Important must-knows for setting your household up for success
Enjoy our cartoon version of multi-dog management with more details below!
Having more than one dog can be great fun, provided you're a good manager and your dogs have good chemistry together. They'll need you to be the best playground monitor you can be to ensure that everybody succeeds. Here are some important tips for making it work.
The Golden Rules of Multi-Dog Management:
- Select your pets with care. Some dog pairs have great chemistry while others are Jerry Springer material - Nothing but conflict and strife.
- Maintain a strong leadership role so the dogs know and respect the house rules.
- Especially while dogs are getting to know each other, separate before you leave the house.
- Know the most common fight triggers and work to prevent them.
- Involve everyone in the household in multi-dog management.
- Understand that dog dynamics can and do shift along with life changes.
- Give your dogs individual attention to strengthen bonds.
If you're able, shop for good chemistry.
Dogs are like people - Some hit it off immediately, some take time to develop a friendship and some will continue to push each other's buttons. If you're actively searching for a new companion for your existing dog, look at several dogs and let a rescue group or shelter pro help you.
With two larger dogs especially, opposite sex pairings tend to have the easiest intros and best long term success. Plenty of same sex housemate dogs do great together too, but can require slower intros and more management. Matching a small dog with a larger dog can be a great way to offer companionship, too (with small dogs, opposite sex placements tend to be less important.)
Just for pit bulls? No way!
"I only discovered the great info on Bad Rap's site when I brought home our foster pit bull. I could have REALLY used the advice on handling multi-dog situations after we adopted a Dalmatian who picked fights with our Spaniel mix. Standard dog training advice was that they'll learn to love each other with lots of long walks together...they never did. The blog post "Welcome to Bootcamp" and all of the 'Nothing in life is free' info was fantastic when I brought the foster dog home, too. Thanks!" - Chrisy Avery
Know your dog’s limits.
A dog's tolerance for another dog's shenanigans varies by individual. See: Dog Tolerance Levels. Some are easy going, and some won't take gruff from any dog. It's extremely helpful to know your dog's likes and dislikes, including whether he has a ‘short fuse’ or a ‘long fuse’ when he's riled up, and, what pushes his buttons.
NOTE: It can be harder for dogs with short fuses to succeed in multi-dog homes. In some cases, it's better for everybody if he shares his home with only one dog or none at all. That's A-Okay - Some of the happiest dogs around are those that have their people all to themselves!
Be the Job Boss
Your current dog(s) should be nicely trained before bringing a new dog home. This will set the stage for a smooth transition and help the dogs know what you expect from them. Trained dogs can also serve as mentors for newer dogs and teach them good manners.
Your leadership role will be everything if your dogs decide to co-conspire to misbehave or have an argument. If your current dog doesn't have the best house manners, your work load may double - No fun! A good obedience training class plus lots of practice outside of class can help you instill better manners in a month's time.
TIP: Reinforce house rules by working each dog a few minutes every day, especially at meal time. Mealtime is a good time to do short sessions that include 'Down,' 'Look' and 'Wait.'
MORE TIPS (In PDF Form) for "Introducing a A New Dog into the House."
Separate dogs before leaving the house
This can be one of the hardest must-dos for new multi-dog owners to accept: Dogs can be the best of friends BUT they may still find something, someday, that will cause an argument.
When you're home, a small spat can typically be stopped with a loud Boss Lady shout. But if you're not home, this same little argument can escalate, drag on and cause injury. Avoid this terrible possibility by getting your dogs accustomed to being separated during 'down time' in a crate, larger dog kennel or on a tie-down, first while you're home and then while you're away. You can rotate dogs so one is out while the other is contained. Or, let one dog sleep in your bedroom behind a baby gate for the day while the other gets the sofa.
More info on living well with a Crate Rotation Routine.
Dogs are creatures of habit, so once this routine's established, they’ll accept it as perfectly normal. Remember to exercise the dogs before you confine them so they can rest and enjoy a chew toy while you're away. By following this standard protocol used by owners of many dog breeds including and especially the terrier breeds, you can leave the house knowing that you’ve done everything possible to ensure their well being.
Avoid conflict by knowing common fight triggers
It's a fact of life that all multi-homes live with: Dogs of every breed can and do scrap with housemate dogs. To prevent smaller, harmless arguments from escalating into full scale battles, homes need to stay on top of things. Dog owners should become dedicated students of dog body language and be diligent about preventing the types of triggers that can spark tensions.
While it's natural for canine house mates to develop a noticeable pecking order, this hierarchy should never take the place of your role as Head Boss, Manager of the Roost and Keeper of the Peace.
COMMON FIGHT TRIGGERS:
The presence of prized chews, toys, food and even attention from you or your company can send arousal levels up and spark conflicts in some dogs. Don't overlook the chicken bones in the trash or that lone piece of kibble that rolled under the stove.
