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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.

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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?

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Comments

Tracy Warren
Reply

I agree with the life isn’t fair statement but man I feel bad that I only have 2 hands and 3 dogs. Also hate when I pick up the Shih Tzu and kiss her all over the face that my Rat Terrier looks as me like he is being punished. You need to know that he would never stand being held and kissed like that. We always feed in the same place at the same time – no fighting and no eating from someone elses bowl – even if they don’t finish. My dogs do the same when I am home – sleep all day – mostly in the same kennel (they are small). I also get the same questioning faces when people find out I have 3 dogs – crazy? Nah – just blessed.
Sweet pic by the way.

dogsordollars
Reply

You get looks over 3 dogs!? I am so outta touch on what ‘normal’ pet ownership is. And having enough hands is always a challenge. We strategically position and rub bellies with our feet in order to maximize dog pettage per person. ;)

Jenny
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I don’t think it’s crazy to have 9 dogs. Each dog came to your home under its own unique circumstances and each dog is more than adequately cared for. I think it’s probably not ideal, but hey, you still have less dogs than Octomom has kids. And one kid is easily equivalent to 2 dogs. I definitely see my husband and I increasing our doggy population once any and all kids fly the coop. And even still, I know that if a puppy showed up at our house and needed a home and no one else could take it, we would despite the fact that we already have 6 living beings sharing the same 1,000 sq. ft. space.

dogsordollars
Reply

Its not necessarily crazy to have 9 dogs, no. Its just not something I would advocate for most people. Even myself. I think certain people, in certain situations could do it. I just don’t think it would always be wise. And thank goodness there are those of us, who will always make room for ‘just one more’. Within reason.

Erica / Northwest Edible Life
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Ah, but animals DO understand fairness. I’m just posting this here because that gives me an excuse to watch it 5 more times. ;)

dogsordollars
Reply

I *knew* you were going to post that! I knew it! But is that truly fairness?

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

Ha, I was going to say the same thing as Erica, only without the awesome video, which I’d never seen. I’ve read about those studies, though.

And yes, it is a very real sense of fairness — the same one that humans have.

dogsordollars
Reply

PS. That video is awesome! :D

Trish
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The thing that concerns me the most with my herd is that I feed free choice, and everybody does over eat. I don’t kennel, but everyone is into middle age (7 or 8) and they are pretty mellow. I did try to kennel in order to feed, but gave up as no one seemed to have a clue as to what to do. Plus it was hard finding a kennel for the biggest dog, so I stuck him in the barn to feed, and he just stared at the door the whole time. I worry about him, concerned that he might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, and may NEVER get the concept of being isolated to be fed. So I gave up.

Ease of care is one of my biggest concerns with not being persistent with the kenneling to feed. I want my guys to be as easy to care for as possible, so that when we do go away whoever watches them will have a stress free time. No one is horribly overweight, and maybe I can change things as they advance to old age.

dogsordollars
Reply

Trish – Ease of care is important to you because of your situation. Thats a priority for you to even be able to have your pack, so I don’t think its wrong to prioritize that. If you do want to implement changes I’d start small, and give them time. New dogs in my house have often act confused by our routine. I can take days to work these things out without someone staring at the barn looking confused. ;)

Crystal Wayward
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We are still hanging tough at three dogs. (Will the Machete ever be adopted?) It’s challenging, and we have messed up many times and had to break up a few nasty dog fights. One thing we are trying to be better about actually involves fairness. Treating my elderly min pin like a crown prince instead of an equal to the other dogs seems to be creating tension in the pack lately…

dogsordollars
Reply

Oh Machete! I secretly hope he doesn’t get adopted. Sorry Crystal! He’s awesome, and I think he’s your life partner.

We are very careful to not treat any dog ‘special’. We change the order of who eats when constantly. Everyone has to behave as a pack. No privileges for specific individuals. Except the super super old blind, deaf permanent foster dogs. My dogs don’t even seem to notice that. But yes, elevating someone’s status would cause tension in the ranks. Pretty darn quick around here.

Miser Mom
Reply

All I can think is, you must be the hero of some pre-teenage girl. You’re a living, breathing Pippi Longstocking (come to think of it, she had a horse and a monkey, not dogs and chickens, but the same idea). When I was seven years old, I met a spanish woman who owned a horse, 5 dogs, and 9 cats. And because I fell in love with the menagerie in her home, I learned spanish. You are the *coolest* person around to someone you know; you just don’t know it.

dogsordollars
Reply

MM – My favorite Halloween costume when I was a kid? Pippi. :D

Thanks, though. It is a menagerie. One I always wanted to have, and one that comes with a steep learning curve.

Lesli
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This is my biggest guilt. “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.” And then I see them fall into the regular work schedule. My other issue is dog fights so I’m happy to see this comment “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 don’t have A LOT of dogs but I have a very domineering Jack Russell. There is always the issue of dog fighting. It’s scary and it happens so fast. I’ve learned through the years the cues that might cause her to react but it’s still sometimes a surprise. I appreciate that you own that dog ownership is not always easy but always rewarding. I know I would not change a thing.

dogsordollars
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I wouldn’t. It’s true. But big applause to you for knowing your dog and knowing her cues. Not everyone takes the time to pay attention, figure it out, and understand their limits. I’ve been very fortunate on the fighting front (for a long time), but I remember all to well the panic, the questioning as to what we did wrong, and oh the vet bills.

