One dog, two dogs, four dogs
A guide to integrating more than two dogs
If you are one of those people whose dream is to have more than 2 dogs and for them to all get along peacefully, then this article is for you.
In my last article I listed some of the important guidelines I suggested you follow if you are looking to add a second dog to you household. All those are still applicable but if you are looking to add additional dogs, meaning you are looking to add a third, fourth, fifth etc., it is more complicated and involves additional guidelines. Here are some things you need to know.
- You must be a strong and knowledgeable pack leader. If your dogs have not been introduced to the “deference protocol” or if you are unfamiliar with this important concept, it is time to learn. Dogs need more than just love. They need rules, boundaries and limitations and need to reliably defer to you when told to. The deference protocol involves taking the things you already do, such as feeding, walking, playing and petting and tweaking how you do them ever so slightly. With the changes you make, though they may seem subtle to you, every interaction has the ability to remind the dog that its job is always to defer to you. If are not a seasoned pack leader, I suggest you don’t add any more dogs to your pack until you are.
You can look up a protocol by Karen Overall, behaviorist, on line. She outlines the deference protocol and how to implement it. Don’t worry, there are no harsh training methods, no punishment, no yelling at your dog. There are just small change to make that carry a powerful message to you dog(s) that you are in charge and to be deferred to. Being a competent pack leader you can avoid one of the most horrible situations you could encounter, a very serious dog fight.
- Once you have learned how to implement the deference protocol, you can move on to identifying who is who in your existing pack. If you already have 2 dogs and want to add a third, you need to be able to identify which dog has more status than the other. The dogs decide on this hierarchy, NOT you and it helps ensure they can coexist peacefully. You can look at things like which dogs runs to greet you first when you come in the door, which dog pushes the other out of the way to get to you first or to simply go first through a doorway to an existing room. Amongst those two dogs, who seems to call the shots and is in charge. You can also read on line many good articles about this pecking order and how to identify who is top dog amongst the two dogs. Your job is then to faithfully support the hierarchy that the dogs have agreed on. Once you have identified the “top dog” you need to feed that dog first, pet that dog first, let that dog out first. In other words you have to make sure you give the dog with the most status these “perks”. Failure to do this can result in much confusion amongst the dogs that leads to dog fights.
- Once you have identified which dog has more status than the other you should be able to identify traits to look for in you potential new dog. If, once you know more about who your existing dogs are and how the relate to one another, you can start to look for a suitable match. If you have one dog who is very alpha, it is important that any new dog be submissive enough to not challenge him or her.
Hierarchy is not decided by you, or based on which dog came first, gender, age or who you like better. If your dog is very submissive or if both are, you can look at a dog that has a little more self-confidence. In a pack I had years ago, my top dog, Molly, was female, and the last dog to join our pack. Molly had a high nerve threshold (a good thing) meaning not much bothered her. She would tolerate small transgressions on the part of the other dogs, but on other things she would not compromise. A top dog always get fed, petted, and played with, let outside etc., before the other dogs.
That is one of the perks in the hierarchy of the pack. My son and daughter-in-law were over for dinner and my daughter in law wanted, without telling me first, to give one of the subordinate some of her left over dinner. The minute she put the plate down in from of my omega dog, Gertie, Molly yelled and ran right over to Gertie and jumped on top of her. It sounded like a ferocious fight but that was not what was going on. Molly was simply saying to Gertie, “How dare you. You know the hierarchy here.” Gertie moved right away and backed up.. Now Molly never landed teeth on Gertie. She was just scolding her, giving her a reprimand if you will. It sure sounded scary to my daughter-in-law but in actuality Molly was simply chastising Gertie. When Molly had her fill she backed away and let Gertie have the remaining scraps, which is the way of the pack.
I always recommend that, unless you are a season pack leader (and) is already diligent about supporting the existing hierarchy) that when looking to add a third, fourth or fifth dog to you pack that you hire a professional trainer or behavior consultant to help you. As my late Mom used to say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is money well spent and an investment in the smooth integration of your new, evolving pack. The more dogs you get the more complicated all this can become. It is a joy to have a larger, peaceful pack, so don’t be afraid to reach out for some professional guidance.
Lastly, I always suggest that you never add 2 new dogs the same time. Let each new dog have time to integrate into the pack without the distraction of a second dog trying to fit in. This is especially important if you are looking at two dogs that already have a bond with each other. You want to set things up so that the new dog(s) are focused on you and not the other dog they already know. You MAY END UP WITH BOTH OF THESE DOGS BUT PLEASE TAKETHEM IN ONE AT A TIME/ Trust me, things always work out better that way.
That being said, done correctly you can experience the joys of a large pack and avoid major issues that could have been avoided.
*** Peggy Colonna is both a registered nurse as well as a certified obedience instructor. She specializes in solving problem pet behavior with the goal of keeping dogs out of the shelters and preventing them from being euthanized. A lifelong animal activist and prolific rescuer, Peggy brings to DogsInDanger the real world perspective of animal life is the US.
The opinions expressed are solely the author's and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.