How many dogs are too many? When done properly, integrating a new dog into your current pack should be relatively easy. The keys to successful integration are control and harmony. The most successful integrations typically occur between the same breed and class of dog, but this certainly is not always the case. Be sure that whichever new dog you introduce has comparable energy-drive and size to your current dogs.
Dogs are pack animals and, when balanced, are generally welcome to any new canine companions. An alpha process will normally be displayed to develop pack hierarchy, and the goal is for each dog to have their own leadership roles.
To keep your home harmonious with your newcomer, follow these tips:
1. Initial introduction. To introduce new dogs to your current pack, take all dogs on a walk or have them all do a job. With this approach, it is natural for dogs to relate to each other, and feel less stress.
Displays of positive dog body language (i.e. straight poised ears, bow to bow play, no raised hair hackles and reciprocal oral affection), will be good indicators that the dogs will be cordial. I never assume they are officially balanced. After 30 days of positive interactions, you can then feel more assured that the dogs are compatible. Note any unbalance during that time, and deal with accordingly.
2. Control. Whenever a new dog is brought into your home, I strongly recommend the use of a crate or kennel - http://www.doggiestepsdogtraining.com/dog-articles.html#crate - or a small room to be used as the new dog's den.
You want the new dog to become completely dependent on you for everything. This will show the dog that you are the pack leader and provider, and will establish immediate pack hierarchy.
Release from the crate, potty time, feeding, walking and grooming should all be done daily by your family members to show the new dog correct pack leader status.
3. Pack "team-work." After your new dog has become acclimated to your home and the other dogs in the pack, you now want to begin working your dogs as a pack. A pack that works together stays together!
Two dogs are considered a "pair," while more than two are considered a "pack." With this said, you can begin working your dogs as a team with various command exercises. "Sit," individual "leave it" release, and "stay" can all be practiced. Always treat the calmest dog first, and so on.
4. Finally, established pack balance. Once your new pack has been introduced and has established pack balance, you want to be sure that this balance is maintained. Feeding, grooming, walking and working your dogs together will ensure this.
To maintain dog individuality and identity, do separate activities with each dog. This can be a separate walk or a trip to the store. This will show your pack that they can be separated and still maintain calm-submissive order.
Bringing a new dog home is always an exciting time. Dogs are instinctual pack animals and will, therefore, welcome a balanced pack member into their existing pack. The dynamics of multiple dogs can be very exciting to watch and at the same time extremely beneficial to the existing dog's mental and physical well-being.
So, how many dogs are too many? With the proper training and leadership, the sky is the limit.
• Mark Siebel is owner of Doggie Steps Dog Training, LLC. He has trained more than 400 Valley dogs, speaks regularly at local schools about the importance of dog safety and ownership, and donates time to youths wanting to learn more about dogs. Siebel is a member of the Arizona Professional Pet Sitters Association and Australian Shepherd Club of Arizona. Contact him at (602) 318-0122 or www.DoggieStepsDogTraining.com.