We have three dogs in our house, all cavalier king charles’ spaniels, ranging in ages one to three (who are siblings). The third dog came in to our lives unplanned when we were already having some difficulty with the first two. Our main problem is when we go out walking. The dogs just bark at everyone and everything and quite often it becomes so intense that they will get aggressive with each other, particularly when we start the walk or are putting their leads on to go out. There have been no injuries yet and they are friendly dogs on their own and at home. We are really starting to become stressed about this and are at our wits-end. I hope you can point me in the right direction.
Hi Clare, I’m sorry that you are finding things so tough at the moment, you have a lot on your plate. You have a few options.
Your first option would be to re-home one or two of your dogs. This, while it is difficult, would be the best way to reduce the work load on you. At this stage no one seems to be enjoying the situation, the dogs included, and reducing the number of dogs you have will reduce the stress on everyone. It will also allow you to provide a better life for the other dog/s because you wont be ‘spread so thin’. I would not recommend three dogs for anyone unless they were very experienced at dog handling, simply due to the amount of work, in management and training, three dogs involve.
You will probably find that you will have success at re homing due to the size and breed of your dogs. Most people like small dogs, and Cavalier’s are well known for their soft nature. You can re-home your dog/s yourself, or through a rescue organisation, or through the Cavalier club in your area. You should be honest about the situation, as well as the temperament of the dog/s you are going to surrender.
Your second option is to keep all three dogs, and work through the situation with home visits with a professional behaviourist or trainer. You will need to work with one dog at a time, understand each dog thoroughly before working with two, then three. This will require a huge time commitment on your behalf, as well as the cooperation of the rest of your family. You might even like to employ a dog walker to walk the dogs on a rotating system so that you can focus on one dog each day.
Before walking multiple dogs together, you will need to learn how to walk the dogs individually off lead, as I suspect they are only being walked on lead. You will also need to allow them to interact freely with other dogs and people, as many as you can find. This means you will also need some basic training in off lead control.
I suspect that your dogs are simply frustrated at not being allowed to interact with people and other dogs and are reacting to one another. If you can provide them with individual free time it will diffuse the frustration and teach them a new way to behave.
I would also be working on a lot of focus, and calm sitting around people and dogs they cannot greet. This means asking them to ‘sit’ and feeding them for quiet, calm behavior when the leads come out and people and dogs walk past them. Do this with one dog at a time first, then you can do the same exercise with all of the dogs at once.
The idea being, you need to replace the barking and lunging with an incompatible behaviour like sit and focus. This will also stop them lashing out at each other, which I suspect is a build up of arousal, to a point where they take it out on one another. When you start walking them together again it would be best to have one handler per dog for several weeks so that you have the best chance of success when you move to walking them on your own.
You have some difficult choices ahead of you, and a need for lots of committed training. Living successfully with multiple dogs require constant management and a sound understanding of each dogs’ temperament. Get some support around you and you should be able to carry this through successfully, whatever you choose.