I’m always fascinated to see how dogs change when they change from being the only dog to one of a two. Or two of a kind turn into three of a kind. I thought of this when a friend called after adding a third dog to her home. In a few weeks her formerly sweet, docile beagle turned into a grumpy, growly mess. But the new dog seemed quiet, unassuming and relatively benign.
Every case of multiple dogs is complicated, so many factors after all, but I did suggest that first she read a booklet I co-authored with lead author Dr. Karen London: Feeling Outnumbered: How to Manage Your Multi-dog Household. Here are a few tips from the booklet that can help out anyone in a similar situation:
ONE AT A TIME: One of the things I thought might help my friend was to be sure she spent a lot of time working with the new dog, and each dog really, one at a time. It sounds simplistic, and it takes time, but it’s time well spent. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it’s seductive to try to train dogs in a group, even if you don’t set out to do so. Sometimes it can work out, for example, training Wait or Get Back at the door. I love the expression on a new dog’s face when I’ve said Get Back and the other dogs did and the newby started to go through and then paused and looked around like “Uh, whaaa . . . “. But for most things, it’s just too confusing to try to work on a cue with a new dog when surrounded by others. That, of course, means being able to put the other dogs away while you work on one at a time, which leads to:
IT’S OKAY TO GO TO YOUR ROOM: I always loved being sent to my room for “punishment” because I loved being able to lie in bed in peace and quiet. You may not end up with a dog who loves going into his or her crate while the other gets treats, but it’s invaluable to have the freedom to pop some dogs into a room or a crate while you work with another without one throwing a fit. Lately I’ve gotten lazy and worked each dog on the balance board while the other watches in a nearby crate. I used to shut them out of the room, but this way I can do it faster and with less energy. Maggie and Skip quietly watch the other get treat after treat without making a sound, and I will be forever grateful that I worked hard in the beginning to teach them that going into their crate is a wonderful thing. Check out Kikopup’s video if you need to know how to get started.
MASTER OF SOME: More dogs, more issues, more vet visits, more everything. That’s why Dr. London and I made a point about deciding what cues you need most, and working toward mastery of those. Which ones those are depends very much of you, your life right now, and your dogs. Perhaps you recently moved to the city and need a dog who walks politely at your side no matter how many dogs you walk by on a narrow sidewalk. Perhaps one of your dog is a big barker when people come by and you need her to go into her crate so that your head doesn’t explode. (Yes Maggie, I’m talking to you.)
Many of those cues might not be the traditional ones taught in training classes (although many progressive classes are doing a great job making the training more practical). I wrote a post almost ten years ago about what “non-traditional” cues I often use, and loved all the comments that came in. You might want to check it out if you’re wondering what you would like your dog to master. I am curious now; I’m going to pay attention in the next few days to what cues I use the most. Off the top of my head it includes Recalls, Wait, Get Back, Stand (stand still), House (go into the house), Enough (petting/playtime is over, go settle down somewhere), By Me (sloppy heel) and Lie Down. You? And oh yeah, Go Pee and Hurry Up (please poop now for the love of god cuz it’s pouring rain). Of course, I should add that the first thing I worked on with Skip was his name. That, recalls and “dogs only pee outside here” kept us busy for two weeks. Then I added Wait, Stand, House and Enough over the next few weeks. What about you?
NOT BEING AN IDIOT WHEN COMPANY COMES I couldn’t care less if dogs jump up on me when I’m greeting them, enthusiastic greetings mean that I don’t have to worry about teeth being sunk into my thigh. (This happens after decades of working with aggressive dogs.) But I don’t want my dog mugging others, barking so loudly no one can talk, or terrorizing delivery people who have heard “She’s fine!” right before the bite one too many times. This is enough of an issue with one dog, but once you have a pack it becomes far more important. Barking, as we all know, is a group sport, and one dog’s barking usually sets off the others. Arousal is also catching, so while one dog might be a tad overly enthusiastic when visitors come, two or three dogs might be enough to prevent them from ever coming back.
