“I promise, we will just foster until we find him a good home.”
Those were my words almost six months ago to my husband, trying to convince him that we would make a great foster home for a ten month old male yellow lab. Gunner had spent his short life in two homes, found himself at the Humane Society twice and now he landed at our doorstep. I swore we could find him the perfect place. Well, apparently we had…. ours. Two months in, we realized that Gunner was here to stay and now we found ourselves out numbered, three against two.
Years ago, we worked out the challenges of living with two dogs (feeding, walking, training), but we quickly learned that three would present its own set of issues. Living in a multi-dog household can be difficult (and expensive) at times but it can also be rewarding with three times the doggie kisses and three times the love. Coming up with a game plan ahead of time on how to handle two, three, four or more dogs will cut down on frustration, fights and the possible loss of valuables. Living in harmony includes the use of management techniques, training and remembering that each dog is an individual.
Here are a few tips and examples that I have picked up along this journey:
I’ve found the biggest key to a multi-dog household is management, management, management. Whether you have two, three or more dogs, having tools in place to manage daily situations is important. Each house will be different but here are some standard tools that are used in our household.
Feeding time can always be tricky with more than one dog so making sure that everyone has their own space is essential, especially with two labs. Each dog has their own section of the kitchen with plenty of space and no line of sight to the other. This relieves any social pressure while they are eating, avoiding any resource guarding opportunities.
Living in the city and not having a backyard, we take around four walks a day and thank goodness for the gentle leader! They have to be one of my favorite management tools. Our walks are much calmer with less pulling and zig zagging back and forth. In fact, we receive compliments on how nicely everyone walks together. I would also recommend the use of a front hook harness for better control and a looser leash.
Other fantastic management techniques include crates, gates, Kongs and leashes. Being able to give yourself and all the dogs time apart is essential to keeping a harmonious home. Crates and/or gates can be use to separate all dogs in the house, giving everyone time to themselves for relaxation and quiet, add in a Kong stuffed with peanut butter (or liverwurst in our house) and the dogs will be craving their alone time. Another great option for an overly anxious adolescent who won’t leave everyone alone or likes to jump on guests is to keep a leash handy and use it in the house.
Management will be individual for each situation so decide what works for you to make your life with your family and dogs the best that it can be.
Even though having some great management techniques up your sleeve is so important, living in a multi-dog household wouldn’t be possible without some training, even if it’s just basic. It seems like one dogs problem can trickle down and affect the rest. Take for example Bree, our middle lab, who stopped jumping on people years ago, however has resumed the habit since the introduction of Gunner. So now it’s not only one jumping lab greeting guests but two. You may feel the urge to immediately teach a group sit or stay, but try to be patient and train each individually. If one doesn’t have a solid hold on their sit and gets up half way through, it will be tempting for the rest to do the same. Once you feel confident in each dogs training, it’s time to slowly bring them together one at a time. Take it to the next level by introducing individual releases by each name but remember to take it slow with each new step.
Just like people, each dog is unique and has their own personality and strengths. It’s important to remember this with multiple dogs, which can meld into a group on a day to day basis. Step back, and look at the needs of each of your dogs. Does one need more exercise? More training? Or more mental stimulation? A lot of this will depend on age and breed of each dog. Take the time to play up to their strengths. I have two labs and both are enrolled in agility classes and we make it a point to take them on longer walks as well as getting them into the water whenever we are at the lake. Our oldest, an English Setter mix, is more content with shorter walks but craves one on one attention from us. Whatever the needs of your dogs, it is essential to spend time with each one individually as your time allows.
You don’t have to feel outnumbered in your multi-dog home. Define your expectations of your dogs and then meet those expectations through management, training and recognizing individual needs and strengths. It may take an adjustment period but soon you will be living harmoniously in your multi-dog household.
For more tips and advice on multi-dog households, I recommend the book “Feeling Outnumbered? How to manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household” by Animal Behaviorists, Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. and Karen London, Ph.D.