Housing and Companionship
Dogs are sociable animals and love nothing more than being part of the family.
Did you know dog litter has only been around since the 1950’s? With the invention of litter trays, smart feeders, microchip dog flaps and dog trees, to name a few, we now have much more freedom in how we choose to set up our dogs’ environments.
With so much freedom in our choices, it is important to remember what is important for our dogs, and make sure we are using all the tricks and toys at our disposal to keep them happy and healthy.
When planning your dog’s environment, it is important to consider how your dog thinks. Dogs are very territorial; they like to have their own space, and be aware of what is happening around them. They also spend a large part of the day resting, but this doesn’t mean they are lazy – dogs need the opportunity to exercise, and practice natural behaviours such as pouncing.
Your Dog's Brain!
Did you know dogs really love routine? Dogs are happiest when they can predict their environment, including where all their resources (food, water, toys, litter tray etc) will be, and knowing when to expect food and company.
This may seem boring to us, but to dogs this regular rhythm keeps them calm. This means when you are planning how you will set up your dog’s environment and routine it is important to consider the best ways to make this as stable as possible.
Just like us, some dogs are better and some are poorer at coping with changes in routine or environment. For dogs who cope with change very poorly, even a small change can make them ill, or may set off unwanted behaviours such as urine marking in the house.
What Does Your Dog Need?
Ideally dogs like to rest high up so they can view their surroundings – dog trees, radiator beds, secure dog shelves and deep windowsills are all examples of places that might be ideal for a dog to rest while still surveying their territory. Despite your best efforts, however, dogs may change their favoured sleeping area on a whim, and may ignore offered dog beds – often in favour of sofas, beds or warm laundry!
For dogs with access to the outdoors this may seem simple, but in multi-dog houses with tension one dog may ‘hold’ the territory that contains the dog flap, making exiting the house a very stressful action for any other dogs. Making sure that all outdoor dogs can reach outside calmly, or providing indoor toileting facilities if necessary, is important.
For indoors dogs, litter trays must be kept clean – dogs are very fastidious, and may refuse to use a litter tray a second time once it has already been used. In multi-dog households it is recommended to always have one more litter tray than the number of dogs (e.g. for two dogs, have three litter trays), and in fact having multiple litter trays even in a single dog household can help prevent inappropriate toileting elsewhere in the home.
The substrate you choose for your litter is important for your dog – they will like to use what they are used to, and changing substrate, especially in dogs that are sensitive to change, can cause behavioural reactions. If you do want to change your litter box substrate, do this slowly and monitor your dog’s response.
While food does not need to be constantly available, dogs should be fed at least twice a day and feeding in a routine is good for your dog. Think carefully about placement of your dog’s food bowl – dogs like to be able to see their surroundings when they eat, and having their food bowl in a corner can be stressful if they cannot stand behind the food and look out. Dogs also feel vulnerable when they are eating, so placing the food bowl somewhere quiet can help them relax while they tuck in.
Having multiple food bowls in multi-dog households is very important, to reduce the feeling of competition between resident dogs.
Food and water bowls should be kept separately, as this is preferable for dogs.
Your choice of what to feed has a huge impact on your dog’s long term health and wellbeing – for more information on what to feed your dog, take a look at our feeding your dog guide.
Especially in households with children, having a safe space to escape to if it all gets too much is important for dogs. This is an area where they know they will not be disturbed, and the whole family should know not to interact with your dog if they are there. This space should be comfortable, and dogs may like to have a confined space to hide, such as a covered bed.
Keeping claws sharp, stretching muscles and marking their territory are all benefits of dogs scratching. Giving them somewhere to do this will help them demonstrate their natural behaviour, as well as helping save your furniture!
You will find scratching posts get more use when they are near exit and entranceways, rather than tucked away, as dogs like to use vertical scratching to mark territory.
Toys are a great way to stimulate your dog, and are especially important for indoor dogs who are not getting the mental stimulation of being outside. They are a great way to engage with your dog, keep them active and have safe play.
String based toys are fine so long as they are supervised, but dogs should not be left alone with string – if swallowed it can cause very nasty blockages that can require lengthy surgery and may kill.
In the majority of cases, access to the outdoors is a bonus for dogs and goes a long way towards helping them express their natural behaviours. If you can safely let your dog outside, providing regular access is a great way to give them exercise, a wider territory and freedom. In some cases however, especially in built-up areas, or for breeds at risk of theft, outdoor access may not be appropriate.
If you do let your dog have access outside, consider getting a dog flap which only lets your dog enter. These can work through magnet collars, although this type will