Making Multiple Dogs Manageable

I live with a large number of dogs of various breeds (some of them are shown above) and yes, they do all live in the house with me. Having  a large number of the dogs in the house could end up being chaotic and, over the years, I’ve found various techniques and strategies that work  for me. Some of them may work for you.

Reward the good stuff

Reinforce the behaviour that you want and manage/interrupt the stuff that you don’t want. For example, as I work from home, the dogs have to learn to settle quietly when I’m working. They all have their own preferred place to settle and they are intermittently rewarded for settling by either  a treat or a good dog or a gentle stroke. If they are being restless, then they can be cued to go and lay down. New dogs sometimes struggle with this and may end up popped in a crate for a short time or tethered to me so that it is easier for me to encourage them to settle and to reward it. They don’t actually need a food reward for settling now, it is automatic behaviour that is cued by me sitting down at the computer.

A great way of ensuring that you reward the good stuff, is to have a tub containing around 50 treats per dog and to reward every instance of behaviour that you like. OK, you may not reward one dog 50 times and another dog might get more than 50 rewards, but it does help to ensure that you don’t take your dogs’ good behaviour for granted.

Feeding

Meal times can be a trigger for fights in many multidog households, but not in mine. We have a routine at meal times. Each dog has its own place where it will be fed and we have an order in which the food bowls go down. This order never changes and this predictability can help reduce anxiety/arousal at meal times. Each dog is required to sit before I will start feeding and to begin with, this is cued for new dogs, but the established dogs know the routine and will automatically sit. The dogs have to remain sat until the food bowl in on the floor (great exercise for impulse control, for more ideas have a look at my online Self-control course).

 

New dogs are often fed first and may be popped into a crate until I know whether they are food aggressive or not. Ash is fed in a crate at home as he can be a pain for trying to nick the other dogs’ grub. The crate door is no longer locked and he stays in there until he is released .

 

One rule in the household that is strictly adhered to is that dogs are not allowed to push another dog away from their food (i.e. Dog A cannot push Dog B away from their bowl and then eat Dog B’s food). Each dog eats only from its own food bowl and only when a dog walks away from their own bowl can another dog go and lick it clean, eat the leftovers (not that there are ever many leftovers). This helps to stop squabbles starting and gives the slower eaters the confidence that they won’t get driven away from their food and reduces food guarding. I supervise all mealtimes and I will tell a dog to move away or to go and lie down, if it is trying to push another dog off their food.

 

Going out

I have a set routine of which groups get to be put in the van first. This is determined to by who goes in which door of the van. Those that go in the side door go to the van together. Those that go in via the backdoor go out in two lots..

Each dog is loaded into the van crates in a set order and they always go in the same crate, again this predictability reduces anxiety and helps prevent that mad dash when all of them are trying to leap into the same crate at the same time (another flash point for fights). New dogs may be popped in before established dogs, it just depends on their personality and character.

Each dog comes out of the van crates in a set order, and this may be different to the order that they went in. Each dog is taught not to come out fo teh crate until tehy are called. Those that are in teh middle of the van, wait on the van floor whilst their leads are attached and then jump out to stand and wait whilst the others are popped on their leads.

Walks

The dogs are walked in groups (usually no more than 5 at once) and those groups are determined by who gets on with who. Mint cannot be run with Ash at the moment or with Beau as she will bully both of them. Mr T can cope with her obnoxious behaviour as can Wish. Leon, Teal, Ash, Beau and Mallik can be walked as one group.

It is important that you have a group recall cue as well as an individual one (mine tends to be ‘Girls’ ‘Boys’ ‘Here guys’) as it takes so much time to call out individual dogs’ names when they suddenly take off after something.

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I play recall games to reinforce this group recall cue; I call them and whoever gets back the fastest gets the best reward and the others get a lesser reward. Now you would think this would slow the tardy ones down even more, but in fact, it makes them more eager to get back first so that they can have the best reward. Recalls are always rewarded. This reward may not be food, it may be a game with a toy, it might be being sent back to whatever I have called them away from, it may be a few words of praise, it may be a cuddle, but I always, always, always reward recalls. I also practise recalling each individual dog back, so that they are learning to come away from the pack.

I’m lucky that the places where I walk are generally quiet and we meet few people and other dogs, but when we do, all mine go on lead at quite a distance form the oncoming person and dog and we continue to walk on lead until we get a bit closer. This stops them trying to charge off to say hello (it can be very intimidating to have several dogs charging towards you). Once the other person gets closer, I will move to the side of the path (or just off the path) and ask my guys to sit whilst the person passes. My dogs are rewarded for sitting quietly. Once they are passed, we will continue our walk but I generally walk a little way before the leads come off again.

They are not allowed to rush up to people as it is just plan bad manners. The other dog/person may be intimidated by having several dogs coming towards them. The other dog or person might be frightened of other dogs and get upset which is not what I want. It might also get me in bother, as my dogs rushing over to another person means that tehy are out of control.

Door manners

Several dogs all charging through a doorway at once is amother potential flash-point and can trigger a fight (which can be nasty when you have several dogs). We tend to have an order for going through a door and dogs will be called through by name. As I know Mint can be a bully (this behaviour is being worked on), she tends to go out last. If they go to rush out when they’ve not been called, then the door is just closed (not slammed in the faces just gently closed enough to stop them going out). They are taught a wait cue before they are asked to wait at the door.

Treat and chews

As with food bowls, my guys are not allowed to push another dog away from a chew that they have been given, and I will step in to  stop this. Once a chew has been left, then another dog can take it. Teaching a good leave it cue really helps, as you can ask a dog to leave another dog alone. There are several dogs here, that were food/chew guarders when they first arrived and would growl and snap if another dog came near them when they were eating. Judicious use of crates, not allowing other dogs near them when they had chews/food has helped them to relax, and now they no longer guard their chews/food.

I also teach my guys to wait their turn when I’m handing treats out. This saves me being mugged and stops them snatching and taking my fingers as well. They are taught that the treat comes to them when their name is called. New dogs will generally get their treats first, until they have learned teh rules of the game.

Toys

There are always multiple toys lying about in my house and in the back garden. If the dogs want a toy, they can have one. Ocassionally a dog will pick up a toy and another one decides that they want the same one. A leave it cue works well as does directing the second dog to another toy. We usually have multiples of the same of similar toys about, so they can all have the same type if they wish. There’s not much point asking them to give up tryimg to get a favourite toy if you are only going to give them a toy that they don’t like.

Some dogs are toy gatherers; Bug is one as it Tank. It does seem to be a spaniel trait. It doens’t bother me if they want to collect several toys up and put them in their sleeping place. I do move them out again when they aren’t in their bed, otherwise they would end up with no room to sleep!

Sharing your household with multiple dogs is very enjoyable, but once you get above two, then a few ‘rules’ do come in useful. The few rules we have makes things easier on a day to day basis, but I’m pretty relaxed about most things.

This gives you a taste of what it is like to live with multiple dogs (and I live with more than 10 dogs)  and the things that have made life easier for me. These ideas and others will be presented at our new Making Multiple Dogs Manageable workshops that will be launched soon.

Have fun!

Author: caninetutor

Fully qualified dog trainer and educator, delivering workshops around the UK.

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