Is walking two dogs the same as walking one dog?

Emphatically not! There are lots of reasons:

Going on a walk with one dog is a companionable affair. Just the one dog to consider. Just the one relationship. Just one speed. 

Add another and you have your attention split between two dogs. And the two dogs’ attention is split between you and each other. They will interact and react together. So immediately you have some unpredictability in the mix. And there’s great scope for the leads to tangle and for the dogs use you as a maypole.

Add to this the fact that you’ll need to set a pace to suit both dogs - not so easy with one old’un and one young’un. Or a big dog and a small dog. Perhaps you have one surging ahead and the other lagging behind. You have to pick up poo with what - your third hand? - while you try to stop the dogs stepping in it.

You have to decide which hand is holding which lead. You have to work out which lead is attached to which dog. And where do you put your treats?

And if one of your dogs is reactive to other dogs, then you are setting up a learning laboratory for your second dog.

Monkey see, monkey do. Reactivity is highly catching.

And it may result in a “redirected bite” when the frustrated dog lashes out at the first thing that gets in the way - the other dog? your leg? 

Remember that if you’re introducing a new puppy into the household along with your reactive dog you also need to be following a lot of other guidelines that you’ll find in this post.

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So it’s not as simple as just grabbing the leads and going! You have to put some thought into this. But a little simple planning goes a long way.

Start with individual dogs

The first essential is to work with one dog at a time. If your loose lead walking with one dog is not stellar, there’s no chance of it suddenly improving when you add another dog. 

Following a step-by-step program like the one you’ll find in Let’s Go! Enjoy Companionable Walks with your Brilliant Family Dog will quickly give you skills with your lead that you didn’t know existed (there’s an art to good lead-handling), and a relationship with your dog that you may have only dreamed of. 

So get that going first, with each dog. You can’t expect them to learn from each other! Well … they may learn from each other, but they may learn some things you’d rather they didn’t. And once they’ve learnt those things, it’s hard to unlearn them (though it can be done, of course). 

And while you’re doing all these solo walks you’re building a huge relationship with both dogs. If you build a relationship with your first dog, then toss another dog into the mix you’re never going to give that new dog the chance to interact with you individually on a walk.

Once you have got each dog knowing exactly where he should be when on a loose lead, you’re ready to put them together. 

I colour-code my dogs, so I know exactly which lead is connected to which dog at any time. This really does make life easier, so look at changing your dog-gear - at least the leads - so you can do this. 

Who’s where?

You also need to establish which side you want each dog, so they don’t criss-cross in front of you, tripping you and each other up. Even if you’ve taught each dog to walk on, say, your left side in solo walks, once they have grasped the principles of keeping the lead loose and staying beside you it’s very easy to flip one to the other side so you have one on each side. Of course, you may prefer both on the same side, but this can lead to jostling and differences of opinion about whose nose should be an inch ahead of the other’s!

Then again some people like their multi-dogs to be out in front of them, like deerhounds. This is fine as long as there’s no tension on the lead. This can be a useful strategy if walking through crowds or narrow streets.

Your focus when on these early walks - well, any walks really - is on helping the dogs to keep the position you have taught them individually.

Using gentle hands on your drooping leads you’ll be able to connect with them without the need to yank or pull at the lead. Frequent rewards given to the dog who’s getting it right will quickly focus your other dog’s attention on how he can get this bounty too. A little competition can go a long way!

While there is no time when my dogs cannot earn a reward for doing something I like, when I have four in hand they may have to be content with a smile and a word of encouragement each time they check in with me. Delving in the pocket for treats with four leads to hold is not so quick! 

What should my dogs wear?

For preference I like to walk my dogs on a well-fitted non-aversive harness with two connection points and a double-ended lead. If you choose a lead with a “freedom” handle this is very easy to manage with one hand. See the video here to show you what I mean: *

There are lots of gadgets about for stopping dogs pulling. Many of these are aversive - they work by hurting. And also many of them promise a quick fix. None of them, however kind, is a substitute for teaching your dog where you want him to be when walking!

