Dog are social animals, with a group mentality. For some individuals, this group includes both humans and other dogs. But, many dogs thrive best as an “only”, preferring to share their home environments solely with humans. Should yours be a multi-dog household? Carefully consider your motives and the impact on your already-established canine friend. Perhaps that ship has sailed, and there are already multiple dogs sharing resources in your home.
Friend or Adversary?
Dogs are usually very effective in working out their differences. Maintaining harmony in the group is paramount for survival. Dogs who have an incompatible chemistry and do not live together may, simply, choose to avoid interactions and go their separate ways. Dogs sharing a home environment must work out who gets priority access to resources. Resources include owner attention, access to space, food, toys, chews, and resting spots. One dog gets first dibs and the other dog (or dogs) acquiesce and wait their turn for the remainder.
This scenario can play out in a different way. It is a myth that the “alpha” dog fights. In a canine group, it is the insecure individual that feels threatened, doesn’t want to share, and is more likely to fight. High ranking individuals don’t need to fight. They are confident in their ability to obtain the resources they need and want. These individuals communicate leadership qualities with eye contact and body posture. It is competition between insecure dogs that triggers aggression. Competition is stressful, and stress fuels aggression.
We humans value equality. Canine groups cooperate with a hierarchy. There is an order with respect to which animals have priority access to resources. Inequality exists in the group. When introducing a second (or third) dog into the household, the established dog (s) is often stressed about this perceived interloper. Reduce stress and ease the transition by communicating that the established dog’s place is secure. No pity party for the new “kid” or altering an established order to make the newbie feel welcome. This is confusing for all the dogs. The established dog has priority access to resources. He is greeted first, feed first, asked to sit and get a treat first, etc.… The new dog has his own Kong, bowl, and bed. Use learned cues to manage and train the new dog ASAP. This plan works to maintain harmony and communicate human leadership and order in the environment. If dog #1 has not been trained to respond to learned cues, it’s unlikely that dog #2 will behave well. Canine status can change over time as your dogs age into adulthood as well as seniority. Be watchful and support the higher ranking animal.
Trial Meet and Greet
If you are adopting a dog, ask the rescue group or shelter for a trial meet and greet. A really upsetting outcome is that the new dog doesn’t gain acceptance by the established dog and is returned. Everyone has the dogs’ welfare in mind!
Most meet and greets should be on neutral territory to reduce stress. A leash walk with two handlers is a good way to expose the dogs to each other, while allowing plenty of space and redirection options. Once home, one or both dogs can wear an attached leash or drag line. If an aggressive display escalates, the leashes can be picked up and the dogs separated. Observe the interaction for stress signals and other signs of increased risk. Both dogs’ bodies should remain wiggly and relaxed, not rigid. There should be no sustained direct eye contact. When one dog “tells” the other that he’s overstepped a boundary, observe if the offending dog responds appropriately or ignores the warning. This trial will provide valuable insights into the compatibility between the dogs as well as each dog’s social skills and threshold levels. Trust your instincts and remain as objective and unemotional as possible. Focus on the dogs’ interactions as they actually present and avoid attaching a label.
Questions to Consider in a Multi-Dog Household
Will the established dog enjoy a canine companion? If your dog doesn’t LOVE all other dogs in a very general way, she probably won’t love sharing her home. Romping at a dog park is fun, but sharing home resources is competition.
Will the established dog accept a canine companion? Some dogs are insecure, guarders, and do not want to share. Aggressive displays are likely and can range from growling to more serious altercations, which could result in injury.
Are you willing to train and manage multiple dogs? Adding a dog means changes in routine for everyone. Change begins with us – the humans! Additional dogs require additional time, energy, and expense. Analyze the benefits relative to the extra commitments, which will be required in even the most favorable circumstances.
There are many great reasons to add a new canine friend to your home life mix. More dogs CAN mean more fun, companionship for each other, and for sure, providing a home for an animal in need. Make your decision in an objective and unemotional mindset with realistic expectations.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2018 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC