Living with Dogs

Graci_Koko_Riley_BanjoAt times in my adult life (meaning post college) I have tried inviting roommates to live with me in my home. While I won't say the experiences were bad, neither were they what I'd hoped they'd be. Humans don't always work to find compromises and common ground when co-habitating. Fast forward to 1996 and the start of my dog training career. I discovered that for short periods of time, as many as 6 or even 8 dogs could live happily in a typical home environment. What is really interesting is how the "guest dog" learns to fit in with the home pack (in someways much more adeptly than human roommates learn to get along.)


I have now been dog sitting in my home for years and have the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of seeing all these pampered canines work it out among themselves. One of the most unique situations I get to observe is when the "only" dog has to move in and figure out where they fall within an unfamiliar pack. These dogs tend to be a bit pushier when it comes to attention seeking and have a very rough time staying with their meal when all the bowls go down. It always reminds me of the old Aesop's fable where the dog with a bone, looks at his reflection in a pond and being jealous of the other dog's bone, drops his, only to have no bone. I learned the best practice is to crate or contain the guest dog to keep everyone focused on their own meals. This is also a valuable lesson for multi-dog homes. Typically there is one dog who is dominant and as most animals are programmed to do, will work to secure all food resources. The best bet is to set up a pattern where everyone has their own eating space and the time to finish a meal without being harassed.


My doggy roommates over the years have also showed me the power of imitation dogs have. I have a free-access doggy door into my back yard and it's very rare that guest dogs don't figure out how to at least come in from the outside. Interestingly enough there always seems to be more motivation to come in than to go out, but either way the dogs learn by watching the home pack disappear through the "magic space" and most are either nose butting or paw slapping the flap within about 24 hours. Dogs are wonderful problem solvers which is one of the reason clicker based training is so effective. A clicker savvy dog learns to learn and works at solving the problem of how to get his handler to click and treat. YouTube is an excellent place to see video of dogs in just about every stage of clicker training. You can see when the dog "gets it" and how they start to throw behaviors at their handlers to get that treat. I encourage anyone interested in dog training and having a well behaved dog to do a little web surfing for these types of video.


While I am trainer, I am also at times an overly doting dog parent as well. In my living room there is a large laundry basket filled to overflowing with dog toys of all shapes, textures and sizes. Of all the behaviors I see, I love to observe of my guests "hunting through the treasure basket" most of all. It's wonderful to watch a dog self-entertain while digging through the layers of wonderful toys. Of note are the picky toy hunters who just have to get to the bone on the bottom of the basket. They methodically pull toys out, tasting and testing each one to see if it will suffice. If no satisfaction is gained then many will just climb into the basket to get better digging leverage. The really enthusiastic hunters will literally toss the unwanted toys from the basket one by one until they get to the one they want. Ultimately my living room ends up looking like Romper Room for dogs, but to see the dog engaging in such a natural behavior is really a treat. While this is a far cry from wolves or coyotes digging in burrows for game, it still provides some of the same satisfaction for the pet dog.


My objective in talking about my canine roommates in this article is to demonstrate how easy it can be to keep a dog engaged and busy in a productive way. Think outside the box when you are dealing with a dog that is destructive or restless...Perhaps that dog is just bored and needs a challenge to solve. Hide toys or treats, put out novel objects and toys and above all make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise.


Despite the hair, the drool, the spilled water bowls and extra yard clean up, I must have finally become the "Old Dog Lady" at the end of the street because I'd still take in doggy roommates before I'd invite any humans for a lengthy stay!


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