So slapping on a headcollar without any prior desensitisation is likely to end up with a dog who is forever yanking the lead while he tries to scrabble the offending object off his nose. You can certainly use a non-tightening headcollar - if your dogs have been acclimatised to it first - and it can give you that extra bit of control you may need in extreme circumstances: e.g. walking four dogs across a showground full of excited dogs and activities. The headcollar also comes into its own to help with a reactive dog who has a tendency to lunge out at passers-by.

But I would not see it as an aid to get loose lead walking, and the lead would never be tight so that the dog is forced to pull into it.

So by all means enjoy walking your two or more dogs together! But be sure they know exactly what you want before you start, and remember to walk them individually too on a regular basis, to reinforce that bond that develops between you and your dog, one-on-one.


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* This is me. If you’re from UK or Europe and you buy from me I will benefit - but you won’t pay any more!





I'm not spending good money on a DOG!

“We want a dog, but our commitment is weak. So we’ll just put our toe in the water and save some money while we’re about it.”

“So we’ll get a rescue dog, or a puppy from a farm - not paying all that money for a pedigree dog! And if it doesn’t work out, you can just take it back to the shelter, right?”

“Did you know you can get dog food for £10 a bag at Rubbish For Pets! Have you seen how much that other stuff costs?”

“Classes? No! I’ll teach him what’s what.”

“I’m not paying good money for a collar. This one from the market will do.”


Your dog doesn’t know how much he cost

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When you get a dog, you’ll soon find out that things cost the same whether you have a pedigree or a mutt. They have the same size stomach, the same basic needs, the same hunger to learn and fit in.


  • Vet care costs the same - vaccinations, worming, operations - the only difference is the weight of the dog for medications - the bigger the dog, the bigger the bill.


  • The advantage of a pedigree dog is that you can choose an accredited breeder who does endless, expensive, health-tests, and know that your dog is as healthy as can be and has had the best start possible. You’ll have an idea of what temperament you’re likely to get (though your puppy is an individual and can still surprise you!). The vet bills will start mounting alarmingly when genetic defects like Hip Dysplasia and skin problems appear.


  • Of course you can find nicely-reared pet dogs, but you need to know where to look and what to look for … bit of a minefield for the unwary.


  • Pups reared in a shed can have HUGE problems adapting to life in the real world. You may need professional help.


  • Rescue dogs can come with baggage. There may be a very valid reason why they were abandoned (not forgivable, but valid nonetheless). That’s fine if you have the will and the dedication to work through it all, as so many good people do. But be aware: it could get expensive.


  • If you’re sued because your dog causes an accident or an injury, the lawyers won’t care where the dog came from.


  • And as for food - the better you care for your dog, the fitter and happier he’ll be. Many people don’t realise that behavioural problems can be exacerbated by a poor diet just as badly as the obvious physical problems - like joint pain, digestive issues, skin problems. Aim for the best food you can afford - it’ll pay you back in the long run through hugely reduced vets’ bills! Check here to find out what you should be feeding and why, and how to get the best price.


  • Training - you need to source a force-free trainer who uses the latest methods based on scientific research. This is a good starting place to look for UK readers. And here for USA readers. Unless you do a lot of study yourself, you’re likely to fall back on outdated methods from the (happily buried) past that can cause more harm than good. A really good puppy class will show you how to understand your dog and set you up for a lifetime of fun together. If you’ve never experienced an up-to-date, force-free training school you’ll be amazed at what happens in these classes!


  • Cheap collars and leads? A motorbiking friend of mine used to say “If you’ve got a £5 head get a £5 helmet.” That collar’s not very cheap if it snaps on the main road and an accident ensues …


Can you commit?

Getting a dog is a big commitment. You are pledging to share your home with this animal for the next 12-15 years. Trying to cut corners and save money is shooting yourself in the foot. The savings indicated above are truly false economies. It costs money to look after an animal properly so you may as well pay upfront and get it over with, rather than paying piecemeal for the rest of the dog’s life.