(Of course, all your visitors might not be human . . . )
How you handle this depends on so many things. I teach my dogs to go into their crates if asked when company comes. It just make life so much easier, and it’s easy to train (knock on door yourself, run dogs into room or crate, treat with ridiculously good food). You can also teach dogs to go to a mat, go get a toy (I love this for some object-oriented dogs), or simply to keep four on the floor. But if you are going to increase the number of dogs in your household, think about how you want to handle this, because out of control dogs can cause lots of stress, or even trouble, when the doorbell rings.
IMPULSE CONTROL Dogs, just like people, can get competitive about resources, whether it’s food, petting or a cuddling on the couch. That’s why some of my favorite cues for multi-dog households include Wait, Stay, and/or Get Back. All of these cues teach impulse control, which is vital when you have dogs vying for what they see as a limited resource. I think the impulse control is more important than any individual cue–what feels essential is to have dogs learn that being patient and polite gets them what they want, not being pushy and rude about it. Make sense?
I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with managing a multi-dog household. Dr. London and I had a great time working together writing Feeling Outnumbered?, and are both still amused when we occasionally hear the criticism “Thanks for telling me it’s important to train my dog in a dog training book.” Fair! But . . . And . . . It doesn’t appear to be common or obvious how important it is to work on one dog at a time, to be able to put a dog away while working with another, etc. etc. Let’s have a conversation this week about living with a group of dogs, I’m all ears.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We spent Sunday helping to set up an upcoming trial at Cedar Stone Farm. It was great to be able to help set up; it’s massive task involving moving lots of heavy metal panels onto trucks, off of trucks, etc., and a reminder why farmers often had a lot of children. Lots of helpers meant we were all done by noon. A good thing too, it was brutally hot and humid, with not a breath of air for most of the morning. This lamb had the right idea. (We replicated that once we got home, where we unpacked the car and then went full-out horizontal for the rest of the day.
We had a heck of storm Saturday night. I had a lamb roast in the oven surrounded by freshly dug potatoes, while homemade mint sauce scented the house. Almost simultaneously, I got a text from a friend who said “Be safe, dear friends” and a phone call from neighbors to say they wouldn’t be coming for dinner. (They were expected in 15 minutes.) We turned on the TV and booted up, and sure enough, tornadoes to the southwest of us, hail and damaging winds predicted. I was thrilled to get rain (an inch and a quarter, yay!), because we continue to be very low on moisture here. Turns out we were very lucky; the severe weather went south and north of us. The town of Boscobel had at least a dozen homes destroyed by a tornado, which caused major damage to many others.
Another storm is passing through as I write. Lots of thunder and lightning, we’re up to another half an inch of rain already, which is wonderful. Maggie does not agree; if it’s raining hard she stands still, head down, as if being beaten with a stick. She would like you to know that she managed to poop in the rain this morning, but it was a valiant, Olympic effort that deserves couch time and a bucket of treats.
I loved watching Wisconsinite Molly Seidel get the bronze in the women’s marathon. The Kenyan runners (both male and female) are astoundingly talented and skilled, and deserve kudos for their gold and silver, but this was only Molly’s third marathon ever and everyone was “Who is she?”
Best laugh of the weekend: NBC’s new prime-time Olympic announcer, Mike Tirico was charmingly enthused about Molly’s performance, and seeming amazement that some one from Wisconsin could pull this off. (“Molly Seidel from Wisconsin” practically became her full name.) The best part was when Tirico said “What else is there to do in Wisconsin?” I spit out my tea and laughed so loudly I woke up the dogs. What else is there to do in Wisconsin? Oh, I don’t know, win Nobel prizes from ground-breaking research, go to a performance by the American Player’s Theater, considered one of the finest classical theaters in the the country, watch the Bucks win the NBA, eat at restaurants that were key players in the farm to table movement . . . Okay, I’ll stop. But I’m happy with Tirico thinking that Wisconsin is “fly over” country, cuz then it’ll stay as wonderful as it is for those of us who live here.
I had a few more photos from Chanticleer Gardens outside of Philadelphia that I can’t resist including. Meg and I both imagine these flowers as opera stars . . .