How to Live in a Multi Dog Household

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Do you own more than one dog, or are considering adopting a new one? Here's how to sort out the hierarchy, ensure multiple canine happiness, and keep the peace!


  1. Consider carefully before adding more dogs to your household. If you're thinking about adopting a new dog, there are a few key things to consider first, to ensure that you're going to be able to cope with a lifestyle that involves more than one dog. Every extra dog will take extra time and effort to feed, groom, exercise, and play with, as well as costing more money. And, if one dog misbehaves, it can incite the other dog to join in, leaving you with two "Marleys" (badly behaved dogs). Be considerate of the existing dog's needs too; if your dog is senior and unlikely to welcome the rough and tumble of a puppy due to infirmity or illness, this might not be a good time to bring a new dog into the family. On the other hand, it might be what a healthy but lazy elderly dog needs!
  2. If you do decide that you can manage with an extra mouth to feed, train, and care for, then don't hesitate. One of the wonderful benefits of having two dogs or more is that they develop bonds and entertain one another. However, you will also need to be clear from the outset that each dog means more work for you and more one-to-one bonding to ensure that your multi-dog relationships work.
  3. Introduce your new dog to the existing dog before bringing her home. One great way to introduce your new dog to existing dogs is to take the dogs to meet her first. If they seem to get along together, then you know it's a good bet but if there are instant problems of aggression, perhaps this isn't the dog to adopt.
    • Don't introduce the newcomer to existing dogs on the day of arrival at home. Keep existing dogs outside and give the newcomer time to explore your home and become familiar with it first.
    • When you finally introduce the newcomer to the existing dogs, choose a neutral spot; basically, somewhere your current dog doesn't spend much time in. And take it slowly; it may take a while before they establish themselves.
  4. Know what to expect when dogs meet one another for the first time. Let your dogs off their leashes so that they can explore one another on dog terms. Expect rear-end sniffing, nose-to-nose sniffing, and posturing (stiff leg walks, placing a leg over the other dog's shoulders, raised fur, etc.). Noises that may occur include barks, whines, and whimpers.[1] This is "canine socializing" and you'd do best to keep out and just watch as most dogs will sort out this part of greeting and acceptance on their own; they work out where in the pack each dog stands while you just wait to reassure all of them that you and the other humans remain alpha!
    • Stay positive. Dogs pick up on negative emotions. Instead of worrying, be positive about their encounter and expect them to get along. If you're enthusiastic about the encounter, they will pick up on this and take it as one cue to reacting positively to each other.
    • Take notice and remove the dogs from each other if you see or hear snarling, rushing at one another and growling, both dogs doing a posture and attempting to get on top of each other, disinterest in one dog but the other persists in bugging them (common with a senior/much younger dog combination), or there is nothing but staring going on (a fight for dominance).[2] In these cases, intervene and separate them. You'll just have to try to introduce them more gradually (and walking them together in full leash control between you or two people is a good way to begin).
    • Seek professional advice if the dogs continue to fail to get along. It happens and the advice is definitely worth it. The type of person to contact includes your vet, a professional dog trainer or an animal behaviorist.
    • Watch for the dog hierarchy. The hierarchy will form quickly and it will show itself to you in which dog gets to walk first, eat first, share time with you first, etc.[3] You need to reinforce this hierarchy with your own behavior (with you still alpha) and yet not let the submissive dog(s) feel left out.
  5. Keep things running smoothly and bond with each one of your dogs. Once you have successfully introduced the dogs, it's time to start running your multi-dog household with you in charge, not the dogs. It may sound easy but once there is more than one dog, the canine pack mentality can take over and there can be a tendency for the dogs to start viewing you or other family members as lower down the pack (often with your unknowing acquiescence through your own behavior and actions). And worse, many people assume that two dogs means that they'll take care for one another, thereby relinquishing the need to maintain control over each dog individually and to bond with each dog individually. The reality is that you need to put in as much effort to training and spending time with dog number two, three, four, etc., that you put into training and bonding with dog number one.
  6. Prevent dominance shifts that throw humans beneath dogs in the pack. Start training your dogs and start noticing your own behaviors toward the dogs as well. Teach both of the dogs basic obedience; if your existing dog is already trained (which he should be before your get another dog), simply test his willingness to obey and do any refreshers as needed. And train the new dog to the same standard as the existing dog. Have every single dog in your multi-dog household treat you as boss and every other human family member as above them in the pack. If you don't do this, they will fight each other for the top position and ignore your commands.
    • Avoid shifting yourself down the pack. You must remain the boss, or the "alpha" pack member. Maintain expectations that each one of your dogs will listen and respond to your commands learned through obedience training. If your dogs are not listening to you, return to training basics. No walk, treats, play, etc., until commands are obeyed! And do not let your dog through the door before you; retrain a dog that starts doing this to you.
    • Training multiple dogs is an entire field of knowledge in its own right; do your research on the best approaches to going about this for you, and seek advice from a professional dog trainer if needed. Good training is essential to multi-dog household harmony.
