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June 01, 2007

1 + 1 = Pack

By: Emily Refermat

If one dog is good, two must be better. Many people think so, since now poochie has someone else to play with sort of like giving an only child a sibling. But unlike humans there is a tricky, instinctual behavior dogs engage in the hierarchy.

Anyone with two or more dogs of the same gender has undoubtedly seen or experienced the squabbling and possibly fighting dogs do when organizing themselves into alpha, beta, etc. down the pecking order. And what's worse, this order can change as one dog ages or becomes ill. Younger/healthier dogs move up the order, which can take place as a peaceful coup or a hair-raising rebellion. Humans can make it worse when they give special attention, privileges or treats to the submissive canine because they "feel bad" for the beta dog. Every behaviorist, trainer, veterinarian and educated dog owner agrees do not try to alter the established pecking order. (It might be the only thing all these people agree on except obedience training, but that's a different topic.) If you have a pack of dogs (more than one) you have to accept how they manage the canine portion of their pack.

Now for the good news, most amiable dogs establish an order early on, and baring a life-changing event, the hierarchy is serene. There will be an occasional snap or growl, but hey, did you get along with that brother or sister every minute you were together? The plus side to canine rivalry is its quick; no grudges, and they will never borrow something without giving it back.

According to information from author and trainer Kathy Diamond Davis, the most amiable pair of dogs is one male and one female since each can be the alpha in their own gender. A behaviorist helping out some close friends of mine (a German Shephard male and chocolate Labrador female) said a pair like that becomes a couple, its like they're married. Same gender dogs can co-exist happily too, but as an owner you should expect some additional challenges along the way.

It's also recommended to spay or neuter all canines in the household since the hormones from reproductive systems can affect aggression and other behavioral traits (where have I heard that before?).

Here are a number of other tips for a smooth transition from dog to dogs:
Choose the same size or similar size dog. They will both need roughly the same amount of exercise and can play easily with each other. The owner won't have to worry that the larger dog is playing to rough with the toy-sized variety. Also, if there's a disagreement about who is dominant, the owner can have more confidence the two will settle the matter without serious injury. Unmatched in size, the owner will want to watch the argument more closely and step in. Advice on stepping into a dogfight: keep hands out. Try thrusting a large piece of furniture between them says one rescue organization site. I've also heard hosing them down sometimes works, if you're outside of course.

Introduce any new dog to the resident dog outside, on neutral ground. Parks are great for this, but if you're at home, have the new dog on a leash outside and bring the resident dog out to meet him (also on a leash). Calm, carefree body language from you will help facilitate a happy meeting between the canines too.

Because some dog lovers open their hearts to cats as well (madness, I tell you) here's a tip from Pooch Problems about cat-dog introductions. Cats will only get to know a dog on their own terms; so no matter who was there first, designate a room for the cat. Put in toys, commode, food and water, as well as a bed. Barricade the room with a safety gate. This will allow the cat to come and go (over the gate) but also give the cat a dog-free zone. A couple times a day attach a leash to the dog and other end to a chair, so the cat can roam freely. Introductions are complete when the cat will sniff the dog and the dog no longer lunges for the cat.

Other things to consider with multiple pets:
Have separate feeding stations. Food is a big issue in dominance problems. Bones, by extension should be handled with care. Quick edible treats are fine, but the really tasty chew toys can be trouble. The owner should always be there to supervise with gnawing type bones or toys, or just avoid them all together so there will be no fights over them when the dominant dog tries to steal the one that's not his.

Sometimes a loud, stern "Knock it off" from the owner will stop an early and weak challenge. But if the dogs just can't get along or an owner is unsure of how to proceed, there are canine behavior professionals that can help.

Another idea for the multiple dog owner is to take each canine on its own short 15-minute walk. This allows some individual obedience training (a much easier task than trying to get a drooling duo of fur to obey sit-stay). The walks also give even the most submissive dog some special one-on-one attention, without disrupting the pecking order.

And finally don't forget to check the local ordinances of where you live. Most towns only allow two dogs in the city limits.

Between the benefits of socialization, companionship and the increase in dog-to-dog exercise, adding to the canine side of the family is beneficial. It may be double the cost, clean up and vet bills (all important things to consider), but doggie duets mean twice the love and laughs of having that first canine companion.

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