Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lots of Dogs, A Little Tutorial

It is true and well worth repeating. Living with lots of dogs is a fun way to live.

Of course, like most things that are worthwhile, some effort is required. Here are some handy tips for keeping the pack in order and under your orders.

1. Use a Call Name for the group.

Each individual dog has a name and he knows his name. But when the gang is all together does it make sense to call out, "Biff, Rex, Suzy, Roland, Buttercup!"? Not really.

In fact, without realizing it, you may be using a group name for them already- perhaps "come on doggies" or "you hoodlums". If you are, it's likely your dogs already know when you are addressing them as a group. Now you just have to put it to use for bossing them around en masse.

By the way, no, it does not confuse a dog to be called by more than one name. Are you confused when someone calls you "Dear"? Haven't we all talked about a dog when we don't want him to know we're talking about him? That's how dogs learn to spell walk! And that's sometimes how they learn alternative names. For example, my dog Lester is the only male dog in our house. When Lester was a puppy, my husband and I sometimes discussed Lester while not wanting him to know we were discussing him. We'd refer to "the boy". Not surprisingly, Lester eavesdropped and figured out we were gossiping about him. Years later, he still responds to both Lester and The Boy.

Back to the matter of a group name. You train the group to do something the same way you train one dog to do something. To begin, make this easy on yourself. Offer them something they like. Try, "wanna go for a ride?" But add the group name. "Doggies, wanna go for a ride?" They'll learn their group name in no time. A quick drive around the block and Lesson One is complete.

2. Wait your turn.

Let's say everybody is at the back door wanting to go outside. Make them wait. Wait is similar to stay. But wait requires the dog to stay till you say he can move. Usually the command to release him from wait is "OK" which means now he can move. (Stay means stay till you call the dog to come to you.) Wait is used when the reward is out there- in this instance it is the backyard. The dog must wait till you say he can have the reward- to go outside.

When there are more than two dogs involved, you may not want them to charge out all together stampede style when you release them from wait. So teach them to wait their turn. Tell the group to wait. "Doggies wait". Then release just one of them at a time. "Just Rex. OK." Now Rex and only Rex is released from wait. Rex goes outside. Everybody else is still in wait.

No, it isn't true that commands must be only one word or the dog gets confused. (Where the heck did this rumor come from that dogs are so very easily confused?!) Sometimes it is just expedient to use one word. "Come" comes to mind. When you need your dog to come right away perhaps out of danger- there ought not be dilly dallying with long windy chatter. In other less emergency cases there is no earthy reason to insist on one word commands.

Human beings speak in phrases and sentences. Dogs are perfectly capable of comprehending a string of words. Example. In most rooms, I don't mind company around the house but insist on privacy while in the bathroom. When a dog enters the bathroom while I'm in there, I say, "I don't need you in here." The dog turns around and leaves.

Sure, I could have taught my dogs "depart" or "leave". Instead they learned this more natural comment/command. My point is, you don't have to get all worked up about official sounding commands. Trainers love to sell us on the fallacy that special words must be applied to communicate with a dog when an ordinary word or words work just fine. If you keep to your natural language style you won't have to fumble to remember the official command. This will help you avoid the, let's see now, what do I say when I want the dog to move out of my way so I don't trip over him and tumble down the staircase? Hmmm, "porch?" no. "Rock?" no. Meanwhile, you've fallen down the stairs and have lost consciousness. All the while the dog would have moved if you'd simply said, "excuse me".

3. Thuggery will not be tolerated.

Pack hierarchy is doggy pop psychology poppycock. Here's the way it is. You are the Top Dog. The human beings in the house outrank all the dogs. Dogs are not wolves. You don't have to slavishly follow some mysterious wild line of power. Feed the alpha dog first? Nonsense. Feed the dogs in the order that is convenient for you. Domesticated dogs live with people and are ruled by people. That means you are the almighty ruler.

Now, in the matter of day to day living, you don't want one dog pushing around another. Say, Suzy has a toy and Biff takes it away from her. The perception that we've been sold is that Biff outranks Suzy. That's the way it goes Suzy, deal with it. This is only sort of true. Here's the main thing. Biff is being pointlessly rude. He's being a thug. De-thug him. You take the toy. You want rank? You outrank Biff and Suzy and every other dog. Teach your dogs that being pushy and rude is not acceptable.

IMPORTANT NOTE. Thuggery is rude ruffian behavior. This differs greatly from potentially dangerous aggression. This is a difference you most likely cannot handle without professional help. If one of your dogs is aggressive- that is, growls and bears his teeth and threatens to bite- take heed. You may have to use a muzzle on the aggressor and/or keep him apart from other dogs until the problem can be properly addressed. Consult an expert. Not just Uncle Carl who is good with dogs. Consult an expert, preferably an Animal Behaviorist specializing in aggressive behavior. Your Veterinarian should be able to refer you.

These are just a few strategies to help keep the pack from running amok. Remember, the domesticated dog is not a wolf. Dogs live with people. The dog is pampered and fed and bossed around by people. It's people rules. Not wolf rules. Enjoy your bevy of dogs. But never forget that you are in charge. You might say, People Rule!

Recommended reading:

Feeling Outnumbered? How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household
by Karen London, Ph.D and Patricia McConnell, Ph.D

The Dog's Mind by Bruce Fogle, D.V.M.

How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren


  1. Your blog actually reminded me of this woman who babysits several kids during the week, and usually brings them into the local library near my place. She corrals the lot of them in a rather similar way, and when she wants to speak to them all, she'll start off with the words, "Okay, troop..."

  2. Yes, strategies for handling dogs and children are similar in many ways!

  3. Indeed they do. It makes you wonder if it's simply because dogs, like most animals other than humans, reach adulthood in mere months. So they naturally would learn the rules of living faster.

    That explaination has always made more sense to me than the syrupy servitude sounding: "dogs just want to please us".

  4. Very good info, thanks for posting it. Sometimes I start to think the pack rules me, ;)

  5. Love this. I agree, agree and agree some more!