Additionally, play sessions and tug games that get too exciting can cause problems. Charging to the door to greet the doorbell or chasing a squirrel in the yard can rile two dogs up to the point where they may clash and redirect on each other. If you see your dogs getting overly aroused, and especially, if they stop listening to you, it's time to step in and make everybody settle down, using a verbal command - "Chill!" etc. - or a time out in the crate or on tie down.
Photo: Snorkle's face shows stress from having a toy that she thinks she might have to guard from a pushy dog in the same yard. Since resources can spark tensions between dogs, conscientious dog owners know to watch body language cues and monitor interactions. That may include removing toys or chews so dogs don't argue, then switching the game up to something less competitive.
In some cases, when fights between house mate dogs escalate and increase in severity, families can be forced to either re-home one of the dogs or divide their home into sections and rotate their out time so they can be permanently separated. This can be a stressful way to live! As with everything, prevention is so much better than cure.
Breaking up Fights
The best way to deal with fights is to commit to prevention: Management, Management! But if something slips past you and a scuffle breaks out, it can help to shout a VERY loud and convincing "NO!"
If that doesn't work, your dogs have gone too far and your next best move may be the hardest to accomplish: Take a deep breath and force yourself to count to five. This gives you time to think about your options rather than react impulsively.
Some fights can be stopped quickly by grabbing the dogs' back legs and pulling them apart, some will end with the use of the hose, in some cases you can throw a blanket over one of the dogs to surprise them into stopping. In extreme cases where a dog has decided to grab on and won't let go, a break stick can end the fight quickly and with minimal injury to either pet. PBRC is a great resource for ordering a Break Stick.
LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE: If your dogs have a spat, don't kick yourself. Instead, use it as a learning experience to help prevent a repeat performance. Ask yourself: What contributed to the scuffle and what little signs should have told me that I needed to intervene earlier? Have my dogs been getting enough exercise? Is my female in heat? (Another good reason to spay and neuter; less dog-dog conflict!) Am I spoiling one of the dogs and setting up a grudge? Did somebody raise the stakes during a wrestle session? Did the new toy make somebody too possessive? By understanding what might've caused a problem, you can change the way you do things with the dogs and nip most issues in the bud before they escalate. If you just aren't sure of what might have contributed, talk with a trainer to see if they can shed some light.
When Dogs Fight
It's fine to scold your dog(s) just after a scuffle and let them know that their behavior was unacceptable. Pit bulls are softies and generally hate displeasing their people. Although the terriers can have shorter fuses with other dogs, most can enjoy dog friends and avoid conflict with the help of your guidance and supervision. After an argument, it's time for more structure in the home to remind your dogs who calls the shots: The NILF Program
What dogs do when you’re not around may be a different story though. We recommend separating pets from each other when you aren’t there to police their interactions, especially when a new pet has joined the household.
All hands on deck for across the board management
Your friends and family - and even the neighbors that like to pop over to say ‘Hi’ - should all be made aware of your dogs’ limits and any potential dog-dog issues they may have. Everyone should share in the responsiblity of keeping the peace, including: picking up prized toys and monitoring the dogs when they get rowdy. In our home, we have to remind friends not to throw a ball for our husky-mix because he’s willing fight any dog that tries for the same toy. That takes a lot of reminding! Unfortunately, we receive too many emails from homes that experience dogfights while their pets are in the care of somebody different (pet sitter, friend,etc). So often, managing your dogs involves managing the people who interact with them, and making sure everyone is on board with your rules and wishes.
Be aware of changing dynamics that come with life changes
Dynamics between pets can and do shift as young dogs mature into adulthood and later, when a senior dog begins to decline in health. Be very aware of any smaller frictions that may crop up between your pets so you can get on top of things immediately and ensure that transitions go smoothly. A former BAD RAP adopter reported that her younger dog started picking fights just as her older dog was getting feeble in her legs. Another home noticed new frictions between her pets after moving to a new home. Shifts in the pecking order after life changes are common with all breeds, and requires your diligent monitoring and good leadership.
Give your dogs 'special time' apart from the others
Multi-dog households benefit greatly when each dog has a strong bond with his owner. To deepen your bond with each of your dogs, take time out for individual attention away from everybody else. A ten minute tug session, a ride in the car when you go on an errand, a quick walk around the block that's outside of his normal routine - These things can help each of your dogs feel more connected to you and improve their listening skills when they're with the other dog(s). Right: Frodo gets a little special time with his people with a ride in the car.
The rewards of having multi-dogs are obvious. When you've chosen carefully and have committed to common sense management, the potential for conflict is minimized and you can truly enjoy your pets. The dogs enjoy the benefit of extra socialization, mental stimulation, fun play sessions, and - the ultimate drug for so many pit bulls - more shared body heat at the end of they day. Enjoy your beautiful pets!