Having a multi-dog household can be as much joy and fun as it can be over whelming. The saying the more the merrier can be true for a house filled with well mannered dogs but it can also mean more canine chaos in a house without clear structures and boundaries. But it does not have to be! This is not a guideline for in-house aggression but a basic outline of how to manage your dogs better so you can enjoy them more. It iss about teaching them patience and good manners and that unruliness and pushiness will not be tolerated. The enjoyable multi dog household can be achieved by implementing the following suggestions.
Spend quality individual time with each dog. Your dogs’ primary relationship should be with you and not with each other. This is an excellent bonding experience which also helps them to pay more attention to you and feel more connected. Time alone exercises could consists of walks, ttouch, sessions, training, playing with his favourite toy or taking a trip with you to the cafe.
Train each dog individually. Not only does this help with forming a relationship of trust and connectedness, it also makes it easier for the dog. Learning with the distraction of other dogs is difficult and makes the dog less likely to succeed. What we learn with fun we never forget. Proof the behaviours in different environments and be sure your dog enjoys complying.
All dogs should master some very basic cues. The emphasis is on mastering the cues not just knowing it, sometimes. Do they know that Come means Come to me when you are at home, and on the beach? Basic commands include name recognition, sit, down, stay, come and loose lead walking. Name recognition is a cue that is often overlooked. Are you sure your dog really knows her name when visitors have just arrived or if there is a cat running across your lawn? You might only want to give one of your dogs a command when they are all present. If they do not know their names how will they know who you are talking to? If they do not know these commands try and find a trainer that uses positive training methods to help you.
Find out what your dogs’ hierarchy or reinforcers are. What is your dog willing to work for? What is motivational for one dog might not be enough of a motivation for another dog. Tasty treats might be reinforcing for one dog while the other one is not food motivated but is crazy about squeaky toys. When you start training more difficult behaviours, you might need a more reinforcing reward to motivate your dog. Doggy biscuits might be good enough to train behaviours one-on-one, but that same dog might need biltong bits when starting to train with the other dogs to keep him motivated and focused on you. We do not work for free,so why should they?
Teach your dogs a group name i.e. Dogs, Mutts, Collies. It is very useful to have if you need to get all their attention at once rather than having to say all their names. You can do this by calling them by their group name and give every dog a treat that is looking at you. Itandrsquo;s much easier and quicker to say Dogs sit, than Fido sit, Rover sit, Ben sit.
Teach them group commands. Especially Stay and Leave. Once they have mastered the commands individually, then it is time to train two dogs (i.e. dog A and B) together. Both of them have what is called a Reinforcing History of the behaviour. All they have to learn now is to perform it in the presence of the other dog/s. (Each dog is a distraction for the other dog.) Once they are doing fine then do different combinations of two dogs i.e. dog A with dog C, then dog B with dog C and so on. Then it is time to train three dogs together in different combinations, until they can all do it together.
Teach them that life is not always fair and to cope with it. To create a harmonious household is to give up the idea of always trying to treat the dogs equal at all times. The first reason is that sometimes it is just impossible and it also interferes with your ability to treat them as individuals and secondly they need to learn to cope with frustration of not always getting what they want all the time. I.e. if one dog is really nuts about driving in the car and the others prefer lying around the house then take him to the cafe.You do not have to pile all of them in the car. If you always treat them as equal and one day one needs to go to the vet for example, the others might become frustrated as they have never learnt to not always get what they want. Frustration leads to anger and anger can lead to aggression. If it is difficult to play with one dog because of the others always wanting to join in, then play with one alone, but make sure their individual physical and emotional needs are met. If they each have their quality time with you and their needs are fulfilled then there will be no need to compete over resources (jealousy).
Dogs need to learn to be confident and comfortable on their own. They need to be able to keep themselves occupied, even without their canine companions. They need to be comfortable in an area or room on their own. You might one-day have workmen inside the house or visiting relatives who do not like dogs (yes, we all have them!). If they are not used to this they could interpret the social separation from you as a punishment. You can start them off by leaving them for short periods in an area or room with something to keep them occupied, like a stuffed Kong (copyright) or a treat ball filled with interesting treats. When you see that they are comfortable with that amount of time then you very gradually add on more time. Kongs and treat balls are available at the DogSense office in Durbanville.
Use your body language to remain in control. The Body Block was devise by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. A body block is use to control the behaviour of your dog without having to use your hands, a collar or a leash. A confident dog will use their body movements to manage the space around them. Border Collies for example move animals all the time without touching them by taking charge of space. In a similar way, soccer goalies, in their attempts to keep the ball out of their own goal, do so by protecting the space around the goal rather than controlling the behavior of the ball. Using body blocks effectively requires that you attend to both your body position in space and its movements, including forward, backwards and side-ways relative to your dog. Here are some examples: You just put your dog in a sit-stay and is busy moving away from him, he decides to get up, you move or lean forward with your torso and maybe step to the side in the space he was about to occupy. If he then goes back into a sit andndash; you respond by taking the pressure off by leaning backward again. How assertive you need to be depends on the dogs’ temperament and the context. Another example is when sitting on the sofa and your dog wants to get onto your lap- fold your arms across your torso and move forward with your shoulder, elbow or whole torso, if the dog backs off, you lean back again. Do not use your hands to push a demanding dog off. Dogs don’t use their paws to push other dogs away.
Teach your dogs that having impulse control is reinforcing and that pushiness gets you nowhere. Teach him that if he remains seated for a while at the door he will be given the release cue to go in/out. If he tries to barge pass you, he will be denied access. The same goes for the food bowl; wait and you will be given the release cue, if you jump and paw at the bowl you willl have to wait another 3 minutes before we try again. Also make him sit and wait until you put the lead on, walk him on a loose lead toward the gate, if he pulls you stop, if there is slack on the lead we proceed, sit and wait at the gate, wait for release cue, if he barges, the gate closes which means we have to try again.
Be in control with feeding time. This can sometimes be that part of the day that things are just too exciting and chaotic. If your dogs have issues with each other around their bowl, i.e. shopping around each others bowls to see who got what then feed them separate or stay with them and use your body blocks to prevent them from getting to each others bowl. You should also use your sit and Wait commands and the release cue (i.e. Okay) to let them know when they can start eating.
Ensure that all play is appropriate play. Playing is a very important social and affiliate activity amongst dogs. When playing all dogs are willing participants, one is not always trying to get away or hide. Dogs will often change roles, one will chase and then be chased, then one will be on top and then underneath. There will be periodic play bows and freezes to calm themselves down if the play gets too rough. There will be a lot of inhibited play bites that lasts only a few seconds on the same place. Note that different dogs have different play patterns. A border collie plays very differently than a Rottweiler. Listen for an increase in intensity, if you are unsure, distract them, let them calm down and release them to play again.
I hope this has given you some ideas about how to manage your dogs a bit easier. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions about any of the above pointers or how to adapt it to your specific situation at home.
Some ideas in here are to be credited to Karen London, Ph.D. and Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. from their book ‘Feeling Outnumbered? How to manage and enjoy your multi-dog household’. wwwdogsbestriendtraining.com
Copyright Claire Grobbelaar