How to live with more than 1 dog

KUSA - Many Colorado families have more than one pet and when you have two or more dogs, each needs special attention. Each needs to have equal access to resources that provide food, fun and attention.

According to dog trainer Lorraine May, dogs need to understand that rewards come in response to good behavior. Dogs become relaxed because they are certain their needs will be adequately addressed and they won't have to compete with each other.

Each dog should be recognized as a valued member of the household, receiving whatever special considerations they may need in relation to food, exercise, medical concerns or personality. Just as one of our children may be a musician, another an artist and another drawn to science, all are loved and valued the same.

Goals for owners of multiple pets:

  • Create a calm, anxiety-free living environment by being a confident leader who teaches the dogs to follow fair and reasonable rules consistently.
  • Polite, happy dogs will co-exist peacefully by following appropriate and relevant rules for which they are rewarded.
  • The pet owner should be able to assess tensions or disharmony early enough to prevent problems and have a plan to separate, redirect, calm, reward and interrupt unwanted behaviors.

Common problems and strategies:

  1. Feeding – establish a polite sit and wait before feeding. Feed each dog in a separate designated area to avoid tension or access or even attempted access. It isn't possible for us to understand inter-dog communication well enough to assess the level of tension or threat.
  2. Play – calmly intervene and separate before play gets too rough or out of control. Match dogs according to play styles, size, energy level and relationship.
  3. Sleep – provide safe areas for each dog. Perhaps rotate sleeping with you. Be sure dogs aren't competing for your bed.
  4. Rest – separate dogs so they aren't spending 24/7 together. Establish rest periods or nap times for their mental and physical health.
  5. Visitors – dogs should not be competing at the door for visitor attention. Devise a system where they take turns according to polite behavior. Start off perhaps by allowing one dog in the room at a time.
  6. Unrealistic expectations – don't expect better behavior from dogs than they are able to deliver.
  7. Preferred: Learning Theory – teaching dogs how to live in the human world by setting them up for success.
  8. Out of Date: Dominance Theory – suggests that having an 'alpha dog' and treating this one special, or favoring the most confident, makes sense. This is not being a leader, this is letting that dog run things.
  9. Bullying – a dog who pushes other dogs around needs to learn impulse control and manners. Often mistaken for a well-adjusted or more important dog, but not so.
  10. Attention – if dogs compete for your attention, get up and leave. If a second dog tries to interrupt the petting of the first, ignore the second dog. Reward polite approaches where all dogs win. Teach each dog to have their place on the outside of your right and left knees. Super reward for going there!
  11. Resource Guarding: may include toys, space, person, house, furniture, or whatever seems important. Take it away, limit access to areas with 'sit' and 'wait', teach 'off' and reward, teach 'give' or 'drop it'
  12. Breed traits – guarding, herding, dependence, anxiety, high energy. Acknowledge, accept, manage and modify as possible.
  13. Associations – each dog should see the other(s) as bringing good things. Everyone gets a treat, a kind word, a pat.

This article was shared with 9NEWS by Lorraine May, M.A., Executive Director/Head Trainer, The Misha May Foundation and Rescue.

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