Living with more than one dog can be challenging–especially if they don’t get along. This article will discuss how to keep your home safe, and how to keep your fur-family friendly.
My Boxer was a target for the nicest of dogs, so I wasn’t encouraging when my new boyfriend wanted to adopt a 115lb dog-aggressive Presa Canario. “You’re a dog trainer–you’ll fix him” he said. Our story has a happy ending; that man is now my husband and that dog is now a wonderfully well-behaved member of our family. It was A LOT of work, and though eventually it got easier–it was a cordial relationship–never a playful one.
Adult dogs are not nearly as social as they are in our fantasies. They will not necessarily readily accept having a new “friend” in their house, sharing their life. Dogs are prone to jealous behaviour, such as standing stiff between their owners and other dogs. This is one of those problematic behaviours that we accidentally or purposefully reward and strengthen. It is hard not to–it is adorable when our dogs claim us and show their affinity. Some people mistake this fear-based anxious resource guarding behaviour as protective and therefore desirable.
What is desirable is having dogs that are comfortable and safe in their own homes. We want our dogs to be able to happily and patiently watch other dogs interact with us. To follow are basic guidelines, your dogs may also require muzzle training and/or strong consideration as to whether or not you are capable of safety managing them. Please consult with a professional reward-based dog trainer to help you assess and handle your dogs.
How to bond dogs together
Walking in tandem and doing tricks together will bond your dogs. Have a partner walk one dog while you walk the other, beginning as far away as opposite sides of the street. Put your bodies between the dogs’ bodies and keep plenty of distance between you as you walk together. Let them sniff the ground near each other, but avoid on-leash interactions, keeping incidental on-leash interactions to 3 seconds max. Doing things side by side and keeping each dog under control lets them relax and get used to the other dog’s presence. Doing things side-by-side is much preferable to being face-to-face, getting all stiff and squirrelly, while we stand around waiting for something bad to happen.
When we are ready to allow dogs to get close, do so with a chain link fence between the dogs at first. Test those waters by walking the dogs along the fence line and then walking away. Keep interactions short, encouraging the dogs to move along and come back to you for reinforcement. Happily praise them the entire time that they sniff one another. If either dog appears stiff, is looking away, showing the whites of their eyes, has their ears back, or their tail tucked, immediately break off the interaction by encouraging both dogs to walk away with their handler. Follow each interaction (even stiff ones) with food rewards. To connect your food reward to the other dog, practice saying “yes” when they look at the other dog. Soon, we will delay our marker and wait until our dogs look back to us, expecting the treat. Click here for more info on using food to help dogs overcome reactivity to other dogs.
Increase your dogs’ confidence in general by learning new, fun tricks that are challenging but achievable. 10 minutes a day of teaching new tricks goes a long way toward making dogs more obedient in general but also more confident and happy. Agility and parkour are particularly effective confidence boosting activities. At first, your dogs many be afraid to go through a dark tunnel or take a leap of faith over a big jump. With your encouragement, your dogs will learn to trust you more and will feel that they know what to do and what to expect from you and from the other dog too. Let them focus on their relationship with you and recognize that the other dog is being handled by the other person–so they can just relax! Read more about how obedience training helps dogs control their fear here.
How to manage dogs in the house
Eventually, your obedience training will be so good that you can just drop them into a ‘down’ and they will be parked. For now, use your leashes to manage them in the house. It was a long time (many months) before I allowed the dogs to roam freely and interact without me structuring every move. Keep your dog on a leash and lead them directly to their spot when you come home from walks. Tie the leash to your waist or sturdy posts and keep them with you when you move around the house.
Feed dogs separately, in separate rooms or kennels is preferable, especially when the dogs are enjoying long chews/bones. Ensure that toys, treats, and chewables are kept out of their reach unless the dogs are securely separated.
Over time, you’ll be training the dogs to do more and more side-by-side, but always remember that you are better safe than sorry. Animals are unpredictable, but fights over toys and treats are easily predictable and preventable arguments. Fighting over attention requires a bit more finesse.
Training dogs to wait their turn for your attention
At first, we will train each dog separately, accomplish this by training with a partner or by taking one dog to a quiet room to train alone while the other enjoys a long chew. Once we have the basics, especially holding their ‘down‘ position, we can progress to alternating training 2 dogs in the same room, taking increasingly longer turns between dogs. Finally, we want to handle and interact with all of our dogs at once.
Each dog should have a ’spot/place’ (this could be a dog bed, a kennel, or a pedestal). Teach them to stay there. Encourage your dogs to lie down as much as possible. Accomplish this by delivering food to them, dropping it on the ground between their forearms often enough that they don’t want to move. As I mentioned, at first you may need to tether leashes to something solid–like another person.
Have your partner stand right next to dog #1’s spot and deliver food as often as needed while you get dog #2 onto their spot. Just as we might proof any distraction, we will get the dogs used to seeing us walk over to our other dog, working up to seeing us give them treats, to asking them to get up, to performing a single trick, to performing multiple tricks before returning to them to reinforce them for being such a gracious and patient audience. We will only progress as fast as the dogs are comfortable holding their positions. Once it seems like your partner is not really helping at all and you are able to return back and forth between dogs without the dogs popping up, your partner can start backing away and only step forward to help dog #1 back to position if needed. More and more, the dogs are being handled by just one person who goes back and forth between the dogs. Finally, you’ll invite both dogs to perform tricks side-by-side for one handler.
Please enjoy a couple of double-dog tricks, featuring Doug and Roscoe. Notice that in all our videos, there is always a dog lying down, patiently waiting for their turn. The dog that is waiting is still working and is still earning praise and treats for waiting, and that allows them to enjoy it and to feel secure watching the other dog earn rewards too, especially affection from me.
New Puppy in the house?
A common situation is an older dog being forced to accept a rambunctious new puppy. Don’t leave it up to your older dog to teach your puppy how to play gently and respectfully–that leads to vet bills and lousy relationships. Keep your new puppy on a leash and let your older dog come to them–if they want to. Let your older dog realize that interactions with puppy are always followed by tasty treats from you.
Feeding your older dog after puppy gets in their face accomplishes two things. 1: Your older dog will like your puppy more. 2: Your older dog will come looking to you for treats when puppy is annoying. Your older dog tattling on puppy to you is certainly preferable to them attacking the puppy. Interactions between dogs should be surrounded by praise and rewards coming from us, not us tensely saying “No!” as they interact while still letting things escalate to fights. Don’t be afraid to use your leash in the house, it may seem like too simple of a solution, but it works. Your older dog should not be expected to tolerate a puppy charging all over them all day.
Let your older dog realize that if puppy gets rough, you will be there to remove them. Teach your puppy to respect your older dog’s lip curls, growls, and other requests for space like walking away by encouraging puppy to move along. Never chastise the communication of your older dog. We want our older dog to express just how much puppy they can tolerate, and then we step in to make sure puppy doesn’t push it any farther than that. The sooner your new puppy learns basic obedience, the sooner you can ditch the leash and simply tell puppy how to act around your dog, finally enjoying a sense of normalcy.