15 Tips for Managing a Multi-Dog Household

Managing a multidog household isn't always easy. When you have three or four dogs sharing the same roof, there's a risk of conflict, but it doesn't have to be this way. Here are several strategies to implement to lower the chances of squabbles.

15 Tips for Managing a Multi-Dog Household
Successfully managing a multi-dog household takes several steps.

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A Home Full of Dogs

If you already own a multi-dog household or are planning on adding an extra dog or two to your current "pack," congratulations! It takes quite a unique individual and adventurous spirit to exceed the limit of owning just two to three dogs.

Let's face it: owning dogs can get addicting. Just like potato chips, you may find it difficult to stop at just one. However, it's important to realize that, the more dogs you own, the more challenges you will face.

On top of incurring more expenses and needing more space, you'll also have to considerably up your investment in time and effort as every dog needs your individual attention.

As the saying does, the good news is that "When there is a will, there is a way." Achieving this feat is not only doable but can be even rewarding in the long run, bringing more happiness and fulfillment to your life.

When it comes to multi-dog households, something that you will need to pay extra attention to is ensuring the emotional well-being of each individual dog. The goal is to create a harmonious environment where there is no conflict or hard feelings among the dogs.

This can be achieved by implementing various strategies so as to prevent feelings of jealousy or neglect. The emotional well-being of each individual dog is a top priority when owning multiple.

By providing a safe and nurturing environment and catering to the unique needs of each dog, it is possible to create a happy and harmonious "pack."

Group sits happen after each dog is trained to sit individually.

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15 Tips for Managing a Multi-Dog Household

These tips on managing a multi-dog household can help pave the path for more harmonious relationships among your canine crew!

1. Don't Fall Into the Alpha Trap

When owning multiple dogs, you may feel compelled to show your dogs that you are the ultimate "alpha dog" and that all your dogs should submit.

Forget everything you have ever heard about alpha and the whole "dominance concept." This concept sets up the stage for an adversarial relationship between dog and owners and triggers the implementation of outdated methods such as alpha rolls, scruff shakes and muzzle grabs.

A study has shown that these methods have been associated with increasing a dog's aggression rather than decreasing it.

The whole dominance myth has been debunked. Nowadays, courtesy of research, we know better. Dogs are simply looking for a benevolent owner who can guide them and who they can trust.

However, doesn't mean out-of-control permissiveness. It just means that rather than being an oppressive boss, you'll have to act more like a loving parent who dogs look up to for guidance and direction.

2. Provide Regular Exercise

It goes without saying that regular exercise keeps dogs happy and healthy.

Lack of sufficient exercise can lead to boredom and all its side effects, such as barking, destructive behavior and even fighting.

Daily walks, hikes, games and doggy sports can help keep your canine crew happy and healthy.

3. Train Your Dogs

Training your canine crew is important if you want to maintain some order. Without training, you'll end up with out-of-control dogs running amok and causing trouble.

Valuable cues to train are sit, down, stay, come, leave it, drop it, off (for when they climb on furniture) and "go to your mat."

Your training will start first at an individual level. Teach every dog one by one in a quiet area of your room. Then, start gradually adding in distractions.

Once each dog performs the behaviors at a fluent level, you can then add another dog in the mix, and then another and then another, until you can have all your dogs responding to your cues as a group.

4. Teach Good Impulse Control

Impulse control training teaches your dogs to control their impulses and develop better frustration tolerance. It needs to start with easy exercises such as training your dog to sit before being let out of a door or before eating.

These exercises will allow you to establish some law and order among your canine crew (and keep your sanity!) in the face of distractions. Here are ten impulse control exercises for dogs.

5. Make Rules About Being on Furniture

When owning multiple dogs, you need to implement some rules in regard to sleeping on furniture. Sure, you can have your dogs share the sofa or bed with you, but there are cases where you should revoke these privileges.

