For some of us one dog is not enough, and living with multiple dogs can be a great joy. However, looking after more than one dog requires more time and effort than living with one dog. Multiple dogs will often amuse and play with each other so the pressure is off you in that respect, but they can also be double the amount of trouble.
People have mutiple dogs for a variety of reasons. Some people want another dog because they enjoy having one dog so much. Others want their resident dog/s to have more company while everyone is out of the house. Some people purchase two dogs at once and others still want another dog because they have a need that is not being fulfilled by their resident dog. Whatever the reason, there are still the same things to keep in mind.
Multiple dogs require separate training. You cannot teach multiple dogs a skill unless you separate them. Let’s take pulling on the lead as an example. The best way to teach your dog not to pull on the lead is to stop each time your dog pulls, then to move forward when your dog creates slack in the lead. It is impossible to do this with multiple dogs as one dog may be pulling and the other may not be, or, one has created slack in the lead but the other is still straining on the lead. If you are having problems with your dogs pulling the lead you should take separate on lead walks. Alternatively, you can drive your dog’s to the local off lead park and practice one-at-a-time lead walking there until both dogs walk nicely on the lead.
There is an exception to the rule that you need to separate your dog’s to teach them- the recall. If you have one dog that is wonderful at coming when you call, then the other dog will normally not want to be left behind, and will come in too. If you are having trouble with the recall with both dog’s you should either walk them one-at-a-time or only let one dog off the lead at a time. At least then, you only have one dog to worry about, and having the other dog close by, may encourage the free dog to not venture too far away.
Dog’s that live together become very good at name recognition. Train them for this, ask them to sit in front of you and say one dogs’ name, then feed that dog, then say the other dogs’ name and feed that dog. This will be great for whenever you are reinforcing your dogs so they learn to wait their turn. It is also important for when you only need one dogs’ attention. You can even have a group name for your dog’s like ‘puppies’, ‘boys’, ‘girls’, ‘dogs’, when you need all of them to pay attention to you. Have someone hold your dogs when you recall individual dogs, using their names as well as recalling the group when you use the group name.
Dogs do react to one another, and anyone who has lived in a multi dog household knows that this can often be a bad thing. The usual issue is that one dog starts the barking or lunging and then the other dog follows. Often, if you walk the dogs separately this stops, if this is the case, you need to train the dogs together to focus on you when there is a distraction present that they are likely to start barking at.
Again, if you cannot get one dog to focus on you in a distracting environment you will not be able to get multiple dogs doing it, so teach it separately, then, once it is reliable, bring the dogs together for the same exercise. Gradually move up to being able to to have them both focus on you in all situations. The less they get to practice barking and lunging the less likely they are going to do it in the future.
So many people assume that one dog has to be ‘pack leader’. I dispelled this myth of dominance in previous posts; Dominance and Your Dog and Dominance and The Wolf. Dogs are dogs, not wolves. Your household dogs will be motivated by different needs and will have different resources that they value (just like us). What is important to one dog will not be to another. It can be very damaging and confusing to your dogs if you decide that one is ‘alpha’ and apply that to every situation and resource. Get to know each of your dogs as individuals, and you will soon understand what each one values, then you will be able to manage your group of dog’s effectively.
Introducing a new dog in to your home needs to be a process that you resident dog/s should be involved in, particularly if you are adopting an older dog. In this case, you should take your resident dog to visit the new dog on neutral ground and watch the interaction. Off lead greetings are best if both dogs are well socialised. If either dog has difficulty meeting new dogs, or you are unsure how either will react to the other, then a different greeting is in order.
Walk the two dogs together on lead with one walking a distance behind the other. It’s best to place the more timid dog at the rear. Walk the dogs until you notice them relaxing, then you can begin walking closer together, until you are walking the dogs side-by-side. From there, if all is going well they should be fine together. If not, then either take some more walks together until they being to know each other or choose another dog.
There are also some general tips that I advise people on when it comes to multiple dogs. First, never, unless you are an experienced dog owner, purchase two or more dogs at once. It is hard enough bringing one dog up at a time with out the added strain of another one. Most reputable breeders will not sell multiple dogs to the same family.
Second, wait until you have had your first dog for three years before embarking on adding another dog to the family. After three years, most dogs’ have fully matured, and if there are any behavioural problems you will know about them by this stage. Remember, dogs react to the behaviour of other dogs, so if your resident dog/s have got issues, it is highly likely your new dog will develop the same issue.
Finally, if you own multiple dogs and they are fighting contact an animal behaviourist to help you. An animal behaviourist specialises in canine (and usually feline) behaviour, with a background in veterinary science and will be the best qualified person to deal with this problem.