Living in a Multi-Dog Household

multi-dog households training tips Aug 27, 2017
Two labrador retrievers sitting next to each other and looking up at handler

“Are those all YOUR animals?!” I get asked this almost daily when people walk by my computer screen in the office and see my collage of animal pictures. It wasn’t until I couldn’t photograph all my animals at once that I realized I may have a slight obsession with animals.

When people hear that I have 3 rather large dogs and 5 (also rather large…) cats, they are understandably taken back a bit. So many animals in one household has the potential to turn into a madhouse, but when you learn all your animal’s different personalities and how to accommodate them in a productive manner, it all becomes relatively stress free.

The Dogs: Huey (75lb, 4-year-old Golden Retriever with a severe heart condition), Ace (80lb, 5-6ish year old Lab/Shepherd/Husky mix with Lyme Disease), and Hemi (87lb, 2-year-old Leonberger who is healthy) all coexist in my home with almost half a dozen cats. They are all amazing dogs, but they couldn’t be more different. Each of them has unique needs and restrictions, and training requirements that keep me challenged.

Huey suffers from a condition called Sub Valvular-Aortic Stenosis (SAS). Before he came home from the breeder when he was a puppy, his vet noticed a strong heart murmur for his age and he was recommended to a cardiologist for further care. Sadly, Huey was diagnosed with severe SAS when he was just 4 months old, so we had to make some changes to his lifestyle. Aside from his biannual echocardiograms (yes, my dog sees a cardiologist,) Huey was given very strict activity limitations and about a six-year life expectancy. It was around the time of his diagnosis that I sought out training for Huey. Being a Golden, he has two favorite things: tennis balls and people. I knew that if I couldn’t let my Gold dog play fetch, I wanted him to be a therapy dog. I believed that he would be comforting to people, not only because he’s an amazing pup, but because he was relatable. He’s proof that your own body can be against you and you can still be happy.

Since he cannot be exerted physically, I rely on mentally strenuous training sessions to keep his mind active and prevent him from being bored (which could lead to a destructive dog.) I strive to teach Huey new tricks and tasks that can be useful around the house to keep his mind active and his heart rate low. I believe keeping him occupied mentally helps keep him healthy, and makes him the happiest Golden in the world. So, while you will never see Huey at a group class, he is still being challenged daily and learning new things constantly.

Ace is a bit of a sad story as well. I adopted him on his “last day” at a shelter in Wytheville, VA after seeing him on Facebook. He was 20lbs underweight, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and looked like a sweet dog; so, I adopted him. I primarily adopted him so Huey would have a brother in case he began to get sicker. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I never intended to train Ace. I got him to be a companion for Huey, and since he had a good temperament as it was, I just cast him aside as a dog that was just going to chill.

Ace had very different plans. Battling with separation anxiety, he was put on Prozac and Xanax to cope, but I hated the dog it turned him into. Lethargic, boring, and kind of listless, I knew he wasn’t happy and it was a sad sight. The moment I decided to start training Ace I saw a change in him. When he learned how to properly walk on a leash we started going out more. He was taken off his meds a week later and has been a different dog ever since. Incredibly lazy (by choice) but also deceivingly smart, Ace learns things differently than Huey. Huey is all about structure and treats as a reward and Ace is the opposite. He will spit out that piece of kibble I just gave him as a reward in exchange for a hug. All the guy wants is a kind word and a smile. A harsh word makes him completely shut down, and when he’s released from a down/stay the first thing he does is run back to me for a scratch behind the ear. Ace taught me never to judge a shelter dog by their cover or sell them short. They may just be the best buddy you could ever ask for.

Last but DEFINITELY not least, my beautiful girl Hemi. Hemi is a Leonberger, which is a guard breed from Germany. I searched high and low for a Leo breeder after I saw one at a dog show I visited. I learned that Leonbergers were the largest breed that doesn’t drool and I was sold. I found a reputable breeder and met up with them at dog shows and at their house to learn about the breed. I followed them around for about a year before they decided to breed another litter and asked me to co-own their puppy pick with them. I was ecstatic when I got the call that Hemi would be (half) mine one day, and I have loved her ever since. Hemi is a very intelligent dog. She loves to learn but gets bored easily, so training sessions with her are always a challenge mentally for the both of us. We always try new things and keep the sessions much more fun and interesting than my sessions with the other two dogs. Currently, she competes in dog shows regularly and is working on getting a title behind her rather long AKC name.

The thing that surprises me most about having three drastically different dogs is that we are still learning how to work with each other all these years after each one has come home. Every day they teach me something new, and teach me how to train them more effectively. The personalities of dogs are varied in my little pack, but I couldn’t love them more. As different as the training sessions are between pups, the result is always the same; three tired pups ready for some serious cuddles and chill time, making for the best evenings in the world.

Whether you have two dogs or six, always remember to think of them as individuals. One training method may not work for all your pups, so keep your methods specific to each dog and don’t forget that your food hound may not be okay with the same rewards as your emotional pup. Always set your dogs up for success and train to accommodate their personalities. A little individuality in their training can go a long way!



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