Living With Multiple Dogs
There are many benefits to having more than one dog – they can play with each other, provide each other company, and make our lives more joyful. However, living in a multi-dog household can also come with challenges. One dog may guard resources like food, space, or human attention from the other. There may be a mismatch in energy levels or playstyles. It is very stressful when conflict happens between beloved canine family members. This handout will explain why these issues arise and how you can address (and prevent!) them.
First Day Tips
- Let your new dog into your home first. Let your new dog explore your home without the presence of your resident dog at first. Be sure to close doors to any rooms you don’t want your new dog to be in, then have a friend or family member take your resident dog on a walk or keep him in the yard while your new dog gets her bearings. After your new dog has sniffed around and settled down, you can let your resident dog inside. This allows the new dog to gain information about their new home without the additional stress of any potential interactions with the resident dog.
- Supervise, supervise, supervise. A dog that is considered “dog social” in some settings may not be the same when introduced in a different situation. To avoid problems, be extra cautious and keep your dogs farther apart in new situations. For example, even if your resident dog and your new dog played well when they first met, exercise caution by keeping them both on leash and apart while you watch a movie in your living room, or use management tools like crates, ex-pens, or tethers to keep them in the same room but separate. As you get to know your new dog’s behaviors and both dogs get used to each other, you can allow more freedom.
- Create separate spaces for each dog. Some dogs, like people, have a limited capacity for social interaction, especially when there is a large gap in age or energy levels. Let your dogs spend time together, but also designate certain spaces or activities for each dog. For example, one dog may be in a crate with a bone while the other dog is in the bedroom with a Kong. One dog may be in the yard while the other dog is taken on a walk. We all need alone time sometimes, dogs included! Regularly feed the dogs in their special spaces so that they enjoy them. If routines change or conflict arises, at least the dogs will still have the predictability of their designated spaces.
- Patience is key. It can take weeks or months for dogs to develop a steady relationship with each other. Relationships can change over time as a puppy matures into an adult, when an adult ages, if one dog develops a medical issue, if your household changes, etc.
Competition Over Resources
It is common for dogs to guard resources from other dogs, even if they are normally social with dogs. Dogs may guard certain food or chew items, toys, spaces, surfaces, and humans. Like people, all dogs are different! I may be willing to share my fries but not my sandwich, my couch but not my bed. Resource guarding is very normal canine behavior. If dogs and their ancestors freely relinquished valuable resources, they would not have survived! However, it is important for the humans of the household to control resources and reduce conflict between dogs by management; resource guarding and tension between your beloved canine family members can and often will escalate if you let them “work it out” on their own!
- If you are adding a new pet to your household pick up all toys, chew items, and food bowls. Give each dog food and toys separately until they are both settled into the general household routine. Supervise the dogs when they share resources like toys. Even if neither dog has never shown an inclination to guard, the stress of adding a new family member and the change in routine can alter their behavior in the short-term.
- Give each dog solo time with you. When routines change, there can be greater competition between household pets to seek interaction with you. By making sure each pet gets 15 minutes of alone time with you (ex. a walk, play in the yard, etc), you can reduce conflict between your pets when they are together.
- If your dog growls and snaps when the other dog comes near their space, make sure the dogs cannot access each others’ spaces. For example, one dog can be allowed on one end of the couch and the other dog can only be on the other end, or one dog can cuddle on the couch in the morning and the other is only allowed up at night.
- If your dog guards human attention from the other dog, make sure each dog is in a separate space when you interact with them. For example, one dog can enjoy a bone in his crate while you snuggle with the other dog.
Management of Resources
Dogs do not get into conflict over status – conflict arises through competition over specific resources. The more you control the resources in the household, the less likely your dogs will compete over them.
- Food left on the ground may cause resource guarding issues. If you control the food by feeding each dog in a separate room, you can prevent conflict.
- A small, cozy couch can be a coveted resource. If you control the couch by training your dogs to go to their beds, they will not compete over the couch.
- Train your dogs to sit before receiving petting. This can prevent them from competing over access to your attention – the calmest dog will get the most attention!
- Doorways can cause high excitement and squabbles between dogs. Have your dogs on leash and send them through the door one at a time to prevent conflict.
- Same-sex aggression is a rare but real concern. Some dogs simply do not get along with dogs of the same gender. Spaying or neutering all of your dogs can sometimes help with this issue.
It is always distressing when dogs get into a fight. Here are some tips to stop conflict and prevent it from happening again.
- Pay attention to body language and cues. Be proactive and gently intervene before things get out of hand. If either dog looks tense, avoidant, tucked, or defensive around the other, it is time for you to step in and give both dogs a break from each other. For instance, if one dog is chewing on a bone and looks tense about the other dog approaching, intervene by calling one dog away. Then give the dog with a bone a safe, quiet place to chew in peace (like a crate, pen, or other room).
- If a fight happens use a loud sound like clapping or shouting to interrupt the dogs. NEVER reach into the middle of a dog fight, as a dog may accidentally bite you in a high stress situation. You can use a slip-lead to ‘lasso’ the aggressing dog and remove him from the situation.
- After a fight separate the dogs to help them cool down and remove the resource they were fighting over. If they were fighting over a bone, pick up the bone. If they were fighting over human attention, have the human walk away. If they were fighting over a space, move both dogs away from the space. It can be helpful to give dogs 15 minutes of decompression time in their respective safe spaces for stress levels to drop.
- Adjust your routine or setup so that the resource they fought over is no longer accessible to both dogs at the same time.
- Call our behavior department for help in severe situations. It is normal for dogs to get into a non-damaging scuffle at some point in their lives. A situation becomes more concerning if: a dog is inflicting damage, fights are happening more often, or fights are becoming more intense.