8 Tips for Managing a Big Pack

Do you have multiple dogs in your home? Maybe you recently decided to try your hand at fostering, or you saved a stray when you already had more than one dog. Perhaps someone in your family passed away and you inherited their pets on top of your own. Whatever the case may be, owning a big pack can take a bit of strategic planning to keep everyone happy, entertained, and cared for.

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That isn’t to say it’s impossible. I know plenty of people with multiple dogs and they get along just fine. When Janice and Leroy had a litter of puppies, we managed to live with 13 dogs total for a while! If you’ve been considering adding more dogs to your home, here are a few tips to help you manage the adorable chaos.

Benefits of Having a Big Pack

Before I jump right into the tips, I wanted to mention a few of the benefits of having a big pack. Dogs are very social creatures, and many dog owners have found that adding a second dog to their household has resulted in positive behavioral differences in their first dog. Some of the benefits include:

  • Giving your dogs an outlet for pent up energy through play
  • Socializing your dogs so that they are friendlier around other animals
  • Easier time training younger dogs, who look to older dogs for examples of good behavior
  • Easier to leave dogs alone for longer periods of time because they have a companion
  • Less stressed dogs overall, which means better health and fewer destructive behaviors
  • More cuddly love and affection for you

Challenges of Having a Big Pack

That doesn’t mean that having multiple dogs is a walk in the park, however. There are some cons to having multiple dogs, such as:

  • More money required for veterinary bills, food, toys, and other care
  • More time required for exercise, training, and bonding with each dog
  • The chance that your dogs may not get along and fight
  • May have a harder time finding a home for multiple dogs if you rent

Overall, most dog lovers find that the benefits outweigh the challenges. So, if you’re considering this route, let’s talk about those tips!

(1) Control Feeding Time

The biggest issue that most multi-dog households have with day-to-day behavior is at feeding time. Dogs can get very territorial over their food, even dogs that have grown up together and share everything else. And even if your dogs aren’t food aggressive, there may be a good reason why you need to keep their food separate. One of your dogs may have special food or calorie needs, and even if your dogs eat the same food and the same serving sizes, if one dog steals some from another dog, they’ll be getting too many calories.

With all that being said, you need to control feeding time to ensure that everyone is getting what they need, when they need it, in the amount that they need. One thing you can do is separate your dogs in different rooms when they eat. Another thing you can try is to train your dogs to eat at separate times, though this can be difficult and cause more work for you. If you have a big dog and a little dog, you can keep their food separate by using an elevated dog bowl that the little dog can’t reach. (This one from Outward Hound also has a removable slow-feed insert for dogs that are prone to bloat.)

(2) Give Each Dog Their Own Space

Even dogs in packs need their own “territory” within the house. If you have previously only had one dog, they may struggle with another dog coming in and claiming a corner of the couch that used to be all theirs, for example. This is another reason why crate training is very useful, and beneficial for dogs. You can give each dog their own safe space that they can defend as their territory, and it solves the problem of sharing the main areas of the house.

Another thing to remember is that you are the ultimate owner of your home. Don’t allow a dog to claim human areas as their own and prevent the whole family from enjoying it together. It is your bed, your couch, not Fido’s. Be sure that you make the common areas a place where all your dogs are able to feel comfortable.

(3) Be Present at Playtime

It is very normal for dogs to play in a way that looks aggressive to us. Dogs use their teeth and paws to play with each other, grabbing each other by the neck, wrestling, biting, tugging, and generally roughhousing. That is how dogs play. However, it’s important that you are there to supervise to ensure that dog playtime isn’t getting out of hand. This is particularly important if you have dogs of drastically different sizes or ages. The older, larger dog may not know their own strength, or may not be aware that they need to be more gentle.

Over time, you’ll learn to read the energy much faster, so that you can intervene before playtime ever gets out of hand. At first, you may break up more than a few rowdy play times, however. One thing I will advise is to try to match your dogs’ energy levels if you can. For example, if you already have a very high energy dog, it may not be the best idea to introduce a dog that prefers peace and quiet – and vice versa. Dogs that want to play the same amount, who need similar amounts of exercise every day, will likely get along better in the long run.

(4) Give Dogs Personal Attention and Group Attention

Just like having multiple kids, dogs need one-on-one attention as well as attention as part of the group. This does mean that having a big pack means more work for you, and much more time committed to being with your dogs. But who wouldn’t want to spend more time with dogs? Each dog in your household needs to spend time with you in training, getting exercise, and in bonding. However, the whole group also needs to learn to respond to commands as a group.

