Five essentials for the multi-dog household

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
This entry was posted in Animal behavior and training, Fun Stuff, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Five essentials for the multi-dog household

  1. colinandray says:

    Lots of chuckles and grins here. What a perfect post to end the day with!

  2. Maia's Mom says:

    This is one of the best “how to” articles ever. Thank you!

  3. mcfwriter says:

    Great post, Emily! It’s good to see you again – I’ve been a fan ever since I found your blog, and though I understand the blogging hiatus, I’ve missed you and your voice (total fangirl here!). This one really resonated, and I love it for the fact that I’ve often felt like a “bad” mom-dog, with my current pack of unruly dogs. I’ve done the regimented, well-behaved, obedient and responsive, and now have a wild thing (the bottoms up window shades would not last…) and two spirited sidekicks. Some days it feels like barely contained chaos, some days it’s outright embarrassing, and some days it’s easy peasy (most, really). My solution to the neighbors was to get acreage and fence well. The property is heavily treed, and you can’t even see the road (which doesn’t stop the maniacal barking and fence running) so I let them have all the fun they want. They’re happy, and they make me happy. And with a bottle of Carnivore cabernet, really, what more does one need?
    Cheers!
    Maureen

    • Hey, thanks so much, Maureen! 🙂 Yep, much of our success and survival used to be thanks to our big 10 acre property, part of which was fully fenced and not near any road or other house. And yes, they still managed to find things to bark at anyways. LOL. We love where we are now, but I definitely miss the freedom of being in the middle of nowhere and letting them be a bit more wild! Glad to hear you guys are having a blast!

  4. Pet Barrier says:

    Nice tips! I admit I’m definitely guilty of using treats to distract them too rather than correcting their behavior. -Ellie

    • Hey Ellie- Yep. Don’t get me wrong. I do try sometimes to do the whole, gate three dogs elsewhere with Kongs in the house and then do some 1on1 training with one dog when someone first comes over (rewarding for staying on all fours and nice greetings, etc etc) since it’s just that initial 10 minutes transition period that needs managing. But sometimes, you just want to not have make friends coming over such an elaborate orchestration. LOL. 🙂 🙂

  5. You and I are living parallel lives! The only difference is my Pinot Grigio to your Pinot Noir! LOL I absolutely LOVE this article and will be sharing it far and wide! 😉

  6. Carol says:

    Those shades!!

  7. ebuchsbaum says:

    all true….I “only” have two puppies…..shame..my building won’t allow more due to me having more than two…directed the building’s rules (I hate rules) at me…oh well….two puppies is like having four…i used to not drink alone….now I do….not alone…I have two puppies who would like to drink with me

  8. Marie Dickerson says:

    Love it! I need to print this & post it on a wall in our 3 dog, 2 cat household.

  9. Kelly Ware says:

    I’m one of those naturals but I’m sending this to several of the people who hate me…….. funny stuff.

  10. With 2 littles of my own and a foster (2 of which have little dog syndrome), I probably enjoyed this just a little too much. Chewies! said in a high pitched voice stops a multitude of sins around here and a bit of vodka for the mommy. Thanks for the giggles and the Chelsea quote!

  11. Leah Hatley says:

    Emily Douglas – THANK YOU for making me laugh! A friend just sent me this blog and it’s my first introduction to you. My husband read it over my shoulder and we both laughed our butt’s off. It’s all so very true – sometimes management (and wine!) are a girl’s best friend.

  12. rexthewonderdog2007 says:

    Great, fun, article! When my dogs bark at stuff in the yard, I give them treats for coming back to me. Over time, they’re learning that squirrels, and other wildlife are their cue to come to me for a reward. Your scattering treats on the ground is much the same and I wouldn’t consider it “rewarding bad behavior” at all. I think it’s a great technique! The dogs are learning that hanging out near you is more rewarding than chasing squirrels.🤗

    • Thanks, Debra! Yes, very true! The only problem is that if you’re not willing to build on the training, an undesirable behavior chain develops. I go bark at squirrel, listen for cue to come and then get a treat. And then I can go back and start the chain again. They’re getting rewarded for barking and then coming to me … over and over and over again. 🙂 If I weren’t being lazy, I’d work with them 1on1 inside and in the yard to help them choose to not bark to begin with in favor of a potential reward. But when I’m just hanging out in the yard, I don’t want them laying next to me and focusing on me. I want them playing with each other, relaxing on their own and wandering around doing their thing. My training savant, Buster Brown has actually started running to bark at people or squirrels and then pausing to look over his shoulder back at me or the house to see if there’s a possibility of a treat and whether or not it’s worth while to come back or to continue barking. 🙂 🙂

  13. lili says:

    I need to get rid of my neighbor, and I need a bigger bar! 😉

  14. Lindsay says:

    This is why I love dog people. Not just because we commonly love dogs, but because it takes a special sense of humor to… well, this. Well done. ❤

  15. Minna says:

    This resonates with me on a spiritual level 😀

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