Show your pet the same respect as you show anyone else you share your home with.


Time, like fresh air, is free.


And if you really can’t bear to pay for a decent puppy class (or there isn’t one near you) get started with our free 8-part email course: 

Trust your dog, don’t control him!

Lizzie had recently retired from a responsible position. 

She lived in a spotless and perfectly-kept home in the countryside with a husband who was always out at work. She wanted a dog for companionship and pleasant country walks.

Her children were long grown so it was a good while since she’d had a young thing to look after. 

So the advent of her puppy Bracken brought up all kinds of fears and anxieties in Lizzie - she was terrified something dreadful would happen to him, but she also struggled with the disruption a puppy brought to a neat, clean, adults-only, house.

At Puppy Class, Bracken was distracted and lively - typical of his busy and active breed - not, perhaps, the best choice for a first-time dog-owner of later years. 

Lizzie got very anxious and embarrassed by his behaviour at class. 

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She felt ashamed that she couldn’t “control” this puppy, and felt he was showing her up. 

She was perplexed that her image of the perfect dog trotting at her heels across hill and dale was not matched by the reality of a puppy who seemed to be always straining to get as far away from her as possible!

So I wasn’t surprised when Lizzie got in touch with me a couple of months after her Puppy Course finished to give me a long list of problems she was having with Bracken, and to ask for help.

Enter the prison!

When I arrived at her home I found something more akin to a prison! I was ushered through an airlock of two doors at the front door (a good practice in itself) to see an excited puppy leaping up at a baby gate. Bracken was not learning how to greet people stuck behind a gate!

She had four metal playpens barricading various rooms and corridors. She had baby gates in most of the doorways - this in addition to a couple of crates. And outside she had had fencing built round the patio to prevent Bracken’s access to the garden.

The house itself was spotless, with no sign of Bracken’s toys which had all been put away. 

Her focus was entirely on containing and controlling her eager youngster. 

Her list of problems included:

  • Bracken was not yet reliably housetrained
  • He’d grab anything he could find in the house and initiate a chase game
  • Outside he’d get hold of stones and slugs, which Lizzie frantically tried to get off him
  • This was leading to a Resource Guarding problem
  • He’d steal any food so everything was locked away
  • He’d race off to any dog he saw on walks, play too roughly, and refuse to come back


The Program

This is what made Lizzie happy!

This is what made Lizzie happy!

  • I revised with Lizzie the games she’d learnt in Puppy Class - which had all been forgotten in the new clampdown era
  • I taught her new games - particularly for focus and recall - to show her that Bracken could keep his feet on the floor and engage intelligently with her
  • We played fast games so Bracken could learn to respond even while highly excited
  • Housetraining - we went back to new puppy basics
  • She revised her matwork with Bracken so he could reliably go to his mat when asked - and stay there till released
  • She learned to swap, not to snatch or chase. This stopped the stealing and the resource guarding, and dealt with the potentially dangerous slug ingestion
  • Lizzie learned to stop caring about stolen items so that grabbing stones was no longer the prompt for a chase game for Bracken, so it just died out on its own
  • She improved Bracken’s diet, going for a grain-free option
  • She learned how to handle a long line with soft hands so she could give Bracken comparative freedom without getting too anxious herself
  • She got a Freedom Harness for control without coercion
  • These both improved her Loose Lead Walking dramatically
  • We worked on a system for greeting dogs and people with self-control
  • She polished up her Tug play from class so that it incorporated masses of impulse control along with masses of high energy fun
  • She did some work using Dr. Overall’s Relaxation Protocol to teach Bracken to self-soothe and settle
  • And she started to use impulse control at every opportunity - every time she opened the fridge, every time she opened a door, picked up a toy or Bracken’s lead


The result

Over the course of a month - with much reassurance that Yes, Lizzie was an excellent owner for Bracken, and Yes, she could look after him well and give him what he needed, and Yes, he would become her perfect companion over time - all the playpens, fences, and gates disappeared. 

