Dogs are like Pringles…you generally can’t have just one and multiple dog households are common.
People obtain multiple dogs (more than 1) for any number of reasons; be it company for an existing dog, loss of a previous dog or the existing dog is growing old. In some situations, foster carers take in multiple dogs as part of the work they do for the various rescue organisations. Whatever the reason, multiple dog households can be a very rewarding experience.
For the most part household dogs get on well with each other without too much incident. Some minor scuffles are very normal among dogs, and may break out the over a dropped piece of food or a stale bone. When the fights are no more than lots of noise and spittle among the dogs and are very easily broken up, there is usually nothing to be worried about.
When the fighting is minor you can usually stop it by simply interrupting with an “Oi stop that!” or by using a loud noise like a banging sound or whistle. When dogs come apart after a minor scuffle, they’ll generally shake themselves off and continue on what they were doing without any tension or stress.
Alarm bells should start ringing when the fighting becomes both more frequent and starts to increase in intensity in multiple dog households. Serious fighting among family dogs doesn’t just happen overnight. There is usually an increase in both stress and anxiety levels among the dogs over time that causes the escalation.
The possible situations that can cause stress or anxiety can be:
- Claiming of resources (owner, food, toys, beds, couches etc)
- Changes in the household dynamics (by dynamics I mean the general relationships and tolerance levels of each dog toward each other)
- Changes in routine
- Over arousing/stimulating activities
- Other situations that become triggers for fighting
Once fighting becomes a regular occurrence in your multiple dog household due to the constant presence of stressful situations (stressors), triggers can be born from these stressors that will then readily set off fighting.
Triggers that set off fighting can be many different things in multiple dog households. Here are some that I have encountered over the years:
- Doorbells, knocking on doors
- Phones ringing
- Food bowls banging and food preparation
- Door handles being opened
- Owners raising their voices
Unfortunately, the list can go on and on.
Managing the situations
One of the most effective ways to minimise fighting in multiple dog households is to better manage the situations and triggers that cause the fighting.
This can be done by any of the following:
- Avoiding the situations and triggers
- Removing the situations and triggers
- Changing the meaning of the triggers so that they no longer set off fighting (this is achieved by using a training process called ‘counter conditioning’ which I discuss in further detail in my book “When Three’s a Crowd”)
Managing the dogs
In addition to managing triggers, it’s imperative to manage the dogs in the household as well, both as a group and individually.
This will involve implementing the following:
- Setting of household rules and boundaries for all dogs and sticking to them
- Teach basic obedience skills to each dog to include: sit & wait, leave it and come when called (each dog must be taught to come individually when called). These exercises will greatly assist the management and control of the dogs
- Manage and all control resources, which includes restricting access to yourself, as well as access to certain areas and rooms
It is imperative that all members of the family follow and enforce the rules with all the dogs as inconsistencies will only increase stress which may set off more fights.
How serious was the fight?
As mentioned earlier, most fights are nothing more than lots of noise and spittle, in which case there may be no injuries to any of the dogs.
When fighting becomes serious and the intention of the dog(s) was to injure/immobilise the other dog, injuries may now be more imminent.
If the fighting now results in deep puncture wounds and/or visits to the vet clinic, then you have a problem.
In most situations, the fighting can be minimised significantly if the changes and strategies are implemented early enough, returning the household to harmony. The problems arise when you let things go in the hope that things will improve by themselves. Doing so will usually result in a much bigger problem as the fighting continues to escalate in both frequency and intensity, and in some cases resulting in the dogs having to be separated permanently.
Once dogs are separated/segregated permanently from each other in the home, it can be difficult to re-unite them, making reconciliation a little more challenging. In some situations dogs cannot be successfully re-united for various reasons and this is when you may need to make a decision as to what they do next.
Call in a professional
I recommend seeking the services of a qualified trainer as soon as the fights become a little harder to break up, and/or as soon as there are some minor injuries to any of your dogs. Be sure to find a trainer who has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with multiple dog household issues and don’t just settle for the first one you speak to.
Don’t leave it until it is too late!! Harmony among your family dogs is not impossible to reinstate if you’re experiencing some unrest among your dogs, but you must get it sorted early!
About the Author: Trish Harris Dog Trainer – Four Paws K9 Training and author of “When Three’s a Crowd”.