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OWING MULTIPLE DOGS IN A PACK

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THIS ARTICLE DEALS WITH HAVING A PACK OR A MULTIPLE DOG FAMILY. OWNING MULTIPLE DOGS (NOT NECESSARILY ALL German Shepherds)
By Erik Hoffer

Some people call me nuts because I have 12 pets. I have 8 dogs and 4 cats. Of the dogs 1 is a Golden and 7 are Rescue German Shepherds. My dogs range in ages; they are 10, 9, 8 (golden) 6, 2@5, 2@2 and my cats are 16, 5 and 2@3 years old (which are Maine Coons). I have 2 female dogs (one 9 and one 2) All of the animals in my home are spayed or neutered and were snipped and clipped during their first week here, regardless of their ages of arrival.
My dogs and cats get along because I see to it that they do. From the time they arrive they are told that this is the family, take it or leave it. They are shown the cats as my possessions and each other as being under my control. I am always the alpha. My wife says I am a soft touch but I seem to get the points over that need to be understood to have a pack this large. No pack can co-exist in a household without being under control and no household should ever have a pack this large without being in control. Training is the key to control, and proper maintenance and reinforcement of those rules is a mandate to maintaining order and discipline. I never let anyone slide from adherence to the rules, but I do make sure that the rules make sense in my home, and that each dog knows his place which is always under me or my wife as the alphas. My wife and I are also trainers and she more than I has a great command of dog behavior and training techniques. I am more the hands on person to demonstrate the proper technique and she the more skilled instructor. It is like driving the boat. We both took the captains course but I do all of the driving while she tends more toward navigating.
I have never hit a dog. I have never used a shock collar (although I do believe that in certain circumstances that is a reasonable solution) and I have never used any punishment that would harm a dog physically or mentally. I believe that the benevolent dictator (me) needs to establish rules and guidelines that have some flexibility, yet are tight enough to consistently maintain order and set limits on behaviors. I have taught all of my pack to come when called regardless of what they are doing. Usually they are out in the yard chasing each other, wrestling, digging, barking at boats and or chewing a stick or bone. These are all engaging activities but when Daddy calls, they are expected to respond immediately and together regardless of the distraction. I have even taught them to pee and poop on command. I have a video on You tube for that. My rule is non-negotiable and action is required immediately. They have all been schooled in these verbal commands and it did not happen over night. Pack behavior however is easily transferred so if 3 of the 8 know what to do, the others will tend to understand and follow.
There are leaders and followers in my pack. My Golden could care less about any hierarchy that may be unique to this pack. He is focused on carrying a ball around (or 2) and getting the newspaper, breakfast, lunch and dinner on time. He will go with anyone who feeds him cheese and pets him and he is a complete mush on every level. He did go through Schutzund BH when he was a pup and did fabulously. He is a smart dog. He is the best dock dog diver I have and he was superb at agility and can learn most anything in 15 minutes. (with cheese). The other 7 each have their own personalities. The younger ones are at times ditzy, but they are typically all about play as that is really their only task here. My middle one (Rudy) is my evaluator dog and has complete balance and every leadership quality one would need as a pack leader. He and my senior dog (the recognizable alpha) who is now 10, does the general leadership around the yard, but if a situation develops Rudy quickly assumes command and exerts the appropriate pressure to get the job or command done or followed. Rudy has every possible bad habit. He runs to the neighbor’s house to say Hi to the kids, he will go into your kitchen if he can get in to make himself at home. He goes around the fence or over it when he wants to show off to the pack members how to get out of the yard, but comes home immediately if called. Rudy is the one always in trouble but he is also compliant. He has had well over 30 weeks of focused socialized behavioral training in his life and remains as one of the most stable and balanced dogs I have ever met.
Each pack member exhibits traits that makes them unique. Each pack member has had multiple weeks of socialized training and reinforcement in the established pack rules. No one besides Rudy and Baxter leads the pack because everyone else is an equal. The members know their place and that has been reinforced by the other members any by me. I know that at times there are rumblings of upward movement within the pack structure, but I never permit any level of dominance by anyone to anyone else and they all know it. Because of the fact that each dog knows his or her place they all accept one another and get equal attention from me, they are all content and happy.
