It’s been strange coincidence that I have been asked the same question multiple times this past week – “How do I handle two dogs in the household?”. Managing a multi-dog household starts with picking the right kind of dog to fit into your family. To do this, we first need to understand the dynamic of such a home.
If the new dog is younger than the existing dog, then the older dog can comfortably slip into the role of a mentor. This is the most natural role for an older dog to slip into and hence this transition is the easiest on the older dog. Younger dogs readily accept the role of the mentee if the age gap between the dogs is sufficient. That would be around two to three years. If the younger dog is a teenager (12 – 24 months) or too close in age to the older dog, the younger dog may often question this role, leading to friction. Frictions are known to be more between dogs of the same gender and close in age.
Having picked the right dog for your home, then trust the dog to sort it out. They will take a few days to settle into a rhythm. Give them that space. Do not force one dog on the other. Provide both dogs personal spaces that they can escape to when feeling insecure. Over time, the mentor will help the young one along.
As the younger dog gets over his initial anxiety of re-homing, his naughty side will emerge. That’s a great sign. It is an indication that your new dog is finally feeling at home. But it also means that all members in the household will now have more to do, including your older dog. She will now start to define boundaries. It may sometimes lead to mild disciplining. It’s all part of the learning.
How then can we differentiate between a fight and a lesson being taught? The differences are subtle and perhaps hard for an untrained eye to tell. It is easier to defuse all tension, without interfering. If you act early, the most effective way to defuse the situation, well before it has turned into a fight, is to create space. We can create space by quickly moving away from the scene. Instead we often move in, interfering and ending up crowding them, rapidly escalating the situation.
Of course, once a fight has broken out, there is no sure-shot, safe way to break up the fight. Hence, it’s so critical to ensure that the dogs share a good dynamic and to sense tension early. Thorough knowledge of calming signals can help identify tension and stress in dogs. Observing dog-dog interaction will be your best friend in this regard.