CREATING A HARMONIOUS MULTI-DOG HOME
We have so much fun with our dogs that a question inevitably crosses our mind: should we get another?
Whether it’s a foster dog or a permanent member of the family, a multi-dog household definitely means more work – but the joy it can bring is exponential. Here are some guidelines to ensure that your canine siblings live in harmony.
Be a good matchmaker
When considering a new canine addition to the family, think about what age, type, and personality of dog will be the best fit.
Generally speaking, pairs of the opposite sex tend to do best, but ultimately temperament rather than gender will be the most important variable in whether your dogs get along.
If your resident dog is older or less active, he probably won’t do well with an exuberant youngster. If he is selective or bossy, he won’t appreciate a pushy roommate who constantly challenges his position. Take his temperament into consideration along with other variables – your needs, lifestyle, etc – when determining who the resident dog’s sibling will be.
Don’t rush it
Our number one rule for introducing a new dog into the home is to go slow. We get so excited about our new family that we rush things, and often miss those subtle signals telling us that our dogs may not be comfortable.
One thing to remember is dogs don’t show stress the way humans do. All animals in the household will be stressed by the situation. The resident dog(s) will need to learn to share space, affection…and you! For the new dog – especially one coming from a shelter environment – moving to a space with new rules, routines, foods, scents, people, and dogs is completely overwhelming.
No matter how happy and relaxed the dogs seem, this is a big adjustment for them. Take things slow and don’t rush any play sessions or extended time together. For the new dog, stay close to home the first few weeks and don’t rush her exposure to new places, new people and new dogs.
Allow for personal space
Introduce the new dog to the resident dog by initiating a parallel walk on neutral territory like a nearby park. As they become comfortable side by side, they can get to know each other through relaxed sniffing and time together. Provide lots of positive feedback for calm, relaxed behaviour and keep a close eye on body language.
Inside the home, you can use tools like baby gates, x-pens and crates to physically separate your pets if needed. Each dog should have a quiet place they can retreat to – like a crate – and know they can’t be bothered.
Provide some one-on-one time for each dog, each day. Your resident dog will miss your attention, and some dedicated time playing his favourite game, practicing obedience lessons, or simply providing some affection will go a long way. Similarly, the new dog needs a chance to develop a relationship with you. While positive experience as a “pack” is important, so is individual bonding time.
Never leave your dogs alone unsupervised. Even dogs who have loved each other for years can always have a first scuffle. If one becomes anxious, spooked by a noise or incident, possessive of a toy or space, or otherwise overstimulated, this could start trouble.
Healthy play takes some work
If your dogs start to play together, that’s a great start! At first, step in and end the session when things are still friendly and fun. This leaves things on a positive note, with them eager to come back and play at another time. As they live together longer, they should become more comfortable with each other and you may not have to intervene as much. But initially, they will be learning about each others’ personality and play styles, and you don’t want one to become offended, bullied, or pushed past their comfort zone by another.
Remember that you are the leader and the referee in your home. If one dog is overly pushy or exuberant, give him a time-out or an appropriate intervention. If you enforce boundaries and good manners, your dogs will look to you for leadership before challenging each other – ensuring harmony in the home!
Caring doesn’t always mean sharing
Sibling rivalry is most likely to occur around resource guarding – possessiveness of toys or food. You can avoid this potential trigger completely by separating dogs during mealtimes.
Supervise feeding, treats, and play. If any resentment occurs over toys, immediately pick them up and remove them. Only re-introduce the items when dogs are relaxed and have moved past the disagreement.
Decide on house rules and enforce them consistently for all dogs. Ask dogs to sit or use another cue before meals, leaving for walks, or other high arousal activities. This helps build structure and healthy impulse control.
Ensure your dogs participate in obedience class. This not only gets them working on all their basic commands, but helps you develop a healthy, working relationship with your pets.
Expect changes down the road
No matter what your dog is like today, keep in mind that their sociability may change. A new dog may go through an adjustment period and become more – or less – tolerant of new dogs as she starts to settle in.
If one of your dogs is younger, keep in mind that maturity is usually 2-3 years of age and in some cases, a dog social dog may become more selective as they mature. However, if you do the groundwork and enforce structure and good manners, you dramatically increase the odds of long-term success.
Enjoy your new family
With a few basic principles in practice you’ll quickly develop a routine where your dogs are set up for success, and everyone in the household lives together in harmony.