Many people are told that multiple males and especially 2 females in the same home or pack are a recipe for disaster, but that is BS. Neutered dogs loose the need for dominance readily and if trained (and with the right social temperament) can co-exist easily. There has to be a leader of the pack and that is myself or my wife. I make sure that my dogs respect this leadership role and that they understand that they either adhere to the rules or they will be re-homed. Not every animal can co-exist with every other one. I pick and choose carefully and have done so over these many years to insure that each animal I take in is oriented toward acceptance and has the proper temperament to co-exist in a pack. I only take in dogs to my rescue that I would otherwise keep as pets. That said, not every dog can have a roommate and not every dog will like cats. Not every dog will like all people or all dogs for that matter, and not every dog is perfect nor suited to living in a pack. Temperament does not mean an across-the-board perfection, but rather a tolerance for acceptance in the proper environment and with the proper leadership. By teaming dogs together that have the same temperament and acceptance level and by monitoring that on a continual basis and establishing rules, can you form a successful pack. My pack is not like a working pack such as a sled dog pack. In that case those dogs are typically unneutered and have lots of both positive and negative energy. They co-exist as a working group but if left together unsupervised could be a disaster. This is why they are typically separated when not pulling and those chosen for a sled team are deemed compatible by the owner for the duration of the pull.
The pack governs actions and what is set as a norm dictates how new dogs and old ones will be dealt with by their pack peers when they veer off course. Certain behaviors will not be tolerated. Dominance needs to be limited to situations and not to normal life. If allowed, dogs may become mobile in the pack. That means they can swap positions of leadership. In my pack that does happen but if a dog wishes to move up in the pack permanently he will be dealt with in a manner that restricts his upward mobility immediately. The pack leader (me) or the dog alpha will constantly watch out for this behavior and nip it as soon as it shows itself. Nipped enough times, everyone in the pack settles into their respective role.
Being a follower does not mean that the dog has lost his or her identity, personality or drive. It means that as a rule, pack position is maintained but on an individual basis the dog is free to act out as he sees fit in each situation that arises. A few good examples of this are that I take 2 dogs (usually the same ones) to play ball in the morning. At that time my Golden consistently beats my alpha to the ball and runs back to me with it. He’s not disrespecting the pack leader but being himself and since his ball drive is 110% he is totally focused on the task and kicks butt with his ball retrieval prowess. When it comes to swimming my female 8 year old can jump farther and swim faster than my alpha male. She beats him across the pool and barks gleefully at him in her victory lap. He is left standing on the ledge barking out his dissatisfaction with her but accepts she is better than he is at that task. Each dog in his own way moves up or down the ladder task by task and finds their own identity daily. This does not upset or disrupt the pack but rather allows each dogs individual personality to shine.
Because my wife and I are able to give them all the love they can take or need every day, they all know that they are a part of the family. Just like people, they know that acknowledgement and verbal praise and rewards is critical to stability and keeps them together as a group each knowing they are recognized as individuals. In choosing to have multiple dogs in your household, regardless of breed, you must recognize these personality dynamics and form your pack accordingly.
In dealing with dogs of different breeds and genders in a pack, you must research the breed and carefully evaluate the individual dog to make sure that they can work and live together. Different breeds have different traits. High energy dogs may bot do well with low energy dogs as an example. Some small dogs cannot play like their bigger counterparts and can be hurt if play gets too wild even though it is simple play and not aggressiveness on either part. Some little dogs are under the impression they are a lot bigger than they are and have the personalities to back it up. The Napoleon syndrome is prevalent in many smaller breeds and hence these dogs may entice a larger more powerful dog to fight and they will always loose. No one can say that dogs of a particular breed will or will not be compatible. It is only through individual evaluations, hands on monitored introductions by a knowledgeable person in dog behavior that you can ultimately decide on compatibility.
The pack works because of instinct and the pack will form its own system for dealing with things. If a member is threatened however they will team up against the intruder and that can get ugly. My pack has been schooled (my hundreds of repetitions) to accept new comers until proven wrong. We did have a dog here that was being fostered who for the first week or so was great. He got a bit big for his britches and tried to hump Sadie, my 9 year old female. She was not going to accept his behavior and snapped at him. He then snapped at her and the pack was on him like lightening. I had to separate them, which, thankfully was a verbal request and not a potential situation where I could have been bitten by my own dogs. No pack is perfect. The stuff you see with the likes of Caesar Milan is ‘made for TV’ and you are not shown the outtakes. Life is easy when the pack is balanced and made up of balanced stable dogs, but monitoring is essential to keep the pack on an even keel.
No matter what your favorite breed is, and no matter how many dogs and cats you have, your leadership plays the most important and critical role in stability. Through training and love, and with continual effective monitoring and setting reasonable rules, anyone can have a calm and successful pack.