Having multiple dogs can be a wonderful experience, but when things go wrong it can be stressful for everyone involved. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to cultivate good relationships between dogs in a multi-dog household.
Our homes are essentially very confined spaces containing limited valuable resources, and we give our dogs no choice in housemates – this can be a perfect storm. There are a lot of arguments for allowing dogs to “work it out” or “enforce the pack hierarchy,” and these arguments have a very basic flaw, as they assume the infallibility of “The Pack.” While the myth of the pack (link to https://academyfordogtrainers.com/blog/are-dogs-pack-animals) isn’t something we’ll get into here, I’ll touch on some very practical tips and considerations for helping multiple dogs live comfortably in our homes.
The Needs of Existing Dogs
Owners often introduce a puppy into the home with an aging dog, who is perhaps past the period in life where he is interested in going to a rave and body-surfing into the mosh pit. But this may be what the new puppy wants to do, and she will drag the old guy along for the ride! For some older dogs, a puppy puts a new spring in their step and they play the very important role of auntie or uncle dog. Other older dogs become stressed and reserved or even lash out at the puppy – and the last thing a young puppy needs is a bad experience with another dog!
It is critical for an owner to understand and respect the wants and needs of the existing dogs in their home. Use barriers to give older dogs all the space they need from the puppy, and slow the integration between a new dog and an existing dog. Some existing dogs may not be elderly but are behaviourally or emotionally sensitive and need a very gradual integration of a new family member in order to prevent stress and conflict.
You may know the new dog is here to stay, but your existing dog had no say in it! When adding a new dog to the home, always take the needs of your current dogs into account. Some dogs actually prefer, or even need, to be an only dog! Finding a well-matched dog will greatly reduce the risk of conflict in the home.
Walks may be most easily executed one on one. Particularly with a new dog, you may find that you have a lot of training to do on walks, whether it be for basic leash skills, or for reactivity or fear that emerges as they settle into your home. Using a no-pull harness can be to your advantage if you choose to walk multiple dogs together.
Individual Training Time
Individual training time is critical for all dogs in the household. Positive training is great for cultivating a healthy relationship between you and your new dog and maintaining one with your existing dog. Take each dog to a separate area individually to practise training and teach new skills, and leave your other dog with a chew or stuffed Kong to keep them busy while they wait their turn. Individual training time becomes even more important if you find yourself working through behaviour problems such as reactivity, fear, or aggression.