She became able to walk him on a loose lead instead of the vice-like grip on a tight lead she had before, and she was able to let him loose on walks without panicking that he’d escape (or even want to escape). 

She had entirely stopped chasing Bracken for stolen items, with the result that he no longer bothered to steal them - he’d much rather have the offered game instead.

Housetraining? “Oh yes, he’s fine now!”

The Conclusion

Bracken was a grand little pup who was being wound up on a daily basis with constant nagging, recriminations, and control.

He was simply exhibiting puppy and early adolescent behaviours which provoked a huge over-reaction in Lizzie, owing to her anxiety that she was somehow failing the dog.

Once Lizzie learnt how to relax and release - and to stop worrying herself into a panic - everything started to run smoothly.

By relinquishing control and instead giving Bracken choices, she elicited really good responsive behaviour from him. 

It was a delight for me to see that both Lizzie and Bracken felt free to trust and enjoy each other. The journey could now begin!


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Two dogs - twice as nice or twice the trouble?

You may think that having one dog is such fun that you’d like to double up on your happiness by having two. And as one who has had multiple dogs for many years I can confirm that it is fun! 

But it’s also very hard work. Think four or five times the work, not twice the work. Because you have two (often very different) individuals to cater for, at the same time. There’s how they interact with you, how they interact with you individually, and how they interact with each other, that you have to know, understand, and manage.

Sometimes people get so swept up in the melee of dogs that they struggle to get even the simplest tasks of feeding and walking done. They have no room or energy left for training. 

If you’re always trying to address a crowd of dogs, you’re never going to be able to assess and deal with each of them satisfactorily. They will bounce round you while you try to lead them up for a walk, for instance, and as soon as you get one to sit the other jumps on him and they’re off again. This is a common picture of preparing for a walk in a household where there’s more than one dog, and it spreads across the whole day so that every interaction becomes noisy, boisterous, frustrating, and very annoying! At this stage the owner is tempted to give up, admit defeat, and let the lunatics take over the asylum.

You can turn this round. 


Work with each individual dog to discover his special qualities

And the first thing to do is remember that you don’t have a pack of dogs, you have two charming individual dogs. They both deserve equal attention from you.

So here are some pointers that will help you get back on track and build a great relationship with each dog.


1. When you first introduce a new dog or puppy into your dog household, ensure that the first dog continues to get lots of your attention, that he gets very little attention (or fuss or bother) from the newcomer, that he can find a safe haven away from the attentions of the new dog (which, after all, you chose to get - he didn’t), and is never chastised for showing his impatience with or dislike of the incomer.


2. Meanwhile, focus on building a relationship directly with your new dog that does not involve your first dog. If you just chuck ‘em in together and let them sink or swim, you’re never going to be the most important thing in your new dog’s life. He’ll see himself and Dog no.1 as “Us” and you as “Them”. So while you spare your first dog being badgered by the new dog, you focus most of your training attention on the newbie. This is very easy with a puppy as they need to sleep so much, leaving you lots of time for one-on-one interactions with Dog no.1. But even mature dogs need a lot of daytime rest too, so if you’re bringing an adult dog into your home have a safe secure place for each dog to go for these extended naps. You’ll find crates and baby-gates invaluable.


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3. Limit free play between the dogs. Lots of play with you and one dog, or you and two dogs, but very little play between the two dogs. Later on they can play when they like, but not in these crucial first few months when you are establishing the new relationships.


4. Solo walks. This is essential for training and for life. My solution is to have a solo roadwalk with one of my dogs each morning by turn, and group free-running walks of two or all four at other times. This way no dog misses out on my personal attention when out or on the vital training, and they still get plenty of time to roam and explore together too.


5. Solo training. This is where many people come unstuck! They’ve seen that trying to “group-train” doesn’t work and they have every intention of working on their dogs individually. But how to do it? Put one away in crate or the other room and he cries and scrabbles at the door. Then the dog being trained is distracted too. Frustration all round. So the answer is to teach them to take turns: first you can simply name the dog and offer a treat, name the other dog and offer a treat, and so on. Each dog will learn to wait for his name before attempting to take the treat. Once they’ve grasped this concept, you can grade up to matwork.