One is the case of dogs predisposed to bark, growl or snap when sleeping on raised surfaces such as chairs, couches and beds. Dogs protective of these sleeping areas should not be allowed to get on the furniture and rehearse these problematic behaviors.

Another scenario where you want to revoke chair/couch/bed privileges is in the case of dogs who tend to guard their favorite people from other dogs or other people who happen to approach.

Here is a general guide on ways to keep dogs off of furniture.

6. Keep Order in the Kitchen

The kitchen is a place where most dogs like to gather. That's where you prepare tasty meals, and dogs are drawn to all the great smells.

This is also the place where fights may occur due to too many dogs gathering near resources such as the countertops, trash cans and tables.

To avoid fights, order is needed. Dogs should act polite here. No jumping on the counters, nosing around or getting in the way.

To maintain order, you will have to use your cues such as leave it, off, sit, or "go to your mat." If some dogs are still in need of training, manage the situation by using baby gates or keeping them on indoor tethers (always under supervision).

7. Instill Good Mealtime Etiquette

Feeding time also needs some order and supervision. You cannot allow dogs posturing, growling or attempting to steal each others' food. This is a recipe for disaster.

Dogs need to feel calm and safe when eating, and you are there to ensure nobody crosses individual space bubbles and boundaries.

Have your dogs sitting down or lying down in a stay, waiting patiently for their meals. You can then approach each dog with their bowl and release them to eat. This needs to be trained individually at first.

If you have barkers, here is a guide to stop barking during mealtime. Of course, this needs to be trained individually at first.

When feeding, make sure all dogs have enough distance from one another so they don't feel threatened. If any dog is aggressive, he or she should be crated during mealtime.

If a dog finishes fast, he should be told to "leave it"—if he happens to eye other dogs' food—and called to you so that he doesn't bother the other dogs still eating. Praise and reward his compliance.

Using a slow bowl can help slow him down. I use this type of bowl for dogs who eat too fast, which can predispose them to excess gassiness and even a life-threatening condition known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV).

8. Teach Manners at Doorways

Doorways are a "hot spot" for dogs and can become a source of conflict as multiple dogs gather there all at once to rush to greet owners and guests. Dogs may also rehearse overly excited behaviors here, which is not good.

The use of a baby gate can help dogs from getting into direct contact with visitors and prevents rehearsing overly excited displays such as jumping.

Once visitors are settled on the couch, this can be a good time to make the dogs go greet, possibly starting with one dog at a time and then adding more, but best not to have more than a couple at a time. Having the dogs on leash may help if your dogs tend to be overly enthusiastic.

If some dogs are prone to excitement/submissive urination or are particularly fearful, they may do better in meeting people on their own terms outside in a large yard. The treat retreat game by Susanne Clothier may also come in handy.

If dogs are jumpy, you can use a baby gate to your advantage by teaching your dogs that they get attention from visitors only when all four legs are on the floor. With the baby gate, you know your guests won't get jumped on, and their suits won't get stained from dirty paws.

It may be best to keep any problem barkers in a separate room for occasional delivery people. Caution is needed, though, as some dogs may get too aroused by people coming over, and a fight may result. Therefore, as a precaution, it's good to keep dogs prone to this separate.

Of course, when it comes to dogs who are suspicious of strangers or who you simply don't trust, keep them away from visitors until you can have a professional help you out.

If you have the time and determination to train, you can teach your dogs that the doorbell is a cue to have them all go lie on their mats. Of course, this will take time and lots of practice to train, but it is doable if you work on this one dog at a time and with volunteers willing to act as guests to help you practice.

9. Careful When Doling Out Attention

When coming back inside after being out for a while or after sitting on the couch, you may have several dogs rushing up to you in hopes of their slice of attention. Note that over-excitement and competitiveness may lead to fights.

Therefore, it's important to take steps to prevent this. You can train your dogs to go to their mats when you enter the door and to be called for their turns when being petted.

