When I was pregnant with my second child, and the due date was nearing, I asked a very dear friend of mine, who was the mother of five, how do you avoid sibling rivalry? You see, I grew up in a household with four girls, I was #3. This was an important question for me.
My dear friend took a thoughtful sip of afternoon wine (that’s why I love her!), munched some apple with with cheese, took a deep breath, and said very wisely, only have one!
So what did I do? Well I had my second baby, and then added multiple dogs, rabbits, birds, and fish. We live in multiple everything! My children, so far, after fourteen years, love each other and enjoy each others company. I am a grateful Mom!
And I honestly think my dogs are sated with the company of each other, same with my birds, and fish. But it is not by chance. It has been very deliberate, very thoughtful, and incredibly managed.
Since January 2012 I have had three friends and seven clients that have lost one of their dogs do too multiple dog household conflict. It was either an immediate death, or such intense injuries that a dog had to be euthanized. While this is not everyday, it is also not that uncommon. It would be safe to say that it is way more traumatizing on the owners than it is on the remaining dog/s. The dog/s left in the household almost always have a sense of relief, relief from what is individual, but the calm is palpable. I have met very few owners who will ever trust the remaining dog/s in the house, and it can, not always, but can lead to multiple euthanasia in the same day.
Is this avoidable? To a large extent yes. Conflicts take more than one, why they happen is completely individual. It could be space, the wrong mix of personalities, food, resources, favored person, sleeping, breathing, smell, age, anti social, same sex, under exercised, etc. The one factor I have found to be common is unmanaged, from a very minute amount, to amazing freedom with little to no human interaction.
I am asked almost weekly if my dogs get along. Yes they do. This video exemplifies the love and respect they have for each other, just watch it to the end, it makes me smile every time.
Does it mean they play, roll around, and slap high fives on each other everyday? No way. Have they ever had conflict? Yes, twice in 10 years, and both times it was Ocean when she was coming off of a medication that had a psychotropic component, acepromezine and/or metronidazole. The conflicts were more screaming at the other dogs, never injury. With even better Fort Leavenworth type management, everything resolved in less than a week. No grudges or prolonged anger.
Here are some tips for owners of multiple dogs. I for one love having a group of dogs in my house, but I also like a peaceful existence.
- My Dog wants a Dog – Please do not add to your household because you think your dog wants another dog. Whoever pays the bills, buys the food, and scoops the poop is the decision maker and the care taker. It should be your decision not your dogs.
- Be the Match Maker – When you are thinking about adding another dog to your household, look at your current dog/s and think of what would be a good fit in regards to personality, sex, age, energy. Choosing the right match is actually essential. For example, if you have a low confident dog, you DO NOT want to add the same or the exact opposite (Joe in your face and pushy). Choose future dogs that will blend nicely with who you already have. Take your time until you find the one.
- Keep your dogs in good health – If dogs don’t feel well they don’t act well. You cannot afford this in a multiple dog household. Social Time – Multiple dogs don’t always have to be together. In fact it’s better if they are not. Social time should include you time, other people and outing time, and other dog time if your dog/s are social with new dogs. Time for them to hang together is important but it doesn’t always have to be play, hanging is OK. Emotional Balance – With multiple dogs it’s important to have an emotionally stable environment. If one dog requires more touch or more space in order to breathe deep, than so be it. Create an environment where your dogs feel loved, safe, part of your family, understood, and cared for. Nutritional Well Being – Having multiple dog households on a stable and appropriate diet is super important. Having dogs on a sugary high simple carbohydrate diet is a disaster waiting to happen. If they are being taken care of on the inside, they will feel better on the outside. Junky food leads to bad behavior. Physical and Mental exercise – This is training at it’s best! This is imperative and non negotiable, in my book. All dogs in a household need their physical and mental exercise needs met daily. Taking this edge off allows for dogs to truly settle. What you want to avoid is a house full of fully loaded dogs. That energy will have to go someplace, and you don’t want them to direct it at each other.
- Management – The more dogs, the more management. The more dogs, the more training. The more dogs, the more structure. If you don’t want to manage your dog/s in your household, you have two choices. 1) let them manage each other and eventually have conflict, either a little or a lot, and then take having multiple dogs seriously because you now have a problem. Or 2) manage your dogs and take that time so you can enjoy your dogs, your dogs can enjoy you, and the household can remain conflict free. This means doors, yard, house, sleeping areas, feeding areas, out on walks. You need to be aware what your dogs are telling you. You need to know where everyone is. If there is some minor tension between two dogs, you need to proactively give them each separate spaces (baby gate off areas, temporary fence separating yard area, etc.) until you can determine what caused the tension, and/or the tension passes. You are in charge, you have dog/s depending on you to do the right thing.
- Unattended – Leaving multiple dogs alone and unattended while you are at work or out and about is really never a good idea. While some households have virtual fur carpets during the day and never an ounce of conflict, other households can be like the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In my world, instead of risking potentially bad behavior or conflict, all dogs should be in a separate space when you are not home. Whether it is crating, kennel, or baby gating off rooms. When you are gone it’s down time, not run around and play time and get into trouble. You want to come home to well rested pleasant dogs.
- Night night … Most dogs tend to do well sleeping at night in the same room or various places around the house. I don’t see a problem with this unless you have an instigator. In that case, crating or baby gating a small area would be advised.
- Observe, don’t label – Don’t get into the habit of labeling your dog/s as the Alpha in your pack or the Boss of your pack. Its a disservice to your dog/s. A pack is generally a familial unit, starting with Mom and Dad all the way down. And besides most dogs that I have met that were labeled as Alpha, were just rude and inappropriate dogs that had little to no training, an emotionally unstable environment, no management, and were left to do it all on their own. Become and observer not a labeler. Learn more about canine body language.
- Be a benevolent owner – Your dog/s need to know on every level that they can trust you.
The only conflict I want in my house is cleaning up fur balls under the couch! Nancy