A Family of Multiple Dogs
When we move from a single-dog family to two dogs the dynamics of the home naturally changes. The dogs are always going to have the strongest effect on each other; they may become the best of friends – playing together, sleeping side by side, chasing around the garden in their own special activities – or wary companions tolerating proximity as they go about their individual lives.
We hope for the former but we may need to be the manager of the second.
The relationship between the dogs is not ours to decide; it is not our job to make them be friendly or like each other but we can prevent some of the darker sides of forced cohabitation with good management. When they are relaxed and do not need to be tense in shared company relationships can improve.
It is our role to ensure that each dog can live well in their individual way: they can have their own space to relax and enjoy their particular activities: a garden browse without being harassed, sleeping without being used as a pillow, eating at their preferred speed without needing to guard as they chew.
Boys can harass girls; even the neutered variety can be pests.
Young dogs can harass older dogs, not appreciating that play and high energy activities are no longer comfortable or that old guys want to be able to sleep without the worry of unscheduled disturbance.
Dogs want to be included and can easily become distressed when abandoned by the group or excluded from activities, particularly those that are centred on you. Giving affection is often seen as an open feast where all want to be at the table and a single pair of hands is found to be insufficient.
We try to be fair. What is good for one should be good for all. Bringing a youngster into the group will change the perception of what is fair. Puppies coming from litters have only known how to be part of a group and fight for their resources: from the milk bar to the bones, defending personal space to being at the front of the queue. When they arrive into your group house rules will need to be reset. Existing residents will keenly feel the shift of attention to the Bright Young Thing and extra attention must be given to usual routines and even some extra times for the regular moments.
Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl.
Perhaps all the elements that touch the dogs need to be examined and refined to ensure a balanced home where each can feel included and minimal tension.
We often consider comfort levels as a priority but for dogs, safety is often their prime concern.
Where do they sleep – what are their needs? Some dogs will prefer a place where they can be on duty, keep the house from danger and be ready for all and any activity. This is often the centre of the house – near the main door, bottom of staircase or hallway. For this dog to be excluded or confined can cause more stress.
Another dog may only feel safe when in close proximity to you or other dogs.
We can discover their choices: is comfort or location a priority? Can we move their bed to their choice of location? Do they change once the house has settled?
This is different from overnight resting. Most dogs will be semi-alert to the house’s activity level. They may seek to be at the centre of this activity or move to a more suited watchdog station.
What do the dogs enjoy and what is best for them, and you? Do they want to be overseeing the local wildlife scene or loyally at your side defending you from computer trolls?
On Duty Activities
Just how much can they be the neighbourhood watchdog? Can they alert your postcode for all delivery threats or is that one step too far? Do we need to reduce their range or reward their sense of duty?
Is your garden viewed as an adventure playground to be redesigned as a racetrack for cani-cross or a place to potter and explore?
Are neighbours seen as challenges or friendlies?
Does each dog have the chance to use this space for their own pleasures?
This should not be a free for all, even with individual bowls; faster eaters can quickly become interested in the slower eaters and harass them to move aside. Each dog should be able to eat without threat and savour their own pleasure. Communal eating is not a healthy activity for dogs: they do not seek to have a table conversation, but need a minimum amount of space to never feel pressure to hurry their food or guard and swallow.
From bowls to bones each dog may need a defined zone to relax as they explore and digest.
Pinch points. Even for people doorways exaggerate how we live together. A compressed space of access or release. Where arousal can build or hesitancy can cause a pile up. Doorways need careful learning and order from chaos.
When the group is on the move, preparing to go out, greet visitors or supervise the food preparation.
Moments when arousal is likely to peak can be exaggerated when one becomes two. Arousal is incredibly infectious. Dogs will become aroused because you answer the phone: they have no idea why they have become aroused and will have little control over it.
Flashpoints of arousal can quickly escalate beyond reasonable management.
Arousal states will often release suppressed desires, particularly when developed at speed or when the dog is just waking.
This is a key consideration in mixing dogs of different ages and energy levels, different skills and agendas. Dogs can become pseudo-prey, where the stronger predatory dogs will “play” and hone their skills on the smaller, less able, or older dogs.
Dominating will bring its own rewards where a dog will naturally seek to improve their conditions with greater access to the resources. This is normal; it is more likely to be explored in young adults, when bitches are pre-season within a 60 miles radius, food is scarce, space is scarce, affection and play is restricted.
Side by Side Learning
Individual dogs will attend individual lessons to develop specific skills as well as a class for everyone to learn together. Group learning needs clear understanding and good planning.
Responding together, responding individually, being guided as a group by you.
Dogs with Multiple People
My postbag is rather overloaded with request from these multi-people homes where inconsistency is the house rule. One person will let you on the sofa; one will not; one is variable. One will feed you breakfast toast; one waits until loading the dishwasher. Dogs have exceptionally good memories and can relate people, actions and consequences that involve something for them.
Some people pay up, some people don’t – they are the ones that ask the most.
Everything is Connected
Today is your day. When dogs are allowed to enjoy special moments or be your selected passenger for a road trip to the supermarket. Who needs that special day or moment? Who gets left behind and with whom?
The relationships between the dogs are made of many threads that will change with activities, locations and routines. This will be in constant flux through the seasons, as the dogs mature and the skills develop. All can have an effect on how the threads weave together. A tight weave will make a strong group that support each other and go the extra mile. A weave that is over tightened can cause threads to break down and split.
Learning to observe the individuals how they are living, what they enjoy and their niche within the house is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced. Not every dog is suited to busy lives with frequent arousal or challenges and bickering, some thrive on it, some may wish for some respite. It is our responsibility that each dog that touches our lives gets a chance to bloom in their own way.