Make sure to ignore any nudging or pushy behaviors to get your attention. Attention is given on your own terms. Don't fall into the trap of absent-minded petting when you are on the phone or distracted by something on the TV.

10. Dedicate Time for One-on-One Walks

When walking several dogs together, there are high chances for them to feed off each other's emotions. All it takes is for one dog to become reactive towards something and bark, and then you risk all dogs lunging and barking.

Because of this, it is highly recommended you train each dog on polite leash manners individually. If there are reactivity issues, you will have to address that. Here is a guide with tips for walking reactive dogs.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I know of several dog owners who have dogs that walk nicely on the leash without undergoing any major training, but of course, not everybody is so lucky.

Once one dog is walking well on leash, then you can add another dog you have trained as well. Here is a general guide on how to walk two dogs on leash. If you have family members helping, you can expedite the process.

11. Create a Bedtime Routine

Have dog beds spread out with space in between so that each dog can retire to their own spot without having other dogs too close for their comfort.

If you head to the bedroom to read or watch TV, give your dogs something to chew on to wind down before lights are out.

If there are dogs prone to food guarding, keep them crated with their chew so as to prevent any potential disagreements.

If you have dogs who wake up startled or act defensive upon being touched when relaxing or accidentally awakened, they should be sleeping at a distance from other dogs or crated for safety.

12. Create a Calm Environment

When owning multiple dogs, it's important to create a calm and relaxing environment.

There are several calming aids that can help new dogs adjust, such as DAP diffusers, collars and sprays.

When fostering puppies and adult dogs for the shelter or having dogs over for boarding/training, I always have an Adaptil pheromone diffuser plugged in to help these newcomers adapt.

Other calming aids include Bach flowers and several calming supplements that are available over the counter in the form of treats. Check with your veterinarian for specific recommendations.

13. Become a Pro at Reading Body Language

As you watch your dogs interact, it's helpful to get as familiar as you can with their silent conversations. The more you are in tune with your dogs' body language, the faster you will recognize any early signs of trouble.

Learn to recognize whale eyes, hard stares, calming signals and displacement behaviors.

14. Have Plans in Case of Fights

A dog fight may occur at one time or another, and you may need to intervene, but you need to be very careful: the wrong approach can cause more injuries, or you may even become the next target.

Redirected bites are not uncommon when an owner inadvertently happens to get in between two fighting dogs. With teeth clashing everywhere and all the adrenaline going on, your dogs may accidentally happen to bite you.

It's important to have some plans in place should a fight occur while making safety the top priority. Here are some general guidelines to break up a dog fight.

15. Don't Hesitate to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, despite all your hard work, some dogs may not get along as hoped. This is not unusual. It is quite common for dogs in the same household to fight. After all, even humans struggle to get along with roommates or their spouses!

Dogs often fight over resources such as food, toys and owner's attention and disputes often happen around kitchens, doors and tight passageways. Oftentimes, the fighting will occur in the owner's presence.

When it comes to dogs sharing the household and fighting, there are several risks that make issues more complicated to treat and, therefore, have a poorer prognosis. Here are several risk factors according to research:

  • Having dogs of the same sex sharing the home, particularly female dogs
  • The instigator dog being younger than the dog being attacked
  • The instigator dog is the newest addition
  • The instigator dog being heavier than the dog being attacked
  • The instigator has a history of living in multiple households

In such cases, you want to seek quick help from a professional, especially if the fights become more and more frequent and there are risks for injuries.

Your best bet is working with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, but if you can't find one near you or you cannot afford one, you can work with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a dog trainer with experience working with canine aggression.

Make sure they are committed to using force-free training and behavior modification techniques.

Training a group of dogs to be polite when given treats.

alexadry all rights reserved


  1. Herron ME, Shofer FS, Reisner IR. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2009; 117:47-54.
  2. Feltes ESM, Stull JW, Herron ME, Haug LI. Characteristics of intrahousehold interdog aggression and dog and pair factors associated with a poor outcome. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2020;256(3):349-361.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli

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