Trish
Reply

what is the best way to break up a dog fight? Inside the house. I know frantic screaming doesn’t work

dogsordollars
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I don’t know that I am qualified to answer that question. :) In fact, I’m not sure anyone really is. There are ‘best case scenarios’, but whatever you try might not work in that particular moment. Water and/or hoses are supposed to be good. I’ve heard of grabbing the aggressor by the back legs to immobilize them and get them away. Also using whatever is handy to get between the dogs – chairs, couch cushions – something that isn’t your own hands or appendages, for obvious reasons.

I am usually of the frantic screaming strategy too. I think its really hard NOT to be. That said, I also grab from behind and (stupidly) risk life and limb to break it up. I’ve never had the presence of mind to do much else. Although, thankfully, I haven’t been through that particular scenario enough times to call myself seasoned.

Lesli
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Trish, I certainly haven’t figured this out yet! I have read that screaming and getting worked up doesn’t work because it fuels the dogs excitement. Every one always tells me to throw water on the dogs. All I can think is by the time I get a bowl full of water to throw on the dogs we are going to be in big trouble! My issue is my 15 lb Jack Russell is choosing to start fights with a 70 lb hound dog mix. Not fun and very scary. I’m always hyper alert to her mood, her reactions and her attitude. She worse than a teenager!

Niki
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I have three of my own dogs (two Pit Bulls and a Rottweiler) and one visiting German Shepherd, that’s about 360 lbs of dog monster in my house. I completely agree with structure and individual training……..Jedi Mind Control!!! Perfect!!! I walk the three of mine all the time and they attract a crazy amount of attention. My friend who walks with us says that someday someone is going to wreck their car looking at them. I also get the people who see my mass-o-mutt, walk up to me and ask if they can pet my dogs while I’m waiting at an intersection. You can imagine how tangled up everyone gets, kinda frustrating. Does this happen to you?

Kimberly C
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We’ve found it useful to schedule all of our dogs’ annual check-ups and vaccinations to be the same day, so it’s one big car ride and not a bunch of individual trips. For us, this works better and smoother, but for some it might not! :)

I heard a ‘trick’ from a dog trainer the other day, about leaving the house with one dog without upsetting the rest of the pack. She recommended putting the dog you intend to take with you in the car about 10-20 minutes before you need to leave (if your dog is safe in the car), and then going back inside and pretending like everything is normal with the pack. Dogs can be forgetful, they might end up forgetting you’re taking the one dog with you when you leave.

Dog fights: I totally admit to being a stupidly-grab-the-aggressor-dog person. Thankfully, our biggest is only 45lbs and grabbing her around the chest/scruff avoids her being able to grab anything. We’ve learned to start saying really cheerfully “all done! let’s go!” whenever anyone starts growling or showing signs of an impending fight, and then we walk out of the room. Usually disrupts whatever interaction they dogs were having. We have one dog that resource guards my partner, and we’re learning to walk out of the room as soon as she starts to posture or guard him from the other dogs — she can’t guard what isn’t there.

From working at a doggy daycare years ago, using loud noises can disrupt a fight. One tool we carried was an aluminum can with a handful of old nuts and bolts in the bottom, then covering up the open end with duct tape. Shake, and ta-da — loud annoying noise! For really bad scenarios, we carried a small canister air horn.

cassedega
Reply

At our maximum (and when I was a shelter employee) I had three of my own and usually a foster or two. We were hardcore on crate training and routine, mostly for the benefit of the fosters, who seemed like they needed that most of all. I also had the bad habit of taking home resource guarders, so crates were my best friend. Although, I had a Great Pyr/Wolfhound mix that guarded furniture from my 15lb doxie mix….let me tell you, that was a hot mess. How do you stop a dog taller than you from guarding your couch? Especially with resource guarding, we had to be ultra careful about feeding time (some had to be fed in food cubes, some had pills, some just didn’t like eating…etc.) So it took a very special person to do feeding times. I admire people that can do the ‘pack’ thing long term, and once you get it down, it seems to just flow, with very little trouble. But I am pretty damn happy that I’m down to two for the first time ever.

Liz
Reply

I recently introduced my new puppy to my boyfriend’s 4-year old dog who is really a love-bug, but always has to make it VERY CLEAR that he’s in charge around other dogs. (Talk about insecure!) In this case, my boyfriend and I each had our dog leashed and then introduced the dogs until Nico (the 4-year old) began getting aggressive, at which point he would be taken into another room. We just did this for about half an hour until he got the picture and could be polite for longer than a minute at a time. By then it was all gravy, and time for the happy rough-housing to begin. Boys will be boys!

We did teach them a command quickly to let them know their playing was getting a little too serious: “Break.” and putting a ‘chopping hand’ near their heads, inserting it between them when possible. They knew exactly what it meant within two times.

Cassi
Reply

In my family, we personally only have 1 dog. A German Shepard/Dingo mix named Lucy. She is 16 years old and I love her to pieces. She is always sleeping, whether it be in the living room, outside, or in my room. We think she is deaf, because she no longer responds to us unless we are talking really loudly, but she is great.

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