Living Peaceably in a Multi-Dog Home
Having more than one dog can be fun, provided
you’re a good manager and your dogs are well
matched. More than one can be very demanding,
too. Your dogs will need you to be the best
playground monitor you can be to ensure that
everybody succeeds. Below are some important
tips for making it work.
The Golden Rules of Multi-
• Select your pets carefully. Some dog pairs
have great chemistry while others are Jerry Springer material: Nothing but conflict and
• Maintain a strong leadership role so the dogs respect your house rules.
• Especially while dogs are getting to know each other, separate before you leave the
• Know the most common fight triggers and work to prevent them.
• Know how to break up a fight, then promise yourself you’ll never let them get into
anything bigger than a spat.
• Involve everyone in the household in multi-dog management.
• Understand that dog dynamics can and do shift along with life changes.
• Give your dogs individual attention to strengthen bonds.
• Proper intros between new dogs are KEY. Here’s a helpful Step-by-Step.
Choose well; Good Chemistry is Key
Dogs are like people; Some hit it off and some just aren’t
meant to be together. When choosing a new friend for your
existing dog, be prepared to look at numerous dogs and let
your current pet give you his or her opinion. It’s best to shop
for a mature dog rather than a puppy. Dog social pups can
lose some of their dog tolerance as they mature, shifting
household dynamics in painful ways. But adults will give you
a much better read on their limits with other dogs and how
the overall chemistry between your pets will work out for
years to come. Rescue groups that foster dogs at home with
other pets can be a great resource for well socialized prospects. It’s generally best to stick with
opposite sex pairings: There are examples of same sex pairs that do well together, but boy/girl
matches tend to have better long term success.
Know Your Dog’s Limits!
Dog Tolerance Levels vary in dogs. Some are highly social, and some won’t take gruff from any
dog. In our experience, most properly socialized pit bulls fall somewhere in the middle. Finding
a friend for your dog requires that you know his particulars, including whether or not he has a
‘short fuse’ or a ‘long fuse’ during high arousal, and, what pushes his buttons. NOTE: It can be
harder for dogs with short fuses to succeed in multi-dog homes. In some cases, it’s better for
everybody if he stays an only dog. That’s A-Okay – Some of the happiest dogs around are those
that have their people all to themselves!
Be The Boss
Your current dog(s) should be nicely
trained before bringing a new dog home.
This will set the tone for a smooth
transition and help the dogs know what
you expect from them. Trained dogs can
also serve as mentors for newer dogs and
teach them good manners. Your
leadership role will be very important if
your dogs decide to co-conspire to
misbehave or have an argument. If your
current dog doesn’t listen to you now, you
can count on having TWO badly behaved
dogs – No fun! A good training class plus
lots of practice can help you instill better
manners in a month’s time. Work all of
your dogs together at least twice a day;
Mealtime is a good time to do short
IMPORTANT: Practice calling your
dogs out of play when they’re having a
good wrestling session. If they won’t
break their play and come to you when
called, grab them out. Make sure to have
delicious treats ready when they do come
to you. Work on this repeatedly until they
respond. Practice a longer Down Stay, then praise and release them back to their play session.
This exercise will help you enormously as you manage your dogs. They should always –
ALWAYS! – respond to your voice, even when they’re wound up.
Photo : These four housemate dogs listen closely for direction. Their good manners come
from reinforcing house rules and from working each dog a few minutes every day, especially at
MORE TIPS (In PDF Form) for “Introducing a A New Dog into the House.”
Separate Dogs before Leaving the House
This is one of the hardest things for new multi-pit owners to accept: Our dogs can be the best of
friends BUT they may still find something, someday, that will cause an argument. When you’re
home, a small spat can often be stopped fast with a loud shout. But if you’re not home, this same
argument can escalate, drag on and cause injury. Avoid this terrible possibility by getting your
dogs used to being separated during ‘down time’ in a crate or on a tie-down, first while you’re
home and then while you’re away. You can rotate dogs so one is out while the other is contained.
