A Family of Multiple Dogs

by | May 24, 2023

One dog jumping over a dog rolling underneath whilst a smaller dog watches

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?

Day napping

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.

Outdoor time

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.

Key moments

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.

Stronger Bigger

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.

When familiarity is stripped away we seek recognisable signposts that will take us back to comfort and security. This is survival instinct. It is worth listening to as it keeps us alive.
course for multiple dogs

Key Reading

Construction or suppression

Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

What’s Cooking? A Warning About Recipes

Recipes for “training” dogs are so prevalent in how we live with and talk about them that their existence often goes unquestioned.

Dogs are Born To Learn

We can build tremendous learners when we get beyond the idea that “dogs are trained”.

Ethos: A Personal Trust Pilot

Experience changes our ethos. There are many pathways that will broaden our choices.

Guidance is not dependence

Guidance can be the lightest change in contingencies, an extra antecedent. I can place a palette of different paints and brushes next to the chair. It doesn’t mean you need to paint the chair, you could sit on the chair and paint your own shoes, but just the presence of the tools would give you guidance.

No room for mechanics

If your ambition is to have good mechanics in communication to animals then you may find yourself blocked into a tight corner

In praise of naughty dogs

.. a desire for solutions to problems that weren’t problems until someone else outside of the relationship suggested they were.

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

Top Training

Stop doing that ….

Can we teach an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Cue Seeking

Being an active learner and seeking opportunities for more rewards

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

Duration: sustaining movement

Continuing and maintaining a specific movement

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.

Reasons to use a clicker

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time. The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching.


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