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Helpful Skills for Multi-Dog Households (and How to Use Them)

Maintaining healthy relationships between dogs in a multi-dog household can be more complicated than people may think. As an owner, you need to be observant of stress signals, be aware of healthy play and play with tension, and learn to teach needed life skills to keep all dogs happy and safe. We never want to allow dogs to “just work it out” and in fact, we don’t even want our dogs to get to a place where they feel they need to defend themselves. This means we have let something undesirable go on too long.

Teaching dogs behaviors can be very helpful in navigating your day to day life. But in multi-dog households, certain behaviors can help you keep the peace and maintain a happy home for all. Attention on Cue or Positive Interrupters

Grabbing our dog’s attention is a necessary foundation for all other training. Once we have their attention, we can ask them for any other known behavior like coming when called or lay down. In multi-dog households it is tremendously helpful in getting them out of trouble.

As owners become more proficient at reading dog body language, they will become more aware of the interactions between their dogs – both positive and undesirable. To help keep the peace and prevent stressful moments from escalating into an altercation, grabbing attention can help stop those tense moments and give you a chance to redirect the dog. By positively training this attention getter, you help ensure that this noise, even in a heated moment, is less likely to escalate a situation or increase stress.

Now with everyone’s attention I can easily redirect them to get them away from one other with more cues. Generally, after my attention grabber I will ask the dog that might be instigating to come to me or ask both dogs if they are too rowdy to go settle on a mat. In my single dog homes, I generally teach eye contact on cue with the dog’s name. When more than one dog is in the home I increase my practice sessions to also include a generic sound or cue like “watch me” so that I can either grab a single dog’s attention or even grab the attention of all dogs in the room.

Relaxation on Cue

Calming down and relaxing is a life skill that many owners want in their home. For many dogs, especially our teenagers, this is a skill that often requires training for the dog to learn. Teaching dogs to go to place or settle on a mat on cue not only gives owners a way to ask their dogs to chill, but it also begins to teach dogs how rewarding relaxation can be, which increases the chances they will do it again.

One challenge many of our multidog homes face is the amount of energy and arousal. Dogs will feed off one another and energy can very quickly become overwhelming for owners. While we want our dogs to play, we want to avoid play 24/7 as this increases arousal and makes this behavior more “normal”. We want dogs to display a more natural and appropriate fluctuation between moments of play and moments of rest. But again, this often takes some human direction.

In multi-dog homes, I like to practice this skill individually with each dog. Once foundations have been built, I then begin to practice training both dogs in a single session to help them learn how to do this skill together. Then we can incorporate this skill into our normal routine, particularly those activities that may be more arousing like cooking, meal time, when friends are here.

Coming When Called

In multi-dog households, the ability to call a dog to you reliably can be very helpful. Not only for assisting you with daily tasks like getting a dog to come inside from the yard, or retrieving a dog who slips out a door. Recalls can also help you redirect a dog who might be too close to another dog’s resource or too close to a dog who may be signaling stress. Even within a social household, dogs like to be left alone when resting or when consuming food or a chew. If a dog attempts to get near out of curiosity or wants to initiate play you may see the dog laying down display signals of stress – like dropping their head, flattening ears, showing teeth, or growling. Using your positive interrupter and recalling the instigating dog can help keep everyone safe both mentally and physically and allow the dog who is resting to do so in peace without the need of escalation. In the long run, this type of attention grabbing, and recall can help maintain a positive association between the two dogs by preventing escalation and altercations. It allows both dogs to feel safe around one another and in their home.

Confidence when Left Alone (Crating, Gates, X-Pens)

Crating after an injury, whelping a new litter, taking one dog to a group training class, heading out on a field trip, dealing with a girl in season, managing energy levels, having a baby, introducing a new dog, and having friends and family over are just some of the many reasons that you might need to use management to separate the dogs from you or from one another. Often owners in multi-dog households feel bad about separating the dogs from them or from one another with concerns of a dog feeling bad or feeling left out. While dogs can develop this anxiety of separation, this can just as easily happen in a single dog home, and in fact is a life skill all dogs need to learn. We never know what kind of life circumstance might result with separation and it is our job to not only teach our dogs how to remain calm and stress free, but to rehearse this to help normalize this.

Crates, X-pens, and baby gates are just a few of the management tools that we can utilize to provide a barrier to work on this concept. With each dog in a multi-dog household, I like to practice both solo and as a group. I use small training sessions teaching in and out, laying down, and relaxation with duration to build a behavioral foundation of what I want in these settings. Then I continue to rehearse these skills in life and provide special enrichment, classical music, and even Adaptil pheromone if necessary to promote positive associations and relaxation. Utilizing these skills on and off through a dog’s adult life and continuing to maintain these life skills help them prepare for the unexpected.

While teaching dogs tricks like shake and rollover are entertaining, I always encourage clients to focus on the life skill foundations that will help them live peacefully with their dog or dogs daily. For our multi-dog homes, we must teach these skills at a base level and continue to develop them. With other temptations and exciting stimuli that multi-dog homes present, building these skills with distance, distraction, and duration can help ensure you have reliable responses to these cues to use in a multitude of situations. While many want their dog to have friends, and many dogs in multi-dog households do get along well and enjoy company, it is our responsibility as their owners and caregivers to keep everyone safe and comfortable. Building these behaviors can help you manage the home, prevent problems from developing or escalating, and keep your dogs peacefully together. Do you need more help with your multi-dog household? We can help you with virtual coaching!


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