How to Manage a New Multi-Dog Household

Are you adopting a second dog? These tips will help you keep everyone happy and safe.

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Adding a second dog to your family is not a decision to take lightly. But while it can make things a bit more challenging (walks, car rides, vet visits, etc.), it also makes your life that much more loving. And with a little preparation, you can make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

Prepare your current dog

Of course you can’t talk to your resident dog and tell her about what’s coming, so when I say “prepare,” I mean training-wise. Now is the time to make sure your current dog follows directions and knows the rules. Tighten up on the little things you might typically let slide, and if you haven’t trained your current dog, now is a great time to do that. It will make your life much easier, I promise. Training two dogs at once is tough, and having two unruly dogs is even harder.

Give everyone their own stuff and space

Make sure you have two of everything (at least to start). That means separate bowls, toys, beds, etc. Plan for separate feeding areas, and if you kennel your dogs, do it in separate crates. If you notice your either dog becoming annoyed with the other, or becoming overstimulated, encourage them to go to their own space or kennel.

Learn dog body language

When you have two dogs, it is so important to tell the difference between when they are just playing and when they are getting overexcited or overwhelmed. Doggone Safe has a great article about body language, and On Talking Terms With Dog: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas is another great resource.

If your dogs do get into a scuffle from time to time, it’s usually not a big deal. Sometimes a sharp yell can help, but in my experience, yelling does not help. You also do not want to grab your dog’s collar or neck, as she may redirect and bite you (not intentionally, but because she is so overexcited already). You can try throwing a blanket on them, sticking something in between them (like a book), or spraying them with water. If all else fails, you can grab their hind legs. The Pet Professional Guild has a PDF that offers tips on separating dogs in a fight.

Once you separate them, give them space/time to cool off (and to calm down yourself). If there is no broken skin, just shake it off and try to prevent it from happening again. If one of the dogs need medical care, you may want to really examine what’s going on and get a positive reinforcement trainer involved. It’s not an automatic bad match if there is one scuffle, but professional help never hurts.

Sometimes, dogs can play with the same toy together, but have separate toys for each dog just in case. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Sometimes dogs can play with the same toy together, but have separate toys for each dog just in case. (Dogs playing by Shutterstock)

Don’t keep high-value toys or treats out when you aren’t home

I never leave bones or bully sticks out when I’m not home because I know my dogs will guard them from each other. Even if I give out treats, I make sure everyone eats them at once. For other dogs, it might be that really well-loved stuffed animal or ball that you should put away. You might have to do it forever, or maybe just during the first few months. At least at first, monitor them with toys and food even when you are home.

Supervise interactions

No matter how much the dogs may automatically love each other, keep an eye on them when they are together. This is to watch out for resource guarding (which could end in a fight), but also to make sure no one is getting into trouble. For example, my older dog LOVES stealing and destroying toilet paper. When we got our second dog, she watched her older sister steal the toilet paper and then thought it might be fun to try, too. Now we have to watch both of them!

Train your new dog

Just as it’s important to train your resident dog, it’s also important to train your new dog. I recommend taking them to a training class outside of the home so you can spend some one-on-one time together, but also to have a training environment free of the other dog.

Keep everyone’s stress low

Adding another dog is stressful for everyone — the new dog, the resident dog, and the human family members. The more you can take care of yourself, the more you can keep the stress level low. Whatever you do to relieve stress — meditate, yoga, exercise, etc. — continue to do it. For your dogs, make sure they get their exercise, too. You can also try calming treats or essential oil sprays like Rescue Remedy or Merlin’s Magic Calming Potion.

All of the tips above apply to adding a third or even fourth dog, as well. For more information, I also highly recommend Feeling Outnumbered? How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household by Karen London and Patricia McConnell.

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Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.

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