Or, let one dog sleep in your closed bedroom for the day while the other gets the sofa. Dogs are
creatures of habit, so once you let them get used to this routine they’ll accept it as perfectly
normal. Remember to exercise the dogs before you confine them so they can rest and enjoy a
chew toy while you’re away. By following this standard protocol employed by owners of many
dog breeds including and especially the terrier breeds, you can leave the house knowing that
ensure the well being
of your pets.
Right: Happy George
is confined during
times when he can’t
be supervised with
the other dogs. This
system keeps him out
of mischief and helps
enforce good house
Are Pit Bulls Unique?
We’ve seen a lot of negative attention directed at pit bulls recently for the normal canine trait of
dog-dog aggression. In some cases, those who dislike the breed have used it to condemn them
and even to justify breed specific legislation, including bans. The fact is, dog-dog aggression is a
very common behavior with numerous breeds including and especially the working dogs. To
compare, the recommendations we offer on this page are mirrored in websites that deal with
most of the terriers including Jack Russell Terriers, as well as the Akitas, Huskies, Boxers,
Ridgebacks, Australian Cattle Dogs, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Chows, Tosa
Inus, Rottweilers and many others. In every breed, in every situation, management is key!
Avoiding Conflict by Knowing Fight Triggers
It’s a fact of life that all multi-homes live with:
Dogs of every breed can and do scrap with
housemate dogs. To prevent smaller, harmless
arguments from escalating into full scale battles,
responsible homes need to stay on top of things.
Dog owners should become dedicated students of
dog body language and be diligent about
preventing the types of triggers that can spark
tensions. We don’t allow our dogs to lord over
each other in dominance displays or to “work
things out” – Ever! While it’s natural for dog
groups to be develop a noticeable pecking order,
this hierarchy should never take the place of your
role as Head Boss and Keeper of the Peace. Body language signs that can signal trouble: Raised
hackles, hard stares, stiffening of the body, low growls.
Right: Grrrrrr. Simon’s hard stare and low growl is meant to keep other dogs away from his prize
toy. Signals like this can set dogs off into a fight if they aren’t familiar with each other or if they
have ongoing conflicts that go on unchecked by their owners.
COMMON FIGHT TRIGGERS: The presence of prized chew toys, food and even attention from
you or your company can send arousal levels up and spark conflicts in some dogs. Don’t
overlook the chicken bones in the trash or the piece of kibble that rolled just out of reach under
the counter. Additionally, play sessions and tug games that get too exciting can cause problems.
Charging to the door to greet the doorbell or chasing a squirrel in the yard can amp two dogs up
to the point where they may clash and redirect on each other. If you see your dogs getting overly
aroused, and especially, if they stop listening to you, it’s time to step in and make everybody
settle down, using a verbal command or a time out in the crate or on tie down.
In some cases, when household fights escalate and increase in severity, families are forced to
either re-home one of their dogs or divide their home into sections and rotate dogs so they can be
permanently separated. This can be a stressful way to live! As with everything, prevention is so
much better than cure.
This ball game got
everybody wound up and,
as a result, the dog on the
left redirected onto the
dog that slammed into her.
(A loud HEY! ended the
aggression is one of the
most common fight
triggers in multi-dog
homes. To keep the peace,
be ready to intervene when play or chase games get too exciting, especially when mature dogs
* Learn how to create and enjoy HEALTHY PLAY SESSIONS*
Breaking up Fights
The best way to deal with fights is to commit to prevention: Management, Management! But if
something slips past you and a scuffle breaks out, it can help to shout a VERY loud,”NO!”
