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Multi-dog family. The good, the bad, and what is useful to know before adding a second dog...

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Kelty, Bear & Ria

I consider myself very lucky to share my life with 3 dogs (2 of which were adopted as young adults), with them accepting one another and living in harmony. Well, almost... It can be very rewarding to share your life with multiple dogs. You can go on many adventures together, you get extra cuddles, extra waggy tails and if you enjoy training, you always have someone to train 😊 My dogs enjoy each other’s company most of the time, but as their guardian, it is my responsibility to prevent any conflicts arising and ideally resolve them before it escalates.

My dogs didn’t choose to live with one another, I made those choices for them.

Can I honestly say that they would've chosen one another as a companion and a roommate? Most likely not... For the dogs to live in harmony, it has to be the right match! Breed, age, sex, personality, and the extra effort that we need to put in is required for it all to work.

Introducing a new dog.

It took time for them to learn to co-exist. It can take up to 6 months for a dog to settle into its new home. On the day of bringing a new dog, make sure that both dogs are a little tired, ideally take them a walk together- they will be more likely to relax. Allow them to have separate areas for sleeping and eating. The first week Kelty was staying with us, she didn’t have any direct contact with Bear unless one of them was on the lead or there was a boundary between them ( baby gate, crate). They were both walked on leads to reduce their arousal levels escalating. If I could not supervise them, they were always in separate areas. I tried to keep the routine of older dogs as normal to them as possible and took them out walking individually, as well as just the two of them so they can have some quality time with me.

Management Certain things might have to be managed, this can be for a short time (weeks), a long time (months), or for the lifetime of the dog. Dogs value resources (toys, food, spaces) and might guard them. We must teach that they won't be threatened by other dogs taking things away. Management is important. Providing plenty of those resources or removing them all together when the dogs are together and giving the valuable resources in controlled separate environments might help resolve issues.

As far as I know, Kelty has never lived with another dog before coming to live with us so there was no way for me to know if she guarded her food against other dogs. Since Bear was guarding his food when he first came, I was prepared and anticipated that it might become a cause for conflict. I was right to be concerned... Kelty had to be fed in her crate then another room until one day she felt comfortable enough to bring her bone into the room where the other two dogs were eating theirs. The older ones like to swap their bones and chews sometimes halfway but Kelty doesn't like to share hers. And that's ok. We will always manage this. I will be there to make sure that the older dogs accidentally don't come too close or encourage Kelty to move away if she has something valuable to her. It's easier to prevent the conflict between dogs than trying to resolve the aftermath of the huge conflict. If there was a serious conflict between the dogs in the household, it might take a long time for them to recover and feel comfortable with one another.

Unwanted Mating If your dogs are of different sexes, what happens when the female is in season until they're old enough to be neutered if you would choose that option? Can you make sure that the male dog has no access? (And trust me, they're persistent and creative!) You will need to decide when/if to neuter and which one.

Kelty went into season shortly after coming to us and although Bear was neutered, he lost his mind for a few days.

Their behaviour and previous experiences will affect their learning. They will learn good things from one another as well as undesirable things...

When Bear came into our lives, Ria was grieving the loss of our old girl and lost a lot of confidence. A young male dog came into the rescue and I said if he would get on with her, I would foster him. I thought it would cheer her up and bring the spark back into her eyes. They did indeed get on well but the young male wasn't boosting my girl's confidence on walks. Bear became quite reactive to other dogs and it had quite an opposite effect from what I had hoped for on Ria. She became jumpier and on guard when other dogs approached because she started anticipating him reacting and didn't feel safe...

The changes were so subtle that I didn't realize that at first...We are still dealing with the aftermath years later.

Each dog has their personality and their own needs...

They have their training needs and the need for appropriate exercise, mental stimulation to suit each individual. Do you have extra time for training, walking, cleaning?

Even very experienced trainers would not train a new skill to more than one dog at the same time. Your multitasking skills, observation skills, and timing would have to be exceptionally good. And even then, each dog would be a distraction to one another and they would not learn the skills you are trying to teach as efficiently and quickly as if they would be taught on their own. It is easier to teach the skills separately and then when each dog has got some experience in performing those skills reliably, practice those skills with both dogs at the same time. Kelty and Bear are wildlife lovers and animal chasing is their favourite hobby. Teaching them to recall together was somewhat a challenge. I have spent a lot of time walking them and training them on a one-to-one basis. I don’t always take them all out together and if I can, I spend as much time as I can walking them separately.

Ria has bad hips and we have to adjust her exercise accordingly. You have to consider that young puppies, older, or infirm dogs are not able to go on very long walks. Would you be able to adjust and walk your dogs separately if needed?

Most of the time dogs find it easy to bond with their species. At the end of the day, they speak the same language and understand each other better than we will ever understand them. It's great if they do but it can come with side effects… What would happen if one of your dogs would need to be away, would your other dog be as responsive? Would they come back when called? Would they be able to stay at home on their own when you go out? A second dog will not fix your first dog's lack of training. It's your responsibility to provide activities to mentally stimulate your dogs.

The second dog will not fix your dog's separation issues. Kelty needed a new home because she had separation issues. She used to be very distressed if she was left for any length of time. For most dogs it doesn’t matter if there’s another dog, they are stressed because the humans are not around. It took over a year for Kelty to learn to stay at home on her own/ with other dogs for short periods. It was a very gradual process and she came with me everywhere if there was no one else to look after her. Separation training can take a long time and sometimes it can not be truly resolved and has to be managed. But that’s a whole other topic…

What if ?...

Just like in a human relationship,

sometimes it doesn't work out - couples break up and go their separate ways, friendships split. and dogs decide they no longer like each other. Now, imagine living with someone you really cannot stand and everything they do is annoying you. It's useful to think about "what if's"…

Even when adopting a young puppy and them growing up with other dogs in the family, due to various factors, sometimes relationships don't work out.

As the dogs mature and develop personalities, their desire for interaction changes and it's our job to ensure they live in harmony. It’s not your older dog’s responsibility to entertain your new dog. Some dogs don't like other dogs and some dogs don't want to live with other dogs. Some dogs don't want to live with that particular dog and might happily live with others. Just because your dog enjoys socializing with other dogs on their walks, it does not mean they would enjoy living with another dog.

What if it doesn't work out? Do you have a backup plan?

It can be challenging at times to maintain harmony in a multi-dog home. And although management and training will always be part of our routines and I will always feel guilty when training one of the dogs and leaving the others behind - to me, it is incredibly rewarding to share my life with three sets of loving eyes.

Sandra Dlugabarskiene MISAP, IMDT

Dog Trainer in Scotland

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