One good way to get some one-on-one bonding time with each of your dogs is to create a good grooming routine. As you bathe, brush, clean their teeth, trim their nails, and check their ears, you are spending focused time with that dog. I recommend getting a brush that imitates petting to make the experience more like bonding for the dog as well. You’ll need to stay on top of grooming more anyway, because more dogs means more hair!

(5) Stay On Top of Their Health

If you have multiple dogs, it’s easy to start thinking of them in terms of a group. The group has been getting along lately, the group has been cleaning their bowls lately, the group has gotten all their walks in lately…so we’re all good! Right? But it’s important to pay attention to the behavior and health of each dog individually. Just because the pack as a whole is doing well, doesn’t mean that each dog isn’t potentially having some kind of issue.

One big reason for doing this is that sick or injured dogs tend to lash out, and that can cause fighting in the pack. To avoid that, make sure you have regular vet check ups for all your dogs, and keep an eye on each dog’s eating, bathroom breaks, and sleeping patterns. Watch for any changes that may suggest that a dog is starting to feel under the weather, and don’t delay in getting them treatment.

Another big reason for this? Certain things can spread. If one dog gets fleas, for example, you could have an uncontrollable infestation on your hands. Keep an eye on each dog and make sure they are getting regular flea treatments to prevent this issue.

(6) Be a Calm, Collected Leader

As the leader of your big dog pack, you need to be very calm and collected at all times. Dogs will follow the lead of whoever is in charge, and if you are very excitable or anxious, you’ll have a bunch of excitable, anxious dogs on your hands. That could lead to destruction, or at least some stressful situations till you get everyone calmed down. It’s better to start with a calm group to diffuse potential conflicts and keep everyone happy.

Part of being a calm and collected leader is being prepared for anything that may happen. For example, even if your dogs grew up together, there may be a day when you need to separate them. Maybe you want to prevent flea transfer, or maybe they are having a disagreement that’s getting out of hand – whatever the case may be, you should be prepared with dog gates that you can use to put them in separate parts of the house, or other tools to keep them safe. Always have slip leashes handy that you can use to immediately move a dog if necessary.

Remember that resources in your home – food, toys, attention, and space – will be a competition for packs. You need to control that competition by ensuring that everyone has enough of what they need, and by rewarding good sharing behaviors.

(7) More Stimulation – No, More

Having a single dog means you need to offer both physical and mental stimulation. Dogs need exercise to get out energy, but they also need mental activities to keep them occupied. A bored dog is a destructive dog, and a dog that isn’t getting enough energy can quickly develop other health issues. With a pack of dogs, however, you also have the additional stress of managing relationship tensions between the dogs. So, while they are getting more playtime, which may mean you can get away with a little bit less concentrated playtime on your end, it probably means that you need to offer more mental stimulation to keep them occupied.

Making sure that they have plenty of toys that keep them busy is a good way to stop fights before they happen. It’s also a fun way to encourage play together. You can build in treats by using toys that include hidden treats (like this one, which also cleans your dog’s teeth as they get the treats out), or you can simply focus on teaching your dogs more tricks or giving them jobs to do – anything that keeps their minds occupied so they have less time to spend getting on each other’s nerves, potentially.

(8) Always Be Realistic About Your Dogs’ Quality of Life

The last tip I have for you may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s important for your dogs. If your dogs just do not have a good life because they can’t get along, or because one dog in your pack is causing problems among the rest, you may need to consider finding a new home for one or more of them. It may be hard to choose who stays and who goes, but ultimately you’ll know what will be best for your dogs. For example, maybe it’s easier to find a new home for a laid-back dog, while you keep your more high-energy dog; or maybe you keep the dog that’s been with you longest; or maybe you find a new home for a dog with special needs that you can’t provide for.

Whatever you choose, just know that this option should not be something you avoid if you need to do it. Your dogs deserve to have a comfortable home just as much as you do, and that goes for all of them, even the troublemakers. They are clearly not having a great life either.

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The Final Word

If reading these tips made you more excited than ever about having a big puppy pile to come home to everyday, then congrats – you are likely a good owner for multiple dogs. Enjoy all their silly antics and remember to stay calm!