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Bark Bytes… Managing a Multi-Dog Household

If you currently have one dog and are considering getting another, think carefully first. While the joy of dog ownership grows with each new “family” member you add, the challenges of managing the household can also increase.

First evaluate the reasons why you want to get a second dog. If it’s to get a companion for your single dog—which can be a good idea if you are gone for much of the day—this will work well if your single dog is well-behaved. However, if your dog’s behavior is less than exemplary and you are thinking that adding a second dog will change his behavior, you will in most cases simply end up with two naughty dogs.

Selecting Your Additional Dog

Temperament: Select a breed and temperament (personality) that will complement your resident dog. Remember, temperament has nothing to do with a dog’s size, breed or upbringing—temperament is something innate in a dog. A dog’s temperament has a lot to do with how easily he can be trained, and while good training can improve a dog’s behavior, it cannot change a dog’s temperament.

If you have an energetic dog, choose a second dog that is also energetic, so the two can play together and keep up with each other. If you have an older or more laid-back dog, avoid getting an exuberant puppy or a very active breed of dog.

Gender: Selecting the right gender can make a big difference in ensuring household harmony. Generally, dogs of the opposite sex make the best pairing for pets. Thus, if you have a male, get a female, and vice versa. Depending on the individual dogs, two males will also generally get along. However, two females is the most likely combination to result in disharmony.

Introducing a New Dog to Your Canine Household: Bringing a new dog into the family is an exciting time for everyone but can create stress for your resident canine. Understanding how to manage dog introductions can help ensure a lifetime of harmony for all.

  • First, introduce the dogs in a neutral location that is unfamiliar to both dogs. Have each dog on a loosely held six-foot leash, handled by two different people. Stay relaxed so the dogs don’t pick up on any tension you might be feeling.
  • Set reasonable goals. Knowing each dog’s background as to how well they were socialized will help you manage what might happen. Remember and respect that your resident dog may perceive the new dog to be encroaching on his established territory, which can be very stressful.
  • Proceed slowly and calmly. Slow-paced introductions may help prevent any fear-based or aggressive reactions from developing. Bad behaviors not reined in from the start can become habit and be very hard to change.
  • Before you bring the new dog home, rub him with a cloth. Take the cloth to your home to allow your resident dog to sniff it, and then place it where the new dog will be sleeping.
  • Pick up pet toys, food bowls, beds, etc., before you bring the new dog into the house. This prevents any tiffs over prized possessions. You can return the resident dog’s toys to him in a few weeks and give the new dog some toys of his own.
  • Put your current dog in a separate area of your home, and then walk the new dog on a leash throughout your home to show him where he will sleep and eat, where the other pets sleep and eat, etc.
  • Be sure all the dogs are current on their vaccinations to avoid any risk of infection.
  • If you have more than one resident dog, introduce each one to the new dog one at a time to prevent the group from overwhelming the newcomer.
  • Stay in control of the introduction. If you are not sure how your pet will react, take the necessary precautions to keep him (and you) safe.

Establishing and Maintaining Order: Managing a multi-dog household is quite different from living in a single-dog home. The key to maintaining household harmony lies with you, the “pack” leader. All dogs in your home must respect you as a leader, and you must act accordingly by creating and consistently applying boundaries for their behavior with you and with each other.

As the household leader, it is important that you uphold and reinforce the established order. This hierarchy always should begin with you, followed by the other humans and then the dogs.

Managing the New Dog in Your Home:

  • Establish boundaries. Use baby gates and close off rooms and areas while all the pets acclimate to the new situation. This way they can see and get used to one another. Allow the resident dog to roam the house, while confining the new dog behind a barrier at first.
  • Never leave new dogs unattended. When dogs are getting acquainted, the situation can change suddenly.
  • Create separate areas for each dog’s eating/sleeping activities. This helps keep the resident dog from feeling his territory is being threatened. Pick up food bowls after feeding time, and keep the dogs confined in separate areas of your home any time you are away or can’t watch them.
  • Supervise doggie playtime to prevent the dogs from getting overexcited and possibly injuring one another. If one dog begins to bully or growl at the other, interrupt their play and separate them for a few minutes. Praise them when they are playing well together.
  • If you are walking your two dogs at the same time, walk both dogs on one side, with the more confident dog on the outside. This puts the other dog in the middle, a natural position for the less influential dog to be protected by the leaders.
  • Avoid letting the dogs maintain eye contact with one another, which can be a preamble for more aggressive action. If one dog begins to stare at another, command the staring dog to sit or lie down, to break his concentrated gaze. After the situation is defused, release the dog from the command.

Feeding Time: Sharing is not a canine trait. Food is vital for survival, so food-guarding is instinctive. Take extra care to be wary around your dogs at feeding time, as bad feeding habits can lead to fights.

  • Do not allow the dogs to steal from one another’s bowls.
  • Pick up the food bowls after the dogs have eaten.
  • To avoid mealtime issues, feed the dogs in separate areas or rooms, or in their crates. Feeding separately also discourages dogs from gulping food down too quickly. Their digestion will improve markedly if they feel safe enough to take their time over their food.
  • Old and ailing dogs in particular should be allowed to eat in peace.

Toys and Other “High-value” Items: Being fair-minded and treating all dogs equally will go a long way toward ensuring a harmonious household.

  • Be sure to have duplicates including brain-stimulating puzzle toys, dog beds, food dishes, etc., to keep everyone content and to decrease occurrences of resource-guarding behavior.
  • Give “high-value” toys—ones the dogs really covet, such as bones or furry squeaky toys—only when the dogs are alone, such as in their crates. Put the items away after the dogs are released from their crates.

Crates: No matter how many dogs are in your family, a crate (or pet carrier) provides a natural safe haven for a dog and helps him feel secure.

  • Use separate crates. Be sure each dog has his own crate and bedding.
  • Keep all the crates in same area or room.
  • If you need to set up boundaries at any time, direct the dogs to go to their crates, even if it is only one dog that is acting naughty or anxious. While they may not like being separated from you, they will each feel secure.

Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit

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