Multi Dog Management
When people learn how many dogs I have, (which is inevitable, it always comes out) I get a variety of reactions: disbelief, revulsion, amazement, questions about my sanity, and less frequently curiosity and a little bit of “How would I do that?”. Not usually. Usually it is wrinkled noses and pointed questions about my marital status (like I am the crazy lonely cat lady, only with dogs). By now, I mostly ignore the predictable responses. I continue with what I’m doing and give them a minute to collect their social game face, providing only confirmation, “Yep, that many dogs”. More interesting to me (and worrisome) are the people who wonder about doing it themselves.
This many dogs, even if they all fit in one large Bowers bagel, they aren’t for everyone. They aren’t even for most. Or some. Only the tiniest percentage of families would be interested in this shit show. And that’s good. I will say it again and again, don’t be like us. If you are interested, maybe not in my level of crazy, but in pushing the boundaries of one or two dog acceptability, there are tricks to this. Ways to master multi-dogs, to keep them from revolting en mass, when you are hopelessly outnumbered.
Train Individually. That statement assumes that your train at all, which I highly recommend if you want to have more dogs than people in the house. Jedi mind control. Not optional. If you want them to behave as a group, you have to practice individually. What Hugo lacks in formal training, we make up for with individual time. The things he does know, we practice on separate outings, in the yard, the neighborhood, or even being the only dog to go on vacation with us (it’s happened). Having the behavior rock solid when solo drastically increases the likelihood it will occur with 5 of your closest buddies milling about.
Life Isn’t Fair. When we do those individual training sessions, a handfull of dogs are left out. Upset dogs. The same thing occurs when we take 3 on a walk, just because. Or when one dog goes to a friends house, while everyone else sits at home. How sad for those left behind, right? Good thing I don’t care. Not all is equal. I don’t let issue of ‘fairness’ influence how I handle beings who don’t understand the concept. With this many, dogs will get left out. The short end of the stick comes around frequently. But, all in all they live a pretty blessed existence, my dogs. Even if they don’t get to go on that particular walk.
Understanding High Value. This one took me a while, and had some drastic consequences way back when. I used to leave coveted stuffed toys free and loose to be shredded, hoarded, and fought over. That was a mistake. Stuffed toys = too high value. I had to figure out what chews dogs could be given ready access to without causing a riot. Even still, every once in a while there’s an antler everyone is gunning for. Pay attention to what is particularly important to your dogs. What’s worth fighting over? It’ll be different for different dogs. It’s not that they don’t get those items. It’s that I control their access. We have an impressive selection of stuffed toys, played with under supervision. That particularly alluring antler? Confiscated until some of the shine wears off. This accounts for reason 2,652 why we don’t free feed.
Containment. Structure. Routine. In my opinion, this is what successful dog ownership always boils down to. Whether you’ve got one dog, or nine (don’t have nine dogs). We get up at this time of day. We potty at these intervals. We eat at designated times in designated locations. We come when called. We wait at doors. All these things that happen so automatically, they become part of your dogs life. Your dogs take them for granted. My dogs spend much of the day in their kennels. One could feel sorry for them and their confinement. But, I know the truth. On days I work from home, when my dogs aren’t crated, what do they do? They sleep. They aren’t off frolicking, happy to be free from their cages. No, they are crashed out. Sometimes its in a different location from their usual day spot, but not always. Often they spend their days in the kennel with the door open. I have to coerce them into trips outside.
Managing a lot of dog requires a little bit of shift in perception. There are dangers. Big dog fights are scary. And they can be over something stupid, like a tennis ball. I learned much of this in a trial by fire kind of way. Unfortunately. I wouldn’t say my dogs are perfect. Far from it. I would say they are manageable, and happy.
A shout out to multi dog families! What tricks and training do you use to manage your pack? What has worked well for you? And how have you really messed it up?