People have always asked me how I can care for so many dogs at once? I say it takes education, a desire to learn, a ton of patience, and a willingness to TRY. It is a skill that can be acquired whether you just start out with one and work your way up to 2 or 3 or 4 or 5. For me, it started with Oscar, the puppy found tied to an abandoned car, who changed my single never-at-home life many years ago. My mission was to get a house with a yard so I could have more dogs. That happened.
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Oscar was 9 when I finally did buy my first house and I went out and adopted 2 more; Bessie and Mac from Dickson Humane Society, Dickson, TN. We lived just outside Nashville TN near the Harpeth River with ¾ acres, a garage and no fence. Well… I went to work on getting a fence immediately because the responsibility of now having 3 “kids” was front and center so everything I did from then on was FOR my dogs. Living in the country, there were always stray dogs, and I ended up with a 4th dog Starr, then Jada. After a couple of years, I had a beautifully sturdy wooden fence built with pickets wide enough so the dogs could look between them.
By then I had 6 or 7 dogs. Why? I had started to volunteer with wild animal rescues and then the local dog and cat rescue organizations; and because I now had a 3/4 acre fenced-in yard. I ended up fostering as many as 19 dogs before they found their forever homes. Many of my comrades who care for homeless pets absolutely know where I’m coming from when I say it was almost impossible to say no to the dogs that needed homes…detaching is hard!
Think you can only handle ONE dog? Change your attitude! This is how you do it…
Teach every dog their name
Say it over and over in every room, in any situation noisy or quiet, turning to the east or west. Many dogs do not hear their names very often. What they might hear most often is “No”, “Don’t Do That” or “Stop” and can think this is their name. Say their name before feeding, when you come in from work, say hello and reward them when you see them look at you or prick their ears with a “Good Boy!” Invest in a good dog training book that teaches positive reinforcement. Or take a class at Petsmart. Petsmart has an excellent training program that covers training and psychology. They will teach you HOW dogs communicate and learn and how you can influence their education. I address some basics in this free K9 Kids Training Series. Download a free copy here:
Organize Feeding Time
- Every dog must have their own bowl; Ceramic, glass or stainless steel are best. Plastic….not so healthy.
- They must have their own designated spot where they will eat every single time. (another room, crate, another side of the kitchen, etc). Dogs like certainty and routine. They will return to their spot every single time.
- Make up their food in one container – plastic shoe boxes work really well, as they have tight-fitting lids and stack in the fridge where you add all the ingredients and mix it up. Then divide the mush with a measuring cup. The ones that require additional supplements or subtractions, make up separately.
- Buy a good grade of dog kibble food that’s at least a 30# bag, soak it with just enough hot water to cover it, let it sit for 20 mins or until completely soft. Then add leftover chicken or slice up some Freshpet, other meat, oils and fresh chopped veggies to the softened kibble. The soft kibble works for the seniors as well as the younger dogs. Adding water to the food allows the dogs to receive much more moisture to their meal, reducing the water bowl drinking and the pottying and if you have toothless pups they get what everyone else gets.
Condition them to discourage Food Aggression –
- Pop a bag of popcorn and toss a handful on the floor in front of all the dogs. Do it a second, third, etc. They will soon learn that more food is coming, so they don’t have to fight for it*. (Note: KNOW YOUR DOG’S PERSONALITY. This may not work for extreme food aggressive dogs. Be Careful. K9K is not responsible for injuries.)
- Separate any dogs displaying aggressive behaviors with barriers. Consult a professional for other info.
- Establish yourself as the Pack Leader or Alpha-Dog. Every pack has a leader, known as the alpha animal, who dominates and leads the other members of the pack. The alpha is the boss who makes decisions for the entire pack. This is YOU.
Introduce new dogs to each member of the household by Name
Introduce the newcomer to every single one of your dogs BY NAME. “Spencer, this is Carly, Spencer this is Daisy, Spencer this is Jack” and so on. I swear, first of all, this is good etiquette, each dog can hear their names and get a chance to sniff butts to confirm the visitor. Then show the newcomer where the pee place is in the back yard or where the dog door is located.
Get a Dog Door
Unless you want your full-time job to be “The Door Opener” or the “Janitor”, You must have a dog door so they can come and go potty as they need to. There are many dog doors that can be installed easily without needing to alter a wall and some that will fit handily in a sliding glass door. The prices of doors have come down considerably and security worries from intruders can be dashed. For better security doors try the Pop-Up Pet Door. Great for a renter or when you just need something temporarily. Must have a sliding glass door to use.
Give every dog their own bed
Dogs relish their own space and sometimes the neighbors’. Make ALL the beds comfortable. Based on their personalities, some will sleep in all of them and some will want their own.
Allow every dog in the household to sleep in the same place every night.
Most will find their place. It may be your bed. If you object, you can also show them where their bed is, pat it and encourage them to lie on it. I admit there are always one or 2 who trade beds all night long and daily and piss off the other when they’ve settled in the others’ bed. My Daisy barks and stares at me when someone is in her bed. She is one that MUST have HER spot. It is your prerogative where you want them to sleep. You are the pack leader, show them what you want.
Prepare a First Aid Kit For Pets and local vet on speed dial for emergencies
For necessary checkups, vaccinations and emergencies. Also, prepare a first aid kit for the pets and invest in a good What-To-do-in-an emergency-handbook. (yes a book). Get the K9K First Aid Kit Checklist FREE!
Use gates, barriers, and boundaries.
Manage disputes, should they arise. Baby gates with handles you can operate easily are great to have. Wire crates may be necessary for feeding some personalities. Should aggressive tensions arise, the calmer you stay the better off everyone is.
“Ignore the Bad and Praise the Good”
Ignoring bad behavior is very difficult to pull off. But you can do it with practice. Look at the ceiling or over their head until they stop what they’re doing. When good behavior appears, say “good boy/girl”. They WILL NOTICE. If you yell at them when the bad behavior is occurring, the bad behavior is getting reinforced with your attention and yelling. They are simple creatures and rewards win. STAY CALM and attend a dog training class FOR HUMANS. This knowledge will help you maintain peace because you’re not making things worse.
When leaving the house, make sure everyone is “contained”-
Make sure everyone is safe. Keeping them safe will protect your home. Gates, crates, dog doors, or barriers are very helpful to allow everyone to be on their best behavior and out of trouble.
Manage excessive barking
Let’s be honest, barking is how they communicate and sometimes it’s really, really annoying. A spray bottle with water works well as long as there’s a pattern to be learned. Dogs are creatures of habit and need to know the behavior they’re exhibiting is accepted. Put a word to the spray, such as: Quiet!, or Shh! so that when you say these words and not have the bottle in hand, make them think they’ll get sprayed. Bark collars that vibrate, not shock work if you keep the batteries new. I’m not a fan of these, but they do work.
Conclusion but not the end
Managing 2 or 3 is not that hard once you get the hang of things. Be OK with a little more chaos sometimes, barking, jumping, toy stuffing everywhere. I started out with 1 dog and came to manage over 17 once upon a time. Not at all easy, but doable when necessary. Stay under 5 if you can. The rewards every single day outweigh any trouble that ensues.
Open your heart and home to a playmate for your single dog. It’s like breaking in a pair of shoes, wear them around the house and make adjustments.