Pack Mentality – Preventing Turmoil Within Groups of Dogs
By: Brittney Frazier
Within the last few months, my home has been strained with more traffic than usual. Even as a dog trainer who has opened her home to many rescue dogs in need of home exposure, the amount of foster dogs cycling through my home reiterated the importance of providing confident structure and leadership when integrating dogs into an environment. Although I have grown up in a family that embraces each other’s pets and often blends them together during family gatherings, the experiences I’ve had in rehabilitating dogs in my home alongside my own dogs have pointed out some essentials in the realm of multi-dog homes and playgroups in our facility.
The one thing dogs have taught me is that you will never be able to communicate anything to them without a good sound energy and belief in yourself about what you’re communicating. Leading an entire “pack” of dogs, even if it’s only two of them, requires an extra amount of calm energy that only comes with practiced patience. Make sure to be aware of how you feel around a group of dogs because that emotion with have a trickle down effect that could work either for or against you in your leadership. A walk, for example, can easily get out of hand with multiple dogs at the end of your leashes. Staying in tune with what you’re communicating, be that frustration, discomfort, or lack of confidence, is especially important in implementing any kind of training.
When issues, such as dog fights, arise in a home, playgroup, or other multi-dog situation, they are oftentimes preventable in ways that are not always obvious during the time of the incident. Whether it’s an unstable leader, poor mix of dog personalities, or addition of a major resource too soon, there are certain steps that can be taken to mitigate the variables that may be causing major unseen issues. Here at Found Chicago, our goal in training is to inform dog owners of where they can form a more positive relationship with their dogs, which they can then use to assist their dog in forming that same kind of relationship with others of their species to become a well-rounded family member.
That being said, when you feel ready to confront situations involving a group of dogs, your own or otherwise, that may have been a bit out of control in the past, keep the following in mind as you integrate multiple dogs into whatever setting you are aiming to stabilize:
- Train the routines in your life: Whether it be feeding time or getting multiple dogs leashed up for a walk, make sure you know what you want each dog to do during times of high excitement. To create the least amount of stress to the dogs as possible, forming an expectation you want to see is an easy way to calm down a group of dogs fighting for the same resource. Before feeding, ensure all dogs are in an equal state of calm and giving the feeding area enough space to resolve the issue of resource guarding. Becoming the director of whatever scenario you encounter is key in preventing a fight. Decide how you want the dogs to act and keep that expectation consistent on a daily basis.
- Fair is not always equal: Similar to siblings in a close-knit family, playing favoritism will cause many issues between dogs, can cause dogs to react negatively in response. That being said, sometimes treating all dogs equally in a situation is not always the right decision either. Because each dog possesses a unique personality and temperament, their needs and expectations in a group situation should reflect that. For example, a toy-possessive dog cannot be involved in a multi-dog game of fetch or a grumpy older dog might need to be crated while the younger dogs roughhouse. These are things to take into consideration before allowing dogs to socialize. Get to know your pack members before pushing the limits and you will gain credibility in their minds as a stable leader who can make decisions that are best for the group, being that the energy in the room remains calm.
- Use universal communication: Both verbal and non-verbal communication is extremely pertinent to every dog in regards to their responses to direction. Keep commands simple and consistent so that every dog and human in the environment knows what to expect. Using the same words, but also body language is extremely important in order to build a reliable reaction to your communication with them as a whole. Teach a word like “enough” or “settle” as a calming cue. Teach every dog in the room what you expect when you say it and make sure that all humans involved are on the same page and able to recreate the same expectation.
- Mean what you say: Try not to allow bad behaviors go unchecked or get out of hand. This is where the majority of issues arise and can quickly spiral within a group. When one dog ignores a command or implication of direction, allowing it to go without enforcing your expectation will teach the other dogs that you are not willing to make sure your rules are met. Rough play or dominating behaviors can quickly lead to dogs working out their differences in whatever way comes natural to the individual dog, which is not always positive. Make sure every dog in the room knows you have a tool for every situation, even if that means asking for a simple “sit” and following through on it.
- Supplemental energy outlets: Although dog socialization and play is a great use of energy and can sometimes be extremely beneficial to a dog’s needs, be aware of how each dog is entering the environment. Never expect a high-energy dog to temper their intensity on their own accord. If a dog is too hyped up to play appropriately or take social cues rationally, make sure they are able to create the correct association with other dogs by finding a more vigorous energy outlet, such as running or fetch, to practice before socializing. This will put the dog on a much more even playing field and allow for a greater probability of calm in the group with all dog balanced appropriately.
Keeping in mind that a group of dogs will always need a stable and confident leader to help set the tone for what is expected in any particular setting. Creating a sound relationship with each individual dog is the easiest way to create a more harmonious dog pack. Keeping things simple and decreasing the amount of excitement you add to situations is the easiest way to positively reinforce multiple dog interactions. Limit variables and remember where to interrupt behaviors to set yourself and your pack up for success.
Found Chicago, NFP is a 501(c)3 no-kill, all-breed rescue that serves to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the most medically and behaviorally challenged dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Found Chicago Boarding & Training Center is a subsidiary of Found Chicago, NFP that provides services to the public to give dog owners the knowledge they need to better handle their dogs and improve the quality of the dog-human relationship.
4108 N. Rockwell
Chicago, IL 60618