If that doesn’t work, your dogs have gone too far and your next best move may be the hardest to
accomplish: Take a deep breath and force yourself to count to five. This gives you time to think
about your options rather than react impulsively. Some fights can be stopped quickly by
grabbing the dogs’ back legs and pulling them out (provided they don’t have a hold on each
other), some will end with the use of the hose, in some cases you can throw a blanket over one of
the dogs to surprise them into stopping. In cases where a dog has grabbed on and won’t let go, a
break stick will end the fight quickly and with minimal injury to either pet. PBRC is a great
resource for ordering a Break Stick. Be aware that break sticks should NOT be used on non-pits.
LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE: If your dogs have a spat, don’t kick yourself. Instead, use it as a
learning experience to help prevent a repeat performance. Ask yourself: What contributed to the
scuffle and what little signs should have told me that I needed to intervene earlier? Have my
dogs been getting enough exercise? Is my female in heat? (Another good reason to spay; less
dog-dog conflict!) Am I spoiling one of the dogs and setting up a grudge? Did somebody raise
the stakes during a wrestle session? Did the new toy make somebody too possessive? By
understanding what might’ve caused a problem, you can change the way you do things with the
dogs and nip most issues in the bud before they escalate. If you just aren’t sure of what might
have contributed, talk with a trainer who’s experienced with bull breeds to see if they can shed
When Dogs Fight
It’s fine to scold your dog(s) just after a scuffle and let
them know that their behavior was unacceptable. Pit bulls
are softies and generally hate displeasing their people.
Although the terriers can have shorter fuses with other
dogs, many – if not most – can learn to enjoy known dog
friends and avoid conflict with the help of your guidance
and eagle-eye supervision. After an argument, it’s time
for more structure in the home to remind your dogs who
calls the shots: The NILF Program
What dogs do when you’re not around may be a different
story though. VERY IMPORTANT! – Make sure to
separate pets from each other when you aren’t there to police their interactions.
Photo: Amy is hearing about her foster dad’s displeasure after a sassy show of dog aggression.
She’s come a long way since this photo was taken.
All Hands on Deck for Across the Board Management
Your friends and family – and even the neighbors that like to pop over to say ‘Hi’ – should all be
made aware of your dogs’ limits and any potential dog-dog issues they may have. Everyone
should share in the responsiblity of keeping the peace, including: picking up prized toys and
monitoring the dogs when they get rowdy. In our home, we have to remind friends not to throw a
ball for our husky-mix because he’s willing fight any dog that tries for the same toy. That takes a
lot of reminding! Unfortunately, we receive too many emails from homes that experience
dogfights while their pets are in the care of somebody different (pet sitter, friend,etc). So often,
managing your dogs involved managing the people who interact with them, and making sure
everyone is on board with your rules and wishes.
Be Aware of Changing Dynamics that Come with Life Changes
Dynamics between pets can and do shift as young dogs mature into adulthood and later, when a
senior dog begins to decline in health. Be very aware of any smaller frictions that may crop up
between your pets so you can get on top of things immediately and ensure that transitions go
smoothly. A former BAD RAP adopter reported that her younger dog started picking fights just
as her older dog was getting feeble in her legs. Another home noticed new frictions between her
pets after moving to a new home. Shifts in the pecking order after life changes are common with
all breeds, and requires your diligent monitoring and good leadership.
Apart from the
benefit greatly when each
dog has a strong bond
with his owner. To deepen
your bond with each of
your dogs, take time out
for individual attention
away from everybody
else. A ten minute tug session, a ride in the car when you go on an errand, a quick walk around
the block that’s outside of his normal routine – These things can help each of your dogs feel more
connected to you and improve their listening skills when they’re with the other dog(s).
The Rewards of having multi-dogs are obvious. When you’ve chosen carefully and have
committed to common sense management, the potential for conflict is minimized and you can
truly enjoy your pets. The dogs enjoy the benefit of extra socialization, mental stimulation, fun
play sessions, and – the ultimate drug for so many pit bulls – more shared body heat at the end of
they day. Enjoy your beautiful pets!