Full House - Techniques for a Multiple Primitive Dog Household

Primitive dogs are like potato chips… it at least that is what the bumper sticker says. Most primitive dog owners don’t stop at one. I certainly didn’t. But housing multiple dogs with strong self-interests under one roof is far from straightforward and requires a game plan.

 4 out of 8 of my crew. Everyone has their spot, but don't let this phone fool you. The little dog at the top is actually resource guarding access to the crates in the top left corner of the room.

4 out of 8 of my crew. Everyone has their spot, but don't let this phone fool you. The little dog at the top is actually resource guarding access to the crates in the top left corner of the room.

It is a misnomer that throwing multiple dogs together in a house will create a “pack”. In fact it is false that dogs form packs at all. Now this doesn’t mean that dogs can’t form strong bonds with a couple of individuals and this is always the goal of a multi-dog household but you are playing matchmaker. Before assuming all dogs should get along under your roof, think back to how well all your previous friendships have gone.  Some better than others I am sure. Now imagine being trapped with those people in a building you can’t leave without an escort. It’s not that different for your dogs. Always be considerate that you have placed two individuals together expecting them to get along. It isn’t that different from an arranged marriage. Not everyone is always going to get along, if ever.

To have success with two canine room mates (or more!) we have to be aware that we are housing multiple individuals with very strong personal identity and very little tolerance for a challenge. This means that treating both dogs as if they are a single unit and leaving them to work out the details will end in blood. Primitive dogs will try to work out the details of any arranged living situation in their own favor and with a battle of wills that big, families become divided instead of alliances made. In many ways a primitive dog household requires it’s human to to play diplomate, at least in the early stages of settling in.

It is paramount that boundaries be created early and owners step in before any real signs of aggression take root. It is a myth that most dogs “work it out”, or perhaps it’s not, but I am personally not satisfied with the possible outcome of the “Red Wedding”, as a solution to my multi-dog household. Many dogs however might think that a positively appropriate outcome if owners don’t mitigate things early.

Having one primitive dog is having a roommate, so having 2 or 3 or more, is having a boarding home. There is no guarantee that they will get along, be friends and coexist comfortably. But there are ways to making cohabitation more successful.

 Even surfaces can be resources so make sure everyone is comfortable sharing them before leaving them to their own devices.

Even surfaces can be resources so make sure everyone is comfortable sharing them before leaving them to their own devices.

Management of Resources
It is important that we control access to things that multiple dogs may fight over. This includes food, consumable toys like nylabones and greenies, chewies like jerky or bully sticks, and even regular toys or beds. Determine what your dogs guard based on tense body language. To keep the peace it will be best to separate dogs if they can’t enjoy their special object or location without bother their housemate. 

Once you have determined what objects are involved with the tension or altercations, limit access so that your dogs only have these things during training or behind a barrier. For dogs who actively guard food or other consumables, feed them in crates, or in areas separated by a gate or door. For toys or beds, keep these objects behind barriers and only give access one at a time.

At meal time always give your dogs as much space as possible. Ideally feed in separate rooms or in crates. If you must feed in the same room, place the dogs at opposite ends of the room and remain in the room to ensure no one bothers anyone else who is eating. Fights over food are the most common alterations in multi-dog households and they are also the easiest to prevent. Don’t give your dogs something to fight over. Managing this situation is an easy way to keep the peace.

 If multiple dogs insist on participating, be clear who you are reinforcing and ignore anyone who pushes there way in.

If multiple dogs insist on participating, be clear who you are reinforcing and ignore anyone who pushes there way in.

Name Response Training
It is easy to tune our dogs off to responding to their name, or think that your other dog's name means them too. Every time we use their name to scold them or briefly get their attention without further information or instruction, we are inadvertently teaching them to ignore their name. When we reward one dog with treats and attention for another dog's name, we can create other behavior problems as well. Therefore we must take time to reinforce the value of responding with a head turn and ideally a short recall, to their name and their name only. 

Start out with your dog in front of you and with 10 treats, say their name and give them a treat. Do this as rapid fire as possible. If your other dog comes over, ignore them. If they get pushy, be aware that this means you accidently reinforced demands or food and attention when you were giving it to another dog. This is easily misdiagnosed as jealousy. It is instead, mixed signals that any affection or food is everyone’s and the pushiest party wins. Prevent this by being firm about who you are interacting with and turn away from the dog who is interjecting. If the dog pushing in doesn’t get the hint, move away with the dog you working with, and work behind a gate or barrier.

Once you are getting mild attention for their name, encourage the dog you're training to investigate their environment off leash in the house or on leash outside. Stay within approximately 10 feet of them and say their name periodically. If they stop whatever they’re doing, make with a “Yes” and give them 1 treat. If they leave the object of interest give them 3 treats. If they do not give you any response, halve the distance and say their name again. Do not raise your voice to try and get their attention. Once they understand the exercise and are responding, try more interesting or emotional distractions. Remember to remain close to your dog for this training and ignore dogs who come over hoping for treats. .

 Play should be relaxed and even. Make sure all dogs participating are comfortable and when it gets frantic, take a break. Yes - Journey is swatting Saga, who is biting his swatting let, while Shinra gets pets from his dad.

Play should be relaxed and even. Make sure all dogs participating are comfortable and when it gets frantic, take a break. Yes - Journey is swatting Saga, who is biting his swatting let, while Shinra gets pets from his dad.

Rough Rambunctious Play
Play between two dogs can look rough and violent and can sometimes turn ugly. It is your responsibility to teach your dog what kind of play is inappropriate. If left to figure it out themselves, many dogs end up in fights along with the possibility that they will no longer get along. Make sure that play between your dog and other dogs is wiggly and balanced. If it gets frantic or overwhelming, step in and separate them for 60-90 seconds. Then let them play again. Remember that it is not the responsibility of one dog to wear out another dog. Allow play sessions to last for 5-10 minutes at a time and then give them a break.

Embrace the Individual
Having more than one primitive dog in the house means having multiple personalities roaming your home. Of all my dogs (which was 8 at the highest population) none have had the same wants, needs, or interests. Find things your dog would like to do alone with you and schedule this special personal time with them. It could be for a walk, training, competing, hiking, etc. But have some special individual time that celebrates that dog and the unique relationship you have with them. 

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