Solving Dog Behavior Problems with Multiple Canines
Learn how to solve the issues that arise with owning more than one dog
You may think your dog is a little angel – coming when called, not begging for food, never having accidents indoors and so on – but then you take the leap and bring a second dog into your home. Suddenly your perfectly behaved pooch with the sweet disposition turns into a trouble-causing nightmare or has to deal with a misbehaving newbie in the house. What can you do? Shelby Semel, a New York City dog trainer, offers her advice for dealing with four common dog behavior problems that crop up with multiple dogs.
Behavior Problem: Younger dog pesters older dog to play.
Often when an owner with an adult dog adopts a new puppy, the younger dog constantly tries to solicit play from the veteran pooch. Your older dog may growl or discipline the puppy, but don’t mistake this for aggressive behavior. “The younger puppy needs to learn to respect the older dog and learn social skills,” says Semel.
Solve It: Socialize and tire out your new puppy. Take your new pup to puppy classes! “It’s important for the new dog to learn social skills and be exposed to more than just one other dog,” Semel says. Classes can teach proper bite inhibition and how to pick up on the cues and cutoff signals of an older dog. It’s important to praise, or use a clicker, and give rewards when your puppy appropriately picks up on signals and backs off. You’ll also find that a tired puppy is a happy and more well-behaved puppy. Try playdates, fetch and training time to tire out your pup.
Behavior Problem: Growling over toys, food and/or bones.
Either dog could wind up having possession issues over sharing toys, bones or food.
Solve It: Don’t punish this behavior as it can exacerbate the problem. If one dog is submissive and willing to back off when the toy/food/bone guarder gives a little growl, it’s actually best to let it be, according to Semel. Sometimes dogs can work things out and our human involvement isn’t needed. But if you’re faced with intense ‘resource guarding’ issues, she suggests consulting an experienced professional for behavior modification. Got a middle of the road case? Semel offers one way to start training your dogs slowly: Work with a partner so each dog is on a leash with a separate handler on opposite sides of a room. Place a low-value item near the guarder. Then, the handler with the non-guarder dog should very slowly, one or two small steps at a time, approach the item, working at a distance the guarder can handle. With each step, praise or use a clicker and reward the guarder.
Behavior Problem: The dogs play too often or too roughly.
“For long playdates, and multi-dog households alike, I always suggest being pro-active when it comes to breaking up play before it gets too intense and one dog is no longer enjoying it,” says Semel.
Solve It: Semel suggest letting dogs play for 5-10 minutes or so. Then, if the level of play is escalating or the dogs are getting overexcited, step in between them, using your body to break them up for a few seconds. Then ask your dogs to ‘look’ or ‘touch’ (or another quick command your dogs know) to redirect their attention. If they listen, their reward is to return to playing. After about 30 minutes, end playtime by giving them interactive toys or bones or doing a few minutes of training. By this point, one dog will usually be done playing or overtired, so it’s best to end play before this occurs and a little tiff breaks out. After some chewing time or a short nap or pee break, let them return to playing. “Stopping and starting the play helps it stay under control and not escalate,” says Semel. “You do not have to wait until there is a problem to break it up!”
Behavior Problem: One dog wants to socialize on leash, but the other is shy or stressed.
It’s not uncommon for two dogs to have very different leash skills. When this happens, it’s very important to work on leash skills separately as well as together according to Semel. If one dog is shy or stressed on leash it is unfair to push them past their threshold, but you also shouldn’t deny the social pup ever greeting other dogs outside.
Solve It: For your social dog, allow some greetings when you’re walking alone Semel suggests. Each should be short and sweet, only 5-20 seconds. When you decide not to say hi to a dog and are passing, try some focus commands as you pass the other dog, treating occasionally. This will help your pup learn there is reward and fun in not saying hi as well, which will help make walks easier when both dogs are in tow.
For your shy dog, Semel says to do commands and treats as you pass dogs, especially if interest is shown. The key is to make a positive association between dogs on leash and the opportunity to eat and work. Semel encourages most walks, especially longer walks, to be done individually. Quick pee breaks and short strolls around the block can be done together, but if you have a walker coming midday, have them walk the dogs individually. Then, as both dogs improve and you become more comfortable with handling skills on leash, the joint walks can become longer and more frequent.