or you have to board one of them, etc… 

However, you will want your dog to practice commands together. After training them individually, make sure to do sessions with ALL of them, so that, as a pack, your dogs learn that they still need to listen and follow your commands.

Different Rules for Different Dogs

[Quote: Teach your dogs that all their resources belong to you.]

Life isn’t fair, and your dogs need to know that. Having different rules for different dogs might make you feel bad, but it’s a necessary evil. So, don’t let guilt ruin your dog training!

Maybe your older dog is accomplished at “place”, but your younger one isn't. That means your older dog can hang out when you’re having guests over, but your younger one may need to be crated, or gated, or on a leash (for now, until he’s trained, too).

Think of it like having different rules for your children. For example, when my son was 17 and started driving, my daughter, who was 12, wanted to drive too. Of course, she wasn’t allowed to and that really frustrated her. But she eventually understood that was for her own good.

It’s the same for dogs. Yes, having different rules isn’t fair, but that’s how it is. You always have to do what’s best for everyone in all situations, and sometimes what’s best for one is different than what’s best for the other(s).

Teach Your Dogs to Self-Soothe

Dogs often act up due to frustration, which is why you have to teach yours to tolerate frustration and to self-soothe. 

When your dog is frustrated and barking or jumping up because, say, he wants the piece of toast you’re eating, don’t give him any!  Because 1) That’s teaching him that when he acts like that, he gets what he wants, and 2) Your dog has to learn that he won’t always get what he wants. Plus if he acts up, he will never be rewarded! The earlier you teach them that, the easier it gets, because trust me, when one dog acts up, the others are quick to follow!

You’ll also have to keep your behavior in check. Staying calm and confident is important, because your dogs will react to you, especially if you get super excited or overwhelmed in front of them. 

A Few More Tips 

[Quote: Spending individual time with each dog is important.]

  • Be firm: If one of your dogs doesn’t follow your rules, you’ll have to follow through. Setting boundaries is important, however, don’t use intimidation. Instead, use training and consistency. 
  • Brush up on your “dog body language” knowledge: Yes, we know you know the usual ones - when your dog’s tail is wagging, he’s happy, when he’s showing his teeth, he’s not - but  that’s pre-k stuff, and we’re talking about PhD-level body language here. Keep an eye on stress signals in your dogs, such as looking away, freezing when playing, excessive blinking, or yawning. You should also watch them while they’re playing and make sure they’re not mouthing excessively or bearing up on their hind legs.
  • Don’t feed your dogs loose!: Make sure they’re eating in separate spaces, even if they get along. A fight around food can easily happen, and believe me, you don’t want that.

Final Words

Do you live in a multi-dog household? If yes, then how are you managing it and keeping the peace? Comment with your favorite tips and tricks!