Until I married a wonderful man a month and a half ago, my household consisted of just my dog, Karma (and the occasional foster dog), and me. Now, I find myself managing a pack of dogs. Karma now has a sister (4 year old Great Dane/Coonhound mix named Daisy) and a brother (5 year old Basset Hound named Lou) who are constantly in her space, sharing her toys, her person, and eating right by her side.
If you’re planning to add a new dog to your household, or if you already have multiple dogs who are showing signs of behavior problems towards each other, read on!
Anytime a household goes from 1 dog to multiple dogs, expect a bit of chaos! Even the most loving, sociable dogs can get irked with having to constantly share their space with another canine. You may witness power struggles for Top Dog spot, an unwillingness to share food, toys, or affection, or a melding of behaviors (ie. One is a barker and one never has been… until now).
Be aware that your actions will define the status and stability of the pack. There are many things you can do to ensure a smooth process in integrating your dogs into one pack.
First, make sure at least one of the dogs is up to par on basic obedience and the rules of the house. If you want all the dogs to wait at the door, make sure at least one already can! Dogs will model each others behavior – especially if there is a reward for doing so. One of the easiest ways to teach a dog to Sit, for instance, is to have him watch another dog be rewarded for doing so.
Seeing power struggles? These often show themselves by toy stealing/guarding, growling as one dog walks by another, pushing to get out the door first or to greet you first, food guarding, or even a simple movement of one putting her head over the other’s neck in a dominant stance. Rest assured, you can help.
If there are power struggles going on in your house, evaluate your dogs objectively. Which one is the most stable and predictable? Which one does the best with people, outside noises, and general obedience commands? Which one is the natural leader – meaning who wins the most when these things take place? Make sure you identify the most stable dog before continuing with the following advice!
In my household, Top Dog spot goes to Daisy. Yes, Karma is better trained, but she is a fearful-reactive dog who can’t be trusted to tell the other dogs how to react in certain situations. Lou is the most laid-back and sociable, but he has no interest in winning against the other dogs – he’s more of the peace-keeper of the group – always willing to placate and give in. Daisy is the most powerful, most unwilling to back down (yet does not use any more force than is necessary), and is a natural canine leader. Now, Karma believed she was most capable to be leader and power struggles between the girls ensued. Here’s how to step in.
Sometimes, dogs can’t figure it out for themselves. Sometimes, if their power plays are allowed to continue, true dog fighting arises complete with blood and hospital visits. I have many clients who can attest to this.
Take your Top Dog and start doing the following in order to show the rest of your pack who you have chosen as the one in charge. These should help alleviate the pack insecurities of never knowing who is on top:
- Feed her first. Before any of the other dogs, Top Dog gets her food first.
- Let her go out the door first. Top Dog leads the way.
- When giving treats, give them to Top Dog first.
- Greet Top Dog first.
- During walks, shorten the other dogs’ leashes and allow Top Dog to walk slightly ahead of the others.
Keep in mind that being Top Dog could go to your dog’s head. If she is not feeling solid in her position, her dominant behaviors could get worse before they get better. Just remember – with great power, comes great responsibility. Top Dog status does NOT mean she gets to get away with any and everything. You must have a great relationship full of respect (on both ends) and obedience with your Top Dog.
She must be a disciplined, well trained and obedient-to-humans dog in order to be a respectable, fair leader. It is important, when she acts up, to correctly put her back in her place in front of the other dogs (without the use of physical force!). Ultimately, YOU still run the pack and the other dogs (and Top Dog) need to see that every day
If you can successfully establish who rules the roost in your absence, all of your dogs will feel more at ease. Not every dog wants to be Top Dog, but the vast majority will vie for it in the absence of a clearly established leader because it is a position that must exist. Dogs just want to know where they fit in and will be content with any position, as long as it is made clear where their order in the pack falls.
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.