We had four or five male dogs for many years, overlapping generations without ever having problems. Their ages were spread out, and we never had more than one male intact. The last go-around changed everything when the youngest male reached about a year old and we had two intact males in the house. Play turned rough one day and the two were at it in a full blown dog fight before we realized what was happening. We neutered the younger one and developed several strategies for keeping life calm. Most of the time they are fine, but occasionally they still get edgy with each other.
Bringing a puppy into the house when you already have an older dog requires careful introduction and supervision until Dog #1 clearly accepts the puppy and the puppy learns its place in the household routines. Down the road, however, when the puppy becomes Dog #2, other measures may be needed to be sure life in the household stays smooth.
Fortunately, there are all kinds of “pack management” tactics that keep everyone – dogs and people – happy. The key to most of them is simply knowing our dogs, being able to read their signals, and being able to identify triggers for confrontation. A lot of our tactics are simple obedience issues, most of which reinforce the fact that we – the people – are dominant. Here are a few employed in our house:
- When it comes to meal time or play time, we do not let the excitement level escalate. If they start to bark and spin and jump in each others’ faces, we issue a “whoa” then “sit” before they are let out or given their bowls. To avoid the out-of-control race downstairs every morning, the most excitable one must wait at the top of the stairs until released after the other three have been let outside. Humans always pass through the door first if we’re all going out together.
- If the two start posturing or showing any signs that could develop into aggression, a sharp “cut it” or “leave it” command interrupts the behavior. Another option is to divert the behavior into something else. For example, if the two have been separated for a while, as when one goes on a hunting trip and the other stays home, the older one always wants to re-establish his dominance and gives a low growl when the younger one (who sometimes seems dumber than a box of rocks) jams right into his face to say hello. Simple solution – I put a bumper in the younger one’s mouth before they greet each other which turns his thoughts to play and he bounds away. Another diversion is to call one or both into a “heel” and move them out of that space. Or go directly to the treat jar which distracts the whole pack.
- Our dogs are allowed the run of the house when no one is home, but those two are separated by rooms. The overzealous eater dines in the bathroom or pantry. No bowls are left on the floor other than the communal water bowl. And only two dogs are allowed to play with a toy or generally wrestle at a time – no threesomes.
This pack management requires more attention than with our dogs in the past, but so much of our daily life is filled with routines that knowing which part of the routines need extra attention has become habit. Most of all, we make sure each dogs gets his equal share of love, bed space, hunting time and songs. Dogs never complain when you’re off key; they appreciate the melody either way.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.