The interwebs are full of helpful tips and tricks for managing multi-dog households. The bulk of which are concerned primarily with two things: preventing squabbles and managing feeding times. Those things are awesome and important, and this blog post has nothing to do with those things. So, to anyone looking for that kind of help, I apologize.
This post is also not helpful for people who live and breath dog training and learning theory and/or who are just naturals at it. Those people have magic beans in their pockets and are direct descendants of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. Many of them are also my friends and I resent them almost every day.
I’m talking to us average folk. Those of us who have multiple dogs, a decent understanding of dog behavior and canine social dynamics and a fundamental desire to sit down at the end of the day and enjoy a normal conversation and a drink without having to perform great feats of operant conditioning or choke out the anti-squirrel task force raging in the backyard.
For me, the following are the five things that consistently make life with our four dogs (and one dog-like cat) blissful at its best and manageable at its worst.
A big-ass sink
Kongs and other food enrichment toys are a beautiful thing. Truly they are.
But what nobody tells you when you start multiplying the number of dogs in your house, and in turn the number of food toys that you buy, is that at some point you have to wash all that shit. And depending on what you put in them and how you use them, your dishwasher ain’t gonna get the job done.
If you’re like me and often let your dishes pile up while frequently freezing Kongs for your dogs, your kitchen can get out of control pretty quickly. Which is why having a big-ass sink to pile all that stuff into is essential.
Four out of seven days a week, my big kitchen sink is the difference between mental balance and total mayhem.
Top-down, bottom-up window shades
Barking is a self-rewarding behavior. We all know this. But you know what’s even more rewarding than barking? Barking with friends.
You know those people who always act shocked when your dogs go apeshit every time the UPS man drives by or someone walks their dog past your living room window? The ones who say, “weird, my dog never barks.” Yeah, that’s because they only have one dog. And honestly, it’s hard to remember why you’re friends with them sometimes.
For those of us living in the real multi-dog world, limiting visibility and blocking line of sight is a way of life. But just as important is not having to block out the whole big, beautiful world while you do it. In fact, I honestly believe this is why humans were designed to walk erect while dogs were not. So that we can see shit that they can’t while hanging out together.
In that spirit, keep your view and save your sanity by investing in some top-down, bottom-up window shades. Here are the ones we have. And they’ve transformed our quality of life.
Large containers of strategically-placed, non-perishable treats
All of you dog trainers, as well as any owners who struggle with resource guarding or dog-dog aggression, should probably stop reading at this point. Because I’m going to break your hearts and your brains.
I frequently throw treats around my house and yard like they’re cocaine on Rick James’ birthday. Specifically, I do this when I’m too lazy to properly manage or train my dogs. And it makes me so happy.
If I have friends coming over, I scatter treats all over the patio to distract the dogs while people come through our gate. If I know my neighbors are about to walk by our fence line with their newborn while out for a pleasant evening stroll, I chuck treats all over the place so the dogs have something else to focus on.
If I’m relaxing in the backyard with a fat glass of pinot, I shake the treat container and toss treats everywhere to get my dogs to stop barking at the squirrels without me having to get up. I’m aware this is rewarding bad behavior. And yes, it bothers me. But not enough to stop doing it.
I liken this activity to the otherwise uber responsible parent knowing that every now and then you just gotta swallow your pride and ideals and stick that two-year-old in front of the television or iPad with Elmo for your own sanity. And because all my dogs generally get along and don’t have food-related aggression issues, I get to do that.
These are my favorite treats for this hedonistic, anti-behavioral activity: Charlee Bears. You can buy them for $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. I buy in bulk.
A good relationship with your neighbors
For all you multi-dog people out there who have a lot of dogs because you like animals more than people, let me just say this: You are your own worst enemy.
At the end of the day, the only thing keeping many of us out of doggie-owner jail is a neighbor who likes us and our dogs too much to file a nuisance complaint.
It of course helps tremendously when, two days after you move in, your neighbor’s good friend stops by and, upon glancing at the angry little pit bull barking like a banshee through the fence says, “Hey, is that Peaches? I love her Facebook page.” I can’t say enough about having a dog whose online fan club inspires enough good will to counteract her everyday in-yard behavior.
Short of that, I recommend being proactive. Within the first week of me moving somewhere new or someone new moving next door to me, I am on that person’s porch with a big smile and care package in hand (baked goods, wine, flowers, treats for their pets, whatever) and a card with my name, my husband’s name, both of our phone numbers and emails and a friendly reminder to always call or email if they ever need anything or if our dogs happen to be bothering them.
It’s awesome when your neighbors are just chill people who like dogs like ours are. But when they’re not, for the love of god, be proactive.
A well-stocked bar
When all is said and done, if you don’t have a big-ass sink, can’t afford new shades, food enrichment toys or extra dog treats and can’t stand your neighbors, all you really need to effectively manage your own sanity in a multi-dog household is a stiff drink, or four, and a good sense of humor.
It never ceases to amaze me how much less I care about my failures as a dog owner after a hefty glass of wine or bourbon.
In the words of Chelsea Handler:
I went out with a [dog] who once told me I didn’t need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.
Long live the multi-dog household. You’ll need exactly one bottle of booze and an ornery cat to keep it all in check.