Making Peace with Multiple Dogs
No matter how many dog pileups are in your bed, how many wet-nosed kisses you get every day, or how many wagging tails can get going, any pet parent of multiple dogs can tell you that having multiples is no easy feat. From buying enough food for all the furry family members to breaking up disagreements, keeping the peace in an extra dog-friendly household is a full-time job. Here are some guidelines to set your multiple dog introductions up for a smooth transition:
Introductions Are A Good First Step, But Not the Conclusion:
So many tips are available for what to do when introducing new dogs to the same household. Some advice is common sense: separate them into different areas until they are used to each other, have the initial meeting in a neutral spot, keep two versions of the same resource to stop competition. These are all sound suggestions when bringing together two (or more) new housemates. Just as important, however, are the interactions and habits that are established in the next few months.
Three factors become most important during the initial meeting period with multiple dogs: taking personality differences into account, managing health, and being mindful of environment and interactions. These can be taken care of in three ways:
- Just like people, not all dogs will be socially minded. Some dogs will get along together right away and some dog communications will need guidance and patience to grow into a healthy relationship.
- Your first visit when integrating a new dog should be to the vet, especially if they are older. Pain, underlying health issues or old age can make a dog more likely to snap. Intervention from your vet can make your dog more comfortable in life and much friendlier towards other dogs.
- Try to be more aware in the first few weeks as patterns of interaction establish themselves. During this time, where stress is heightened and expectations are not yet set, your dogs are more likely to be triggered into aggression. Just like for you, moving to a new home and developing new friendships can be stressful, and we can always help manage this extra stress in a proactive way to prevent conflict.
Behavior Management Is Your Best Friend:
Especially during the early months when relationships are still establishing themselves within the group, extra attention should be paid to situational or body cues which signal triggers. These can be stiffening of the body, hard stares, or other signals that mean stress is building up to a snapping point. It is always a good idea to manage the environment to avoid stressors which cause these distress signals. If ignored, these hard stares can turn to snaps and stiffening when gnawing a bone can escalate to much worse. For instance, if you know that feeding time is when the tension can become too much between all the dogs, managing their environment by separating them relieves their stress and avoids escalation.
In these instances of mounting warning signals, give yourself permission to use leashes, separate rooms, or their crate to keep your multiple dogs separate during times of high stress. It is important to not feel guilty when choosing to crate during family mealtime or hiding your dogs in a room when visitors come. After all, working smarter not harder is every CEO’s mantra.
The Role of Stress in A Multiple Dog House:
Stress is the leading cause for conflict within a multiple dog household. Fortunately, it generally comes with warning signals long before escalating into actual aggression. The body cues mentioned earlier (stiffening of the body, whites of eyes showing, hard stairs, etc.) are shown long before actual aggression breaks out and are a sign of mounting stress for the dog. These cues come in response to two types of stress: immediate triggers, which can include overcrowding, a threat to resources, and invading personal boundaries, or, distance triggers, which are environmental, such as new humans, new homes, or unfamiliar scents. All or some of these stressors can combine to push a dog over the edge from warning signs into aggression.
Similar to environmental management is also behavioral management. When seeing these cues, we can look at possible causes for the stress and try to address it. This can happen in any of three ways:
- Desensitization or Counter Conditioning: we change the way the dog feels about the stressor, such as by offering a treat whenever the smoke alarm goes off so they are not panicked at the loud sound.
- Operant Conditioning: we use the appearance of the stressor to get them to do something else, such as go lie on their dog bed or crate when getting stressed.
- Systematic Management: we get rid of the stressor or remove the dog from the stressful environment.
Identifying and removing stressors from influencing your dogs’ behavior is the most important thing you can do to improve both your relationship with your dogs and their relationship with each other. To help you in this, familiarize yourself on healthy play body language and typical distress behaviors so you can identify trouble areas at the start. By using behavior management techniques to identify and address stressors, you will have a greater chance for peace in your house.
Overstimulation Translates to Fights:
The number one conflict in multi-dog families is fighting between dogs, but in actuality the conflict is occurring way before the fighting starts. With more dogs comes more activity and different personalities. One dog might be very energetic, one might be a communicative barker, and one might love the peace and quiet of their bed. During times of increased activity and all the dogs are competing for attention, one or more dogs might get on each other’s nerves. While the result might be sudden snapping and biting each other, before the fighting begins one of these dogs will be showing stress with excessive panting, stiffening of the body or growling.
The environment where stress is heightened is not always avoidable, such as during feeding time or when visitors come to the door. Avoid overstimulation by creating situational habits in your dog’s when these stressful times occur. If a doorbell ringing usually ends in a dog pile, train your dogs to wait peacefully by the door until released, or for them to immediately seek their crates when the doorbell sounds. As always, the methods of desensitization and counter-conditioning is the key to this behavior, so be sure to use plenty of treats and praise when establishing new habits.
Never Let Your Dogs Practice Undesirable Behaviors:
Never start with a disclaimer like, “But my dog won’t like that…” because this sets a precedence for your dog to practice undesirable behaviors. If you are going to have a healthy relationship, especially in a house with multiple dogs, it may be necessary to micromanage in order for your dogs to make right the decisions.
With multiple dogs, it becomes easier to let one dog inch forward to your dinner plate when your attention is diverted to another. This is the behavioral slippery slope where your dogs will always do what indulges their impulses. A good teacher will help all dogs make right decisions through management and guidance, not let them practice undesired behaviors. To encourage conflict-free behaviors, be sure to use plenty of treats, praise, and guidance.
Most important when dealing with multiple dog conflict, try not to get into the middle of fights with your body. When you learn the signs that your dogs are getting overexcited and stressed, be sure to proactively separate them until they learn to manage their own excitement levels. Even during friendly play, emotions can get out of control and quickly turn aggressive between newly introduced dogs.
Do you have multiple dogs at home living in relative peace? Let us know what you feel is the key to a peaceful household in the forums, or, let us know about an aspect of multiple dog interactions you are struggling with.
By Lauren Pescarus