Cricket and Lacy are rewarded for staying on the bed while Coco Poodle pup gets some valuable training

Cricket and Lacy are rewarded for staying on the bed while Coco Poodle pup gets some valuable training

6. Matwork is the answer to all of the questions I get which involve management of a multi-dog household. Teach each dog to stay on his bed/mat/chair regardless of what else is happening. You’ll have to do this with them alone to get started, so maybe choose a time when your partner can take one out for a walk. Failing that you’ll have to crate one near you while you start the matwork training with the other.

If you follow the step-by-step process in Calm Down! Step-by-step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog - available as a free digital download at all ebook stores - you’ll find this goes extraordinarily fast! So once they each know their own mat and what to do with it, you can start super-short sessions with both of them on their mats. I would have both dogs on their mats being rewarded between the paws as usual, then “break” one dog off the mat (you’ll learn how to do this in the book), reward the other heavily for not getting off his mat, return the first to his mat for a few treats, then “break” the other dog, reward, return to mat.

Once they can both do this - and remember, one will learn faster than the other! - you can extend this by breaking Dog 1 then asking him to maybe Sit or Down or whatever trick he knows while you heavily reward Dog 2 for staying on his mat before returning Dog 1 to his mat … and so on. Each dog will have a couple of turns of coming out for a Sit (or whatever) while the other waits calmly. If they are bouncing off their mats to join in, you’ve gone too fast! Go back a few steps and strengthen your foundation work before putting it to such an extreme test. Keep sessions very short - maybe 10 treats each, over a period of one and a half minutes, then put the mats away for next time.

Always keep in mind that the dog on the mat is working just as hard as the dog having a training session with you, and needs to be rewarded at least as frequently as the dog who is off his mat. You will soon be able to do extended training sessions (several minutes) with one dog while the other waits patiently for his turn. Switch them round and off you go again!


7. Once both dogs know exactly what to do on their mats, you can teach them to keep in whatever spot you choose for them. When I’m training in the garden, three dogs will be parked on top of the picnic table while I work the fourth. Indoors I may just drop them wherever they are (or there are lots of beds around the place they can choose!). Now you have a fully portable behaviour of keeping still when required, whatever the temptation and excitement.


Once you’ve got this going well, you can extend the dogs’ impulse control and get them both waiting nicely when you want to put on their walking gear, have them sit at doors till you open them and release them one by one by name, have them wait in the car till called out individually, and so on. 

You can accommodate their individuality, and their individual speed of learning. You can understand their fears and foibles and know what each dog needs to live a happy life.

And once they’re living a happy life - you can live a happy life with them! You’ll get the pleasure and enjoyment from your two companions that you longed for at the start. And who knows, now you know the recipe, you may even consider a third dog (not three times the work, but nine times the work! Remember you have to work on the interactions between each dog and the others, and each dog and you.) 

Of one thing I’m fairly sure: once you’ve experienced the fascination of having two different personalities with their own likes and dislikes and their own individual personalities - with hopefully an increased understanding and tolerance of all dogs, however different from yours they may be - you probably will never want to go back to having only one dog again.

So that statement contains an awful warning! When you start out with a multi-dog household, you’ll probably have a multi-dog household for ever - there’s no turning back. Make sure you have the time needed to put in all the extra work, especially in the first six months or so, which will make your family life run smoothly and without chaos and mayhem.

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Dogs don’t operate through “Pack Theory” .. and the earth isn’t flat either

There are plenty of people about who perpetuate the myths that

  • dogs are stubborn, 
  • dogs are obstinate, 
  • dogs are trying to rule you/your family/the world, 
  • let them eat before you and they'll turn into a ravening monster,
  • if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile, 
  • and so on and on …

If you’re repeating it because you were told by someone you thought knew what they were talking about, you’ll need to think again (and stop repeating it!)

