5 (+1) Skills That Help Me Manage My Multi-Dog Household

Last week we had our incredible, fantastic vet, Dr. Micaela Young come over (yes, we currently work with a fantastic in-home vet, and you can hear more from Micaela in Episode 46 of Enrichment for the Real World) to get some updated stuff for Griffey. 

If any of you have been around the Pet Harmony content, you know that Griffey has challenges. He has some really impressive qualities, but just like me, and most, if not all living creatures, he struggles with some things.

One of those things is having strangers poke, prod, and stick him with things. One of the ways that we manage this is with the utilization of pre-visit medication and visit sedation. This enables us to get our agenda finished and prevents him from developing more fear or anxiety about the presence of people around him. It has been a really incredible tool for everyone involved. 

But that isn’t what today’s blog is really about. 

After the appointment, Griffey needed plenty of quiet, low-key time for the medications to process in his body while being safe, feeling secure, and feeling comfortable. 

And I have two dogs, one of which did not receive those same medications. 

One of which REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wanted to use Griffey as her personal pillow and heating pad. 

One of which was SO EXCITED about people being around that she just wanted to be a part of the activity in the form of yelling at her humans to play ball, licking Griffey on the nose, and just general shenanigans. 

One of which needed very different things than Griffey once the visit ended. 

And that meant that we had the chance to use all multi-dog household skills to make sure that both kiddos were safe and sound during the transition. So, here are 5 (+1) skills that we practice and utilize with our dogs to help maintain harmony in our multi-dog household.

And I need to make sure that I add some specific acknowledgments: if you are living with two or more pets in your home that have regularly occurring conflict, please work with a qualified professional to help you facilitate their interactions and relationships. While these are skills that can help in many situations, when someone’s safety or feeling of security is on the line, I recommend working with someone who can help you create and implement a plan as to how and when to use tools that will benefit everyone in the home. 


#1 – Rock Solid Attention Getter 

To help my dogs make safer, wiser choices, I first need to be able to get their attention. Being able to get my pup’s attention on the first try, without making a big scene is really important to me. I spend a lot of time talking to clients on zoom, so being able to subtly get both or one of my dog’s attention is a priority. Over the years we’ve developed a number of ways of saying, “Hey, friend. Can I get your attention, please?”. We can use a kissy sound, I can pat my leg, or give three taps on my desktop, I can say, “Griff” for Griffey’s attention, or “Ma’am” for Laika’s attention. And to be honest, we probably have at least 10 other ways that we can reliably get their attention. Every time I find myself saying or doing something and wishing they would pay attention to me, I take some time to teach that. But, getting their attention is really only the first step, I want to be able to provide them with more appropriate alternatives once I have their attention.

For example, “Hey, Laika!”. Followed by Laika giving me her attention and then promptly trying to climb on top of Griffey isn’t gonna cut it. Here’s a great video about getting your pet’s attention.


#2 – Nose to Hand Targets 

Both my dogs are taught to boop their nose to my hand in a variety of situations. This is a skill that can help me move them and navigate space together in a way that doesn’t require that I physically do the moving. This is a skill that can be used to help teach other behaviors and is really a multi-tool at its finest. While I often use it to help my pups move about space, it has a plethora of other benefits. 

While Griffey needed space, this is a skills/trick/activity that Laika and I could engage in that would prevent her from getting too close without me needing to be all up in her space. 

Allie talks about this skill in more depth in our February 2021 Training Challenge: Nose to Hand Target


#3 – Go to Spot 

Go to Spot/Bed/Location is another one of those foundation skills that can help tremendously in soooo many situations. In my family, we have spots in the kitchen, so that our dogs stay out from under our feet. We have beds/spots in all the rooms so that both dogs have areas to lie comfortably and still have some personal space from each other. 

Griffey finds food really exciting. And who can blame him? So do I! But, when he gets that excited, he can lose a lot of awareness of his body in space. He’ll prance and jump around. He will turn corners at mega speed and has no qualms about running into anything in his path, including Laika. 

