Downeast Dog News

What's one more?

Do you have more than one dog in your house?
By | Oct 01, 2018

Nearly 90 million dogs live in 60 million households in the US. 40% of dog owners own more than one dog.* That's a lot of dog energy! Having several dogs offers numerous benefits: camaraderie, play, learning from each other, social support, etc. Each is an individual with his own special personality, abilities, and interests. A mix of characters under one roof creates an active, dynamic household. At the same time, owning multiple dogs can also be challenging. It can be difficult to provide what each dog needs in terms of exercise, training, and quality of life. They easily learn bad stuff from each other, can bond to each other more than to their humans (particularly when siblings are adopted - don't do it!), and one dog often manages to demand/require more attention.


Safety – ours and theirs!

Obviously, our pets need to feel physically safe, but just as important is emotional safety. Nobody likes to be bullied, feel like there's no way out of a situation, or fear for his personal safety. When one dog is "Type A" and the other a couch potato, Mr. Potato risks getting harassed by the Energizer Bunny, and trouble can erupt. We need to keep them safe from each other… and themselves! This means diligent supervision, recognizing potential problems before they happen and frequent separation (crating, penning, gating, tethering). And training!


It is very difficult to train two dogs at once. Our observation and timing of rewards need to be precise, so our dogs will know what they got rewarded for. Work each dog individually until they each have some proficiency with each of the skills before you work with them together.

Interrupt a LOT

Training an interrupter cue can save the day, bring action to a happy halt, and give you a chance to refocus your dogs on something else. Practice interrupting your dogs at various times throughout the day when they aren’t distracted by anything. The sequence will be: interrupter word (something upbeat like "puppies!") followed by COOKIES!

Example: Say "puppies!!" in a very happy, excited way and run a short distance away from your dogs. When they come to you to find out what the excitement is about, give them each multiple treats and praise. Repeat. As they get good at this, try interrupting them when they are more engaged with something. If, at any time, any dog is not responding, work that dog separately.


Safe Zone

It’s essential that each dog has a place to go where he will be undisturbed. When we got a new puppy, the couch became one of the safe zones because it was off-limits to the puppy. Your dogs will thank you for providing them with safe zones!

Playing… is it really “play”?

How can you tell if an interaction should be interrupted? How do you know for sure if play is mutual? What are the red flags to look out for? Check out my handy "Playing by the Rules" guidelines in the online version of this article!

*American Pet Products Association 2017-18 National Pet Owners Survey


Playing by the Rules

Rules of Play for Humans with Dogs

Owners must monitor the intensity of play, especially with young pups, to help them learn to control their direction, mouths, and impulses and help promote deference.

Do not encourage "chase the puppy" games with puppies since they tend to develop into serious problems later on in life. An inventive pup begins to discover that there are many items strewn throughout the house that elicit this fun game, thus resulting in "fun" for the pup, "aggravation" for the owner. An 8-week puppy that is running away with a sock might get a chuckle out of most; yet when that 8-week pup is exhibiting the same behavior at 80 Ibs. and has realized that he is quicker and more agile than humans, the game isn't so cute any more.

Play every day for physical and mental health

Avoid chasing games

Interrupt rough, out of control play

Use play as reinforcement for training behaviors

Stop play immediately when the dog breaks the rules

Make sure every family member has an understanding of the rules

Teach the dog to be aware of his body and respect your space

Incorporate training into play

Interrupt mouthing and biting, no matter how gentle

Rules of Play for Dogs with Dogs

When dogs are playing, we should be focused on a few important key factors:

Both dogs should be willing participants in the play interaction, having a good time. One dog should not feel completely overwhelmed, frightened, or feel threatened in any way.

During play, dogs should be willing to use a little give and take. If a pup is pinned to the ground and struggling, I will remove the pup from the situation and see what occurs next. Some dogs do prefer to play on their backs, but they shouldn't be forced to play there.

When playing, are both dogs exhibiting bite inhibition, especially when biting lower legs, hindquarters, necks, and tails? A good sign is an open mouth and a wet body from saliva. Body movements should be bouncy, loose, and “curvy.”

Pauses in play are encouraged so dogs do not become overly aroused. When dogs become highly aroused, they begin to play rougher, vocalize more, pin, grab and/or bully. The result could end up being a fight. Be aware that sneezing can be a sign of excitement or high arousal.

Play bows start and stop actions and brief batting, pounces, and changes in position are encouraged.

When to Interrupt Play:

Excessive mounting, paws over the back of neck, chin over back of neck and standing very still. Any signs of early challenges.

Excessive barking during play means the dog is highly aroused. The play could escalate into a fight (think about a sports bar during the Super Bowl).

Dogs are playing with no interruptions or pauses. Dogs use a lot of energy during play and if not used to playing for long sessions, can easily tire, develop sore muscles or become irritable. Make sure both dogs are in the same physical condition or encourage interruptions by distracting dogs frequently.

Stop all play when one dog is yelping for help. He obviously is NOT having a grand time!

If you take your dog to dog parks, you should spend time interacting with your dog by interrupting the play sessions. The dog should not feel threatened at any time. Take the leash off before being greeted by an army of loose dogs. Many owners take dogs to dog parks in hopes of helping them "get over" their fear of other dogs. Dog parks are not an appropriate place for young puppies. If a puppy is attacked, it can have a lifelong effect on the dog.

Daycare settings are not for all dogs. If a dog is excessively barking, fence running, hiding, challenging other dogs, trying to escape, or snapping whenever bumped, the dog is not having a good time. Problems can develop very quickly.

One dog starts to sniff the ground in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The dog is signaling to the other dog that she's had enough and wants a break.

Avoid incorporating toys and food into a play session with multiple dogs unless you are familiar with how each dog reacts around these resources. Dogs sometimes engage in competing challenges when a resource is present.

Allowing them to work it out isn't usually the answer. Know when to intervene.