You may have heard this from a tv personality who sets himself up as a dog trainer; you may have heard it from someone who calls themselves a dog trainer - albeit without any respectable qualifications. You may have heard it from your vet or groomer whom you trust, but who is not qualified in dog behaviour.

The fact is, that whoever you heard it from is talking through their hat.

There was a stage, many, many years ago, when people formulated the Pack Theory model. It was based on erroneous data and has since been completely discredited - even by those who promoted it in the first place! There is no basis in fact for “pack theory”, “dominance”, “rank reduction”, or anything else you may have heard of which works through punishment, pain, or distress.

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You wouldn’t put your child into the hands of an unqualified, self-proclaimed, teacher who came out with all this nonsense. Why do you listen to a so-called dog trainer who says the same stuff?

I get that the internet is a confusing place! There are so many opinions declared to be gospel truth. You have to have your b******t glasses on when you read much of it!

What else is outdated claptrap?

I have actually heard people say “Yes, this new approach must be right, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater …” hoping against hope that the things they have been inflicting on their dog will still magically work, despite being disproven and discredited.

Your ancestors could be forgiven for thinking the earth is flat. They didn’t know. They made best guesses based on religious beliefs and the total absence of factual knowledge. But we know now. So anyone who says “I get that the earth is spherical, but maybe some bits of it are still flat,” would be dismissed as deluded.

We know now that our weather happens because of all the events and influences around the globe that affect it. We no longer think that a drought was caused by some sin we had committed. You would laugh at someone who said “Yes, I know about El Nino, but I still think that if we didn’t allow same-sex marriage we wouldn’t be suffering this adverse weather.”

The enormous developments in scientific data-collection have proven what to accept as truth. The science behind the modern view of dog training is just as valid.

If you say, “Yes, I can see the dog’s brain is wired this way, but I still think that if he goes through a doorway before me he is going to take over the house,” you are putting yourself alongside the flat-earth proponent and the mediaeval weather analyst above who we have just dismissed as WRONG.

Dogs do what works

It’s fortunate for us that dogs haven’t read all these crazy theories. Dogs do what works. Dogs have always done what works and they will continue to do so. Their brains are the same as they ever were. 

And like all beings, their life is focussed on gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. If you think any of the weird practices promulgated by those flat-earthers and tv personalities who think they are dog trainers work - then maybe your dog is cleverer than you and has worked out how to please you by complying with your demands, however barmy they may seem to him.

Chickens were used in the last war to spot downed airmen in tiny orange life-rafts - possibly miles below the spotter plane. The chickens were very effective, with their amazing eyesight, at picking a dot of orange out of the churning waves.

Did they do this because they wanted to help the war effort? Did they do it because they disliked Hitler and all he stood for? Did they do it because they didn’t like the colour orange? Of course not! They did it because they had learned that if they pecked at a tiny orange dot they would be given some grain. The chickens were working on the simple system of

Reward what you like and that action is more likely to be repeated

They didn’t need to be threatened, prodded with metal spikes, or given electric shocks if they made a mistake. They just got rewarded when they did the required action. Simple!

So if someone tells you that your dog lying on the sofa is trying to take over your home - rather than that it is just a comfortable place with a good vantage point; or that your dog preceding you down the stairs is going to lead to mayhem and bloodshed - rather than that it’s just safer to let the dog whizz downstairs without tripping you up; or even that feeding your dog before you eat will lead to him exceeding his rank - rather than you simply getting the chores done before you settle down for the evening; then treat these statements with the contempt they deserve.

NOTE: if your dog is guarding the sofa from you, pushing past you on the stairs without consideration, or begging while you eat, these are training issues and can be resolved by simple training. 

Note that the same people who come out with this outdated stuff will often want you to use vicious devices of torture on your dog. Have nothing to do with anyone who suggests a spike/prong collar, or any electronic gadgets which will "instantly change your dog". 

Dogs are not people

It can be beguiling to ascribe complex motives to your dog when he does something. Because we tend to ascribe human responses to dogs. But dogs are not humans! They are a different species and they don’t have all the hang-ups that we have when it comes to responding to situations.

