multiple dog households and conflict

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 sisters, this was important for me.

My dear friend took a deep breath, and very wisely whispered, “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 are now young adults and still 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.


From January 2006 – 2012 I had five friends and eleven clients that 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. Does it mean they play, roll around, and slap high fives on each other everyday? No way. Have they ever had conflict? Yes, when My Ocean 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 meticulous 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Be a benevolent owner – Your dog/s need to know on every level that they can trust you.

With good management and understanding, it is much easier to enjoy the laughter and love in the household – Nancy

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Bosun Dawg says:

    Important subject, and points well made. I lost two dogs in the 1980s when I stupidly went off to the gym and left one in each section of the chain link fence. One was afraid of thunder, and there was a storm at my house. Apparently the frightened one tried to tear through to the other dog who became enraged. They started fighting through the fence and each one died apparently of heatstroke. Neither had any observable injuries. One was dead right beside the fence and the other had walked away about 20 feet and died. It was my number one worst experience with regard to dogs ever.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I think it only ever takes one event like that in our life time to change us forever and the way we see care taking and ownership. I am sorry you had to experience that.

      1. Bosun Dawg says:

        You are right, and I am sorry too. I learned the hard way, at their expense.

  2. joemontana57 says:

    When I leave my kids for more than 5 or 10 minutes, they’re in their crates. They love them. I figure that way they don’t need to feel they’re guarding the whole house and yard. They can get all sorts of good rest.
    Right now, I’m downstairs, but I was just up checking on them. Seamus is crashed on the couch, Teaghan is chewing/throwing around, an elk antler.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Joe you are such a great dog owner, and I do agree that there is no reason to put your household dogs in a position to guard if you aren’t prepared to have a guard dog!

  3. nicole says:

    ohh thank you for this! I may be soon becoming a multiple dog owner (in a year or so) and these are some awesome tips / things to think about. I think a lot of it is common sense, but people tend not to think about it until after *something* happens. Thank you for “voicing” it in writing 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Nicole, you’re welcome… Have fun looking for your next dog!

  4. Alison McKinley says:

    Thanks for the refresher Nancy! I’ve always separated them when I leave. But have become a little lacks lately. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Hana says:

    We had a multi dog conflict and it was horrible. Injuries did happen and the 1 year old had to go back to foster/rescue. Our 5 year old dog did not like the pup becoming pushy despite training. It was a fight for dominance and our 5 year old turned to resource guarding. It also stressed out our 11 year old dog too. After the 1 year old left all went back to the way it was with the 5 and 11 year old. I’m glad the 1 year old was ok after injuries but i fo miss him and feel that our 5 year old is probably too picky on who he likes.

  6. Amy says:

    This is a great read. My family has 4 dogs of our own and a 15 month old daughter. On top of that we have fostered for about 5 years now and will be getting our 93rd foster dog this week. It is constant management but in ALL those dogs many labeled “aggressive” or “selective” I’ve only ever made one mistake resulting in an injury to my dog and that mistake was leaving the foster and my young GSP together after knowing the foster dog and not seeing any concerns with his behavior after about 3 weeks. I had convinced myself to leave them together in a yard (with shelter in the barn) because “it’s such a nice day I hate to leave them inside” I was gone for 4 hours and came back to my young dog bleeding, multiple puncture woulds requiring an emergency vet visit a drain and multiple stitches. Our dog recovered fine and has great social skills and seems no worse for the ware and the attacker was adopted out with the knowledge of the incident passed along and he was required to be an only dog in his adoptive home (he had other issues with other dogs after the one at my house). I can assure you I will never make that mistake again of putting my dogs at risk by leaving them with fosters when I’m not attending to them. I’m glad the result was not worse and I can only imagine the heart break for those who came home to see their dog passed away or truely suffering beyond help. I think so much dog conflict is laziness on the humans part to provide boundaries, guidance and be a firm but fair leader. I saw this article shared on FB but signed up to follow you. Thanks again for saying what becomes common sense after fostering so many dogs but is hard to get across to folks who have only had one dog most of their lives.

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