Whether you already have a dog and you want to adopt a second one, whether you are occasionally looking after a friend’s dog, if you wish to adopt two (or more) dogs at the same time, or for any other reason: the cohabitation of two or more dogs at home can sometimes pose a problem: let’s see how to manage the cohabitation of several dogs.
The context is essential.
As I mentioned in the introduction, different situations can lead you to have several dogs living together in the same house.
However, whether it is for a specific period or permanently, several elements must be taken into consideration and, above all, several factors must be monitored and rules put in place to promote a good understanding and, therefore, a peaceful cohabitation between all the dogs present under the same roof.
The choice of the dogs to cohabit
Of course, the choice of the dogs to live together will be determining. You should know that not all dogs get along well together and that, like us, some will have affinities, others not at all.
This does not mean that cohabitation will not be possible, but it will be more complicated. I am thinking about two male dogs, not neutered and already adult, who are not used to living together.
Moreover, it will also depend on the character of each individual because some dogs will accept without any problem to share their resources while others, lacking good experiences and habit, will have much more difficulties managing this kind of situation.
Finally, to be almost sure that the cohabitation goes well, a favour :
two dogs of opposite sexes,
one balanced adult dog and one puppy,
two neutered males (or one neutered male and one not, this can also be considered).
A successful presentation
Then, whether the cohabitation is done in any context, it will be necessary to propose to the dogs concerned an introduction before “locking” them all under the same roof. Let’s look at the points to respect for a successful presentation.
Choose a neutral meeting place (neither at one’s home nor at the other’s).
The meeting place should not be cramped; the dogs should be able to run and especially can “escape” if they do not feel reassured by the presence of such or such dog.
A confined area could trigger conflicts that would not necessarily have occurred in an ample, open space.
The presentation should be done in motion: don’t just stand there statically waiting to see what happens.
Thus, propose to the dogs concerned to go for a walk.
The best encounters will be off-leash so that each dog is free to move. The leash (and in particular the possible tension put in it) could trigger a conflict since the dog in question would not have the possibility to flee.
Do not intervene; let the dogs communicate with each other because human intervention could bias the meeting (we will see later how to intervene if there is a conflict). A dog that growls is not necessarily a dog that will attack; it is simply a dog that communicates. Afterwards, it is up to you to intervene if you observe that the warning signals of a particular dog are not read/understood by the other dogs present.
The rules of life to set up
The most important thing will be to set up rules for sharing resources so that cohabitation is serene and harmonious.
Sharing resources does not mean doing everything together, eating the same food and sleeping in the same place: it means tolerating the other dog’s presence while having access to a resource (a home, a bowl or a toy).
Management of the “food” resource
Dogs must eat alone and at once (or twice a day if they are large): above all, no self-service. The dogs must eat in a quiet environment. To avoid conflicts, it is best to keep them away from each other when eating so that they do not want to protect their food bowl.
Moreover, some dogs may develop “gluttonous” behaviour if they are used to having their food was stolen, which could have unfortunate consequences on their health.
Next, it is preferable to teach the dogs to present the waiting position before accessing their bowl. Thus, a “sit” and a “don’t move” or a “you wait” will be asked to the dogs to then put the bowls on the ground and indicate that they can eat. This allows the master to remain in control of this resource and take the time to put down all the bowls without some starting before others or having several dogs rushing to the same bowl.
However, there is a little exercise you can give to the dogs involved in the cohabitation to get them used to “sharing”:
Step 1: Get some treats.
Step 2: Place the dogs in front of you in a “sit and stay” position.
Step 3: Give each dog a treat, in turn, maintaining the “sit and stay” of all dogs present.
Step 4: Offer them a treat in a completely random fashion.
Managing the “basket” resource
All the dogs in the house must have a designated place, and all must respect this place.
The place of each dog should be in the corner of the living room, a quiet place, without too many passages and where the dog knows that he can be subtle.
I strongly recommend installing an indoor crate/kennel so that each dog can take refuge in it when he wants to. The crate will be much safer than a simple basket where “danger” (from a canine point of view) can come from all sides.
If the dogs involved in the cohabitation do not get along (for x or y reason), favour the separation of the “places” in different rooms without isolating one of the dogs altogether. The places should be in areas frequented by the whole family so that the dog does not perceive this place as punishment through social isolation.
Managing the “toy” resource
Some dogs will have an easy time sharing their toys, while others will have a highly developed possessive instinct. In any case, I do not recommend toy play sessions with multiple dogs as this can quickly escalate.
Of course, if the dogs know each other very well, are used to playing together, and there is no possessiveness, you can still offer them play sessions with a toy. But be aware that several dogs, if they get along well, are balanced and well “coded”, will manage to play together without needing specific toys.
Managing the “contact” resource
As a handler, you must initiate contact with all dogs present. Each dog must understand that it cannot make a connection only when it wants to; otherwise, with several dogs, you will be quickly overwhelmed.
So, if one of the dogs comes to you to ask to be petted or to play, for example, ignore him (no talking, no touching, no looking) and once he has moved on, call him to offer him what he wanted initially.
This will allow you to stay in control and manage the contacts you will have with the dogs present, which will be much more pleasant for you.
How to manage a conflict between dogs?
As we have seen, all the elements previously developed will allow you to promote a good cohabitation between the dogs present. However, we are never safe from a conflict, if only for a futile reason (from a human perspective).
Be aware that dogs that get into fights (real fights, not just growling at each other) do so because they have reached an unheard-of level of emotional tension. A dog will always do everything he can to avoid conflict; however, sometimes it can break out: either because all dogs don’t have enough good dog codes, or because there is a “hierarchy” conflict where several males, for example, can’t find their place in the group, or because human intervention makes the situation even worse, etc.
To manage the conflict, here are the key steps:
First of all, wait a bit; sometimes, it’s not a fight; it’s more of a reset that stops itself after a few seconds.
Above all, if it’s just growling, let the dogs communicate with each other! To forbid or sanction a growl is to push the dog to stop warning and attack directly.
If there is a fight, to separate them, grab the dog’s back legs that bite to destabilize it.
If this doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to make a noise that the dogs don’t know to surprise them and interrupt them.
Above all, don’t get angry so as not to confirm the dogs in their state of mind, but don’t be “piou piou the little birds” either: be firm and sure of yourself!
Be careful; sometimes in the heat of the action, we tend to put our hands near or even in the mouth of the dog who bites, to make him let go: this is a reflex (therefore by definition difficult to control) but be careful because the dog will not necessarily make the difference between your hand and the skin of the dog.
Some people use a bucket of water, but. The fight must be outside (unless you want to do a swimming pool activity in your living room). It would help if you had a bucket of water on hand. I do not necessarily advise this option systematically because it will depend on the conflict’s environment.
Once the two (or more) dogs are separated, don’t hesitate to go and spend them individually so that they can unload their excess energy and pressure.
However, don’t let this be the end of the story. For future meetings, muzzle the dogs in question so that there are no “medical” consequences to a possible conflict (while having associated the muzzle with something positive in advance, of course).
Re-propose secure (muzzles), controlled (with obedience reinforcement) encounters and above all, with a better, more adapted attitude, and consider all the possible triggers of a conflict between two or more dogs.
Nevertheless, since prevention remains the best solution to avoid conflict between dogs under the same roof, respect and apply all the above-mentioned elements.
Finally, do not hesitate to call upon a professional dog trainer who will come directly to your home to give you all the advice adapted to your environment, your attitude and the dogs concerned if necessary.