“Why did she look at me like that? What is she trying to gain? What does she expect me to do? Does she not like me? Is she jealous of me? ….” we may say in our convoluted thought processes of whywhywhy. Your dog is so much simpler: “She looked at me. I looked back. End of story.”


“My mind is made up: don’t confuse me with the facts”

We all know intransigent people who will swear that black is white rather than accept they may be mistaken and should have a re-think. They may be repeating the old wives’ tales that have been fed to them all their lives.

But we don’t need to do that! We have plenty of access to well-researched material that shows us how to treat our dogs - with kindness, understanding (understanding of canine thoughts and fears, that is, not thinking that they are small people in fur coats), and effectiveness.

Apart from all the scientifically-proven reasons why this approach works, it makes us feel good too! No-one likes to be a martinet or a sergeant-major when dealing with their family (and if they do, then they have some serious problems) and it’s so much easier to deal with your dog in the same courteous and straightforward way. 

Ensure that you look at what you’ve been doing with your dog, and excise anything that comes under the heading of “rank reduction”, “pack leadership”, “dominance”. Enjoy the new way of getting what you want from your companion. Ask him to do things, don't tell him.

And don’t worry about “the baby being thrown out with the bathwater” - there never was a baby in that particular tub in the first place!

For simple steps to change some of your dog’s more challenging behaviour, get our free 8-lesson email course - all using force-free solutions.
Pack Theory, Dominance, Rank Reduction - outdated nonsense

I have a reactive dog - can I get a new puppy too?

Rollo the Border Collie initiates play with Coco Poodle at 15 weeks - 7 weeks after he arrived!

Rollo the Border Collie initiates play with Coco Poodle at 15 weeks - 7 weeks after he arrived!

Many people who have a reactive dog - one who looks ferocious to strange dogs - wonder if they can ever have a puppy again. And they wonder if their reactive dog would accept the puppy or whether it would all end in tears. 

They may long to give their anxious dog a playmate. This is a nice reason - but quite a lot of dogs are not very interested in playing with other dogs. Even in my busy household, play between any or all of the dogs only happens occasionally - and fairly briefly - and when they’re already excited about something. There are lots of smaller interactions going on, of course, but not necessarily play.

Whether this is the right step for you is something you have to assess with your individual dog. Most adult dogs will - eventually - accept a puppy into the home. Some take a long time, while others are delighted and bond immediately with the newcomer, their behaviour perfectly appropriate and gentle. You can get an idea from your dog’s reaction to a very young puppy by allowing him to see one - but your first consideration here would be the safety and wellbeing of the puppy. Early bad experiences can be hard to erase. So possibly a puppy held in someone’s arms, behind a fence, while your dog observes from whatever is a safe and appropriate distance where he won't bark and frighten the pup. 

So assuming that passed off peaceably enough, actually introducing a young puppy into the home will present its own challenges! 

If your reactive dog is one of those who is not keen on puppies in his face - like my Border Collie Rollo - you’ll need to keep them largely apart for a long while.  But it can all come good in the end, and Rollo is now totally accepting of the three younger dogs in the household, and often initiates play with them. When he’s had enough, the game ends.


“Puppy, meet Dog”

So you may be surprised - and delighted - at the success of the initial introductions. But this is only the beginning! I just want to give you a little guidance going forward.


  • You need to focus largely on your new puppy for the next 9 months or so. He’s only going to learn if you put in the flying hours!


  • New pups should be kept separate from older dogs most of the time. Yes - most of the time. You can’t just chuck ‘em in together and hope that it will all go swimmingly. It’s easy to keep them separate because your new puppy needs to sleep around 17+ hours a day, so all that sleeping time should be spent in his crate, in a playpen, or in a separate room. A playpen that opens out as a zigzag that will divide a whole room is really helpful for when the puppy is awake. Last time I had a puppy in the house, the playpen formed a long barrier across the kitchen. The older dogs could go in and out of the garden, upstairs, wherever they wanted, but I didn’t have to worry about the pup’s safety if he annoyed them. So the dogs were not excluded, and could study the new creature in the secure knowledge that they couldn’t be molested by the tiny fluffball! 