And Laika doesn’t care for that. Laika is about 12 pounds, and Griffey is about 25 pounds. I can’t imagine getting hit by something moving that quickly that was more than twice my weight. That’s gotta hurt! 

So, during things like breakfast and dinner prep, we ask Griffey to anchor himself on a kitchen spot. He can let out his wiggles in any number of appropriate ways, as long as he maintains contact with that spot. It keeps both him and Laika safe. 

We’ve covered teaching Go to Spot in three different ways: 

September 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing

October 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Luring

November 2022 Training Challenge: Teach a New Behavior Through Shaping


#4 – Teaching a Pick-up, and/or a Mild Restraint 

And I’m going to preface this with a few things: 

  1. We, of course, want to teach our dogs skills so that restraint isn’t necessary, and these are skills that are beneficial in a variety of other situations, such as vet care, and out-in-the-real-world safety skills. 
  2. If you have a pet that struggles with being touched, restrained, or picked up, work directly with a professional. Again, this is a skill that we taught our dogs over time with lots of intentional practice. If you have a pet that freezes, growls, whale eyes, snaps, or bites with being picked up, mild restraint, or any handling, then work with a professional that can help you find alternatives to meet your needs, or to teach your pet that these are good things.

For both my pups, we have taught them some form of mild restraint. For Laika, we’ve worked both on a light harness hold, and a pick-up. For Griffey, we’ve worked on a light harness hold and a chest hold. We’ve worked on our pups being able to ask for the restraint, and for them to understand when it is happening outside of their requests. 

For example, when Griffey is being too much, Laika has a few options that she can ask for. 

If she comes over and rears up on our legs, we’ll reach our hands out and say “uppies?”. If she turns her body to be parallel to ours and stands really straight, we’ll proceed with a pick-up. Which is always followed by something SPECTACULAR. 

If she comes over and braces her body against our shins, or boops our calf with her nose, we’ll kneel down on the ground and create a play bubble that she can stand in while we use our hands to provide a gentle physical barrier Griffey’s chest if he’s invading her space. 

We’ve worked with Griffey that if we kneel down and he comes and sits with his back to our chest, we’ll apply slight pressure on his chest and shoulder while we do scritches. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have videos of these because, well, it is challenging to get videos of these things in action. I only have so many hands! Here are two great resources on these topics. 

Teaching a Voluntary Pick Up

Teaching a Collar Hold

Again, if your pet already has challenges with handling, please work directly with a professional!


#5 – Getting Quality Separation Time 

Sometimes, the dogs need to be apart. When Laika had her dental, when Griffey was coming out of sedation, and when we feed them food puzzles or give them high-value activities, they need to be separated. And teaching them to be comfortable with that has taken time, especially for Griffey. We take time every week to separate the dogs and make sure that they get one on one attention, and the opportunity to do extra special things without one another. Laika gets to go for walks, and Griffey gets to use toys that Laika can’t. 

This hasn’t always been possible for Griffey, even if a person was with him in the room, but we worked toward it and have made a ton of progress over our time with him. 


#+1 – Observation Skills 

The skills listed above were centered around what my dogs can do, which is important! But ultimately, their success and the application of all these skills hang on my ability to observe and respond to their body language and actions in real-time. My goal is to prevent problems before they arise, and that means I need to be ready to interrupt if I need to. We know that if Laika is inch-by-inch sidling up to Griffey, she’s gonna try to lie with him, and he’s not comfortable with that. We need to get her attention and then provide her with alternatives. If we hear that Griffey is getting really vocal while they play, Laika is going to need a little help to get him to take it down a notch. 

And of course, we have resources to help you build your observation skills! 


Now What? 

  • If you need personalized help navigating a multi-pet household, let us know! We’re here to help! 
  • If you are ready to teach or strengthen some skills, check out the resources provided throughout this blog, and start working on them with your pet. While the lens I used was dogs, these are skills that can benefit other species as well! 
  • Add the next public Behavior Observation Practice with Emily to your calendar! The next session is Tuesday, June 27th at 9 am Pacific/11 am Central, and here’s the Zoom link! Emily hosts these sessions on the last Tuesday of every month.