We have three dogs – Jack (6 year-old Jack Russell x foxie), Benson (4 year-old maltese x shih-tzu) and Dom (1 year-old mini poodle). The older two have always got along reasonably well with a few scraps here and there, but nothing major. Dom belonged to our son who recently took a 3-year contract in the UK with work – so we kind of inherited him. He has been here for around about 3 months and although they all seemed to get along fine to start, things have been going progressively down hill of late. I tried to stop things escalating right from the start by telling them ‘no’ or shooing them away from each other, but the incidence of fighting has increased between all of them to the point that I just don’t know what to do anymore.
You sound like you have your hands full there!
Dogs develop relationships with each other in much the same way as we do. They are social animals that live in a family unit and as such, need a stable pack structure to feel comfortable. They manage to achieve this through ritualised behaviours designed to communicate their wishes to each other in a peaceful but clear way. That means that if one dog wants the others to know that he is in charge at any one time, he will let them know through a look or a body gesture that, to them, is clearly defined but to the untrained human eye may go unnoticed. The other dog may appear accepting and so may roll over or move away.
Because their subtle but complex method of communicating is so different to ours, it is very easy for us to misinterpret what it is that they are trying to tell each other or even to decipher which dog is in charge at any one time. What makes things harder is that the dog that is dominant is not necessarily the older or bigger dog. It could just as likely be the smallest or youngest.
Because of their pack nature, multiple dogs in a household will automatically generate a pack culture and encourage pack behaviour between them, which if uncontrolled will escalate into them acting and behaving in a way which they feel is appropriate, rather than in a way which YOU feel is appropriate.
Their interaction with each other will be entirely governed by them, which can lead to leadership challenges, disagreements and fights.
Managing a multi dog household successfully starts with individual management of each dog, which comes about by you developing and maintaining an individual relationship with each dog. Any attempt to manage them or curb inappropriate behaviours as a group can be extremely difficult and in most cases, ineffective.
It is necessary for you to take back control of the ‘pack’ so that a mutually happy and agreeable life for all can be re-established.
Very simple, things like one on one time with each of them, eg walking them individually on a daily basis (even a quick walk around the block for each), will greatly assist in developing a sound foundation from which to start. Understanding the current relationship between each of your dogs will also help in clearly defining their roles within the family unit. Make sure that you govern decisions and that they are not making any of the major ones. Watch that you are not encouraging them to be competitive with each other over a resource – be it food, a toy or even your affection. Educating each of them in the basics like sit, drop, stay and come, will go a long way in helping manage their impulses. Consistent rules need to be established, implemented and maintained. Change starts and finishes with you.
They will determine the relationship that they have with each other, but you are the one that must determine how they act and behave as a group.