How To Manage A Multi-Dog Household

Many dog owners don’t intentionally end up with several dogs, but sometimes things just work out that way. A family member becomes ill, has to go into a nursing home and is heartbroken at the thought of having to surrender them to a shelter. 

Or you see a photo of a dog on a local rescue organization’s social media page and there is just something about the way he looks at the camera that melts your heart, even though you have two other dogs already. Or, you just love the idea of having multiple dogs so that’s what you do.

Whatever the circumstances that have led to your multi-dog household, your romantic ideas about having a harmonious canine pack go out the window when you suddenly find yourself having to break up your dogs as they get into arguments or even all out fights at feeding time, jostling each other when it’s time to go out, roughousing while playing that occasionally get too rough, and jockeying for who gets which space at bedtime.

Yelling and screaming at the dogs is not a good strategy. Positive training and calm management is the key to success and you, the leader, must decide what is appropriate behavior, not your dogs.

First of all, it’s imperative that your dogs be well trained and responsive to the basic commands of sit, stay, down, leave it and so forth. If you cannot effectively train the dogs yourself, you owe it to them and to yourself to find a competent professional trainer who uses positive methods to work with you and your canine companions.

Aggression and escalation of scuffles between your dogs is caused by stress. Dogs pick up on their owner’s emotions. So if they are getting keyed up, yelling at them will only increase the likelihood for an unpleasant incident. 

If your dogs get into a fight, please resist the urge to yell at them, as this will increase their level of stress and make things worse. If you have to break it up, keep a piece of ply board where you can easily get it and slip it between the dogs to separate them. If your dogs get into minor scuffles, it’s ok to let them work it out themselves, but if the behavior escalates, you must intervene.

Make sure your dogs are getting daily exercise, as when your dogs are tired, they are calmer, less stressed and prone to excitement and much more apt to live in harmony. But in addition to spending time with the pack, you also need to spend time with each of your dogs on an individual basis. This will help you establish yourself as a leader and become an effective pack manager for the entire clan.

If one of your dogs is much smaller than the others, or is sick or otherwise disabled, you must keep your dog safe by whatever means necessary, even if it means separating the dog from the rest of the pack members. This may be a temporary solution until the dog recovers, if it’s because the dog is small and weak, this might have to be permanent. 

You may want to consider consulting with your veterinarian if one of your dogs is repeatedly aggressive, as you want to rule out underlying medical issues that may be causing a problem.

If all else fails and none of these methods work, then it’s time to consider other options, such as possibly finding another home for a dog who simply cannot get along with others.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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