  7. Work towards letting your dogs spend time alone together. If this works out well from the beginning, that's great. However, it may take some time to reach this point and if so, consider separating them while you're out and slowly leaving them together when you're home and increasing the time until they can be left alone together. The importance of this is that when they're home alone, ultimately it's best if they can keep one another company and not miss you or other human companionship while you're away.
    • Crate training can help initially when training your dogs to get used to one another. Keep them in the same room so that they can see one another.
  8. Know the the signs of aggression. Research dog body language and you'll be able to tell what's "just play," what's a real fight, and when a fight is about to start. This isn't any different from watching the signs of greeting at the start; it is important to remain alert to possible aggression any time they're together. However, if your dogs are getting along fine and you've trained them well, there are likely to be few occasions when aggression breaks out between them. Times to be alert include: illness, food territoriality, pregnancy or raising puppies, introduction of any other new pet, a new baby in the family, and any time when every human in the family is too busy to spend at least a little regular time with the dogs.
    • Take care with objects one dog appears really attached to. This could cause friction if the other dog doesn't realize that there is a need to back off. Most dogs will get the message when there are growls involved. If it becomes a real problem, remove the object when the territorial dog isn't looking and dispose of it.
  9. Feed each dog in its own bowl, with plenty of space between them or even in separate crates or spaces/rooms if there are signs of aggression during feeding. Feeding multiple dogs should not be a battleground. Ensure that they are not fed on top of each other or that they're fed in such a way as to make one dog feel it is missing out on food that another dog is getting. Be sure to give each dog its own feeding bowl and area, and feed them at the same time. Crate feeding or separate room feeding can alleviate any challenges provoked by dominant and submissive dog relations, something humans might want the dogs to "get over" but which in canine behavioral terms isn't going to happen and pushing them too close together can simply make things worse. And, when feeding time is finished, remove the food so that there is no temptation to wander over to the other dog's food bowl and start getting all territorial over it.
    • In terms of "fairness", the amount isn't such an issue, (as you might have one dog needing to diet while the other is in good shape), but the timing is important so that the dogs feel treated equally. Even though they're in separate areas, dogs' sense of smell will tell them when food is being dished out!
    • When giving dogs a bone, give each dog a decent bone of their own, at the same time and if there is any sign of a fight over the bone, shift one dog to one part of the yard and the other dog to another to avoid theft of the submissive dog's bone by the dominant dog. Even if you have to create separate bone-eating areas with chicken wire or such, do something that ensures both dogs are getting their bones.
    • One water bowl for all dogs can suffice if it is large enough for the amount of dogs you have,[4] but if you have any concerns, add another water bowl as well.
  10. Split your attention evenly. If one dog thinks you're giving more affection to the other, this can cause them to form a bad relationship or start a fight. If you get a new dog, you might be tempted to spend all day with him; but remember your other dog too! The important thing is to balance your one-on-one attention between the dogs equally, and to make this private time. This will reduce the sense of a need to compete for your attention.[5] Once they're feeling more secure about this, time spent playing with them together, walking them together, and simply being around them together will be more enjoyable for each of you.
    • Be aware that the more submissive dog can give up when you play with multiple dogs together. Try to prevent this by giving the submissive dog additional opportunities to catch a ball, fetch a stick, etc., by distracting the dominant dog with another ball or stick, at the same time. And be sure to play separately with the submissive dog in private space.
    • In the case of attention and fairness, looking after multiple dogs isn't that different from ensuring fairness and equality between human siblings. Think about fairness and about minimizing the opportunities for conflict in your multiple dog household. Pass this message on to every member of the household interacting with the dogs so that the same level of thoughtfulness goes into all interactions.
  11. Ensure that each dog has its own sleeping area. As with food bowls, beds need to be tailored to each dog. Make it clear which bed belongs to which dog and keep these in distinct parts of the sleeping area so that they don't feel on top of one another. Left to their own devices, dogs in a multi-dog household will tend to choose their own sleeping spots. If you don't like their choices, you will need to train them to sleep elsewhere. And don't be surprised if they choose to sleep together; just be sure there is enough space and a cushion or bedding for each dog.[6]
  12. Have fun with your multiple dog household. If you're constantly on edge or freaking out when your dogs interact, a fight is much more likely to start because they sense their owner's emotions and fears. Instead, relax and have fun!
    • Keep the dogs amused. Have lots of dog toys for them and replace the toys as they fall apart. Have toy bones, tug ropes, balls, etc., for them to access whenever needed. If the dogs vary considerably in size, ensure that there are toys matched to their size.
    • Exercise your dogs regularly. This will release pent-up energy and will also reduce the desire to bark a lot, something your neighbors don't appreciate about noisy multi-dog households.


