Living in a full house?
When we have multiple dogs in our home, we are opening ourselves up to multi-dog household challenges. This is not to say it's all bad - in fact, the best time in my life was when I had two dogs and they kept each other company, played, cuddled, and were generally the sweetest nuggets ever. I lucked out though - they weren't fighters. One controlled all the food and the other deferred. One controlled all the toys and the other deferred. It was peaceful and lovely.
There are inevitable challenges, however, in some multi-dog households and this brings me to the point that management (otherwise known as prevention) is key.
- One dog might be a "Tarzan" as Jean Donaldson calls them - a dog who is just wild and almost out of control. This dog doesn't know how to flip their own off-switch or read the other dog's body language signals for when to stop.
- Another dog might be a bully - really enjoys intimidating the other dog and ignores signals intentionally.
- Some dogs may have resource guarding issues around food, chews, toys, resting areas, people, or found objects. This guarding behaviour may be directed towards humans or the other dog in the home.
- Then we have dogs who are fearful or fighters, where they struggle to live together as one or both are responding emotionally to the proximity of the other.
- Lastly, we have dogs who are a combination of two or more of the above...just to keep things interesting!
You can see how complicated multi-dog households can become and why management of the environment is critical in preventing issues but also in a successful training plan. If the dogs are rehearsing the behaviour we don't want to see (fighting), they're only going to get better at it, just like any other skill out there!
Let's look at a few management solutions that can keep your dogs safe and stress-free.
A baby gate like this one is a must in my home! I use one in the foyer to prevent my dog from bolting out the front door when it's open, as well as one at my bedroom door to keep him out at night (to save my allergies). Easy for humans, hard for dogs. You can get extended ones as well as extra-tall ones, which is great for the taller dogs and the jumpers.
If there is a bite history with the two dogs, you might consider using a more robust tool or two as dogs can still access each other through the bars.
Crates are a fantastic tool when conditioned properly. In multi-dog households I tend to use crates for mealtimes to keep them from food-thievery and fights. I’m a fan of wire crates so that there’s air-flow and your dog doesn’t feel terribly isolated. If your dog is more stressed by being able to see the other dog or people in the home, you can cover the crate with a sheet or towel, provided it's safe and the dog won't pull it in and shred/ingest it.
If there is a bite history with the two dogs, you might consider using a plastic travel crate as dogs can still access each other through the bars of the wire crate.
Similar to a crate, an exercise pen can be an excellent management tool if you have a smaller dog or you need to block off a larger area that cannot accommodate a baby gate or door.
Be mindful that some dogs are Houdinis and can climb these or jump over. Some are even clever enough to push against them, moving them along the floor.
If there is a bite history with the two dogs, you might consider using a more robust tool as dogs can still access each other through the bars.
Tethers can be amazing tools to prevent dogs from accessing each other when you are training them. It's key to find one that is chew-proof and dog-safe, however, I would never recommend leaving a dog on a tie-down while unattended.
Select a tether that is appropriate for your dog's weight and ensure that you have it secured to something heavy or solid.
Muzzles are wonderful tools when properly conditioned (like in our Muzzle Training course!) - they prevent the bite and add a layer of security so that you can breathe a little while you work through a behaviour modification plan. There are many muzzles to choose from and each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Never leave a dog muzzled while unattended, nor a muzzle that keeps the mouth closed, preventing panting.
Remember that these are simply management solutions while you work through a behaviour modification plan. They will not solve the problem and no product is without risk.
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