  • Remember that your older dog didn’t choose to get a puppy - you did!


  • The general rule of thumb is that your new puppy can play with your older dog for one third of the time he plays with you. So if you interact/train/play with your puppy for one hour a day, that means he gets twenty minutes playing with the older dog - preferably in 3-5 minute chunks through the day. People gasp when I tell them this, as I can see in their eyes that they’re reflecting on the fact that at the moment their dogs have 24/7 access and are forever playing roly-poly games on the carpet. But it’s something you have to do. These early weeks and months are such a valuable time for bonding with your new charge - don’t waste them!


  • If you leave the two dogs together all the time during this vital developmental stage, you’ll end up with a young dog who only listens to the other dog, and never listens to you. (Don’t be like the owner who said to me, “I wish I’d listened to you 6 months ago. Now we’ve just got two hooligans.”)


  • Take time developing play with your puppy. Our play is not as natural as dog-dog play, so you have to work at it. Tug is a great game that harnesses the puppy’s instinctive drive - which all types and breeds of dog have - to locate prey, stalk it, chase it, catch it, and kill it. Taught properly this game builds huge impulse control in your dog. (And uses up loads of energy - yay!)


  • Respect your older dog and make sure he always has space and is never pestered - especially if he’s not so agile any more. Imagine visiting a friend’s house and her children treat you as a climbing frame, poking fingers into your mouth and ears - no, you wouldn’t like it! Sooner or later your puppy will lose his puppy licence and your older dog will say, “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” and snap (or worse) at him. Ensure this can never happen.


  • Make sure to have lots of private time with your faithful older dog, alone. As he is reactive and has his own issues and worries, you’ll need to continue your program to make life easier for him when out. While your training focus should be firmly on your puppy, whose developmental stages will fly by if you’re not paying attention, you’ll find that two dogs does not equal half the work (as you may have thought) but at least twice the work! 


  • Never leave the two alone together. Just never. Not just for their safety, but also because what may seem a bad idea to a lone dog (like shredding the cushions) may take on a different hue when a young ragamuffin says “Let’s! I dare you!” When you’re not with them, they should both be asleep.


  • Remember that your prime task right now is introducing your puppy to our world and everything in it, before he reaches the age of 14-15 weeks. The socialisation window gradually closes between 12 and 16 weeks and new things met after that can result in distrust or fear. Follow closely a good guide on Puppy Socialisation, Habituation, and Familiarisation, and ensure all novelty is experienced with a calm, happy puppy. You know a lot about dog body language by now from your reactive dog: watch your puppy like a hawk to learn his signals.


  • Don’t make the common and disastrous mistake of thinking that playing with your older dog at home is a substitute for thorough and careful socialisation! Your brand new puppy doesn’t have to meet dogs yet, but definitely has to see loads of them. All different activity types, colours, coats, ears - they’re all different and new pup needs to experience all of them. Carry him if he hasn’t had his jabs yet. 


  • And NO group walks for now. Reactivity is highly catching, so you want to introduce your puppy to the outside world with no fears and poor examples to copy. I wouldn’t walk my new puppy with my reactive dog till pup is at least 6 months (depending on breed - larger dogs 9-12 months minimum).


You have the rest of your lives together to enjoy a great relationship - between you and your older dog, between you and your new dog, and between the two dogs themselves. Don’t hurry and skip any of these vital steps. The time will fly by much faster than you anticipate.


Anything you may regard as restrictive at first sight will be seen to be just plain ole commonsense - and will become an automatic part of your management plan for your household.


Enjoy your new puppy! And for help with all of those puppy nuisance behaviours you’d forgotten all about - get your free email course to deal with them kindly and easily.

And hunt around the Blog to find help with Housetraining, Sleeping through the Night, and so on.

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