This video explains the virtue of being a calm human owner and expecting this calm to be reflect from the dogs within a multiple dog household.


  • Train your dogs separately, or at least until they've advanced far enough that they won't be distracted by each other. Preferably, your existing dog will already be trained before you introduce another dog into the house, unless you're getting two or more puppies at the same time.
  • An older dog might be annoyed by a frisky puppy; if you're adopting a companion for your dog, consider choosing an adult dog.
  • Feed multiple dogs according to age and dietary needs. This is another reason for why separate feeding spaces is so important; you don't want aging Fido gulping down the puppy food when he is supposed to be eating the senior quality mix! Sure, this is more work for you but that's part of keeping multiple dogs.
  • Have your dogs fixed. This will help stop dominance behavior and prevent accidental litters.
  • If your dogs have different grooming needs, be sure to make up the time with the least-groomed dog by simply petting her and giving her a few additional cuddles.


  • If your dogs start fighting, contact a professional trainer. You don't want to attempt to stop aggressive behavior yourself! Know how to stop a dog fight safely; do your research before getting the next dog. At the very least, throw a blanket over fighting dogs to cause them to lose a sense of what is happening and to give you the chance to separate them.
  • If your dogs are pit bulls, purchase a "break stick" (a tool for breaking a Pit's hold on another). Never use a break stick for other breeds!
  • Just because a dog is quiet and reserved doesn't mean it doesn't want as much attention and affection as your louder, pushier dog. Give them both equal love and attention.
  • Over-excited dogs can turn aggressive without initially meaning too. Feeding time, returning after an absence, and play time can be sources of high stress for some dogs, so be careful whenever excitability gets too much.[7]
  • If you have a dog on heat, consider having her desexed to prevent aggression and unwanted puppies. Dogs on heat can behave erratically, aggressively, and things happen when you're not watching.

Things You'll Need

  • Separate beds, bowls, toys, for each dog
  • Separate sleeping zones or quarters for each dog
  • Leads/leashes or harnesses for each dog
  • Appropriate play and exercise areas, fencing to keep dogs in and fencing to keep them apart if needed
  • Obedience lessons

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  1. Miriam Fields-Babineau, Mixed Breeds for Dummies, p. 71, (2007), ISBN 978-0-470-12087-3
  2. Miriam Fields-Babineau, Mixed Breeds for Dummies, p. 72, (2007), ISBN 978-0-470-12087-3

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