The pros and cons of a multiple dog household

By Pete Wedderburn - ANimal Doctor

Published 12/11/2016 | 00:00

Alfie suffered bite wounds to his head after Molliy attacked him
Alfie suffered bite wounds to his head after Molliy attacked him

Dogs are social creatures. Part of the general daily care of pet dogs involves ensuring that their social needs are met. Sometimes this is done by simply giving a single dog plenty of one-to-one attention with humans in the home, as well as meeting other dogs on walks. In other cases, two or more dogs are kept in the same home, socialising with one another all the time.

I've often debated which is best: to keep one dog or more than one, in the same house?

When a dog is kept as a singleton, it means that the human family in the household become the most important part of the dog's social life. Such animals tend to be more human focussed, and sometimes this can result in a more intense bond between the dog and his owners. This can be positive, but there can be negative aspects: such animals are more prone to separation anxiety, getting upset if they're ever left on their own.

When dogs are kept in pairs or small groups, they often have busy, intricate social lives with one another, meaning that there's sometimes less of a human-animal focus in the household. This is generally not a major issue: the dogs still see humans as part of their wider social group. Perhaps a analogy might be to think about a single child family household compared with a family with several children: the psychology of such situations has distinct differences. A similar effect is seen in single dog versus multiple dog households. It's different, but that doesn't mean that it's better or worse.

In general, multiple dog households mean that the dogs have busier social lives with their own species, and if the humans all go out, they aren't left on their own, so separation anxiety isn't such a big issue. I suspect that , on average, dogs enjoy life more to have other dogs around for most of their lives, but this rule doesn't apply to every case.

One challenge of multiple dog households is the risk of social interactions turning negative. While dogs generally enjoy spending time together, playing and resting with one another, there are occasions where conflict can occur. And in the dog world, conflict can mean serious fighting, which can result in life threatening injuries.

The dog in the photo, Alfie, is a recent victim of conflict between dogs, and there are lessons to be learned from his story. He's just two months old: he's an adorable cross between a Sharpei and a lurcher. He's moved into a house with two older dogs, and one of them, a twelve year old German Shepherd called Molly, was finding it difficult to tolerate the constant pestering of a puppy. Alfie, like any pup, is full of energy, and he kept jumping up at Molly, nipping at her feet, jostling her and generally being irritating. Molly had growled at him a few times to warn him to leave her alone, but as a young pup, he still didn't understand the full repertoire of dog communications. As a result, he ignored Molly's growls, and he kept niggling her. Molly's owner was watching the situation, keeping an eye on them, but she had to leave the room for a few moments. Alfie must have chosen this time to launch another playful leap on Molly, and this time, she'd had enough. She snapped at Alfie, clamping her large jaws around his head.

Alfie howled in pain, and his owner came rushing back in to find out what was going on. Alfie was lying on the ground, with bite marks on his head, still howling in pain. Molly, a good-natured dog, had retreated to the far side of the room, and she looked sheepish, as if she knew she had done something wrong. She hadn't meant to badly hurt the pup: if she had chosen to, she could have killed him. She just wanted to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she wanted him to leave her alone.

Alfie had to be rushed to the vet to have his injuries assessed: luckily, he hadn't suffered a fractured skull or other serious internal injuries. He responded well to pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication, returning to his usual boisterous self over a couple of days.

Molly's attack did teach Alfie a lesson: he's now much more respectful of her, leaving her in peace. His owner is keeping a close eye on the situation too, and by chance, she's moving to a new home soon, so Molly and Alfie won't need to share a home for much longer.

In most cases, dogs prefer to live in peace with one another, and after a few scuffles, they settle into a routine where they don't bother each other. Rarely, repeat fights keep happening, and I have known a few instances where one dog has had to be rehomed to prevent recurrent serious injuries.

There are some simple rules that can help avoid conflict in a multiple dog household. Situations that predispose to fighting can be avoided if dogs are known to fight each other. They should be fed in different rooms, as food. is often a flash point When there is general excitement in the house (such as visitors arriving at the door), again, the dogs should be put into different rooms. And all dogs should be given plenty of exercise, so that they don't have pent up energy that will make them more likely to get into trouble.

With care and planning, multiple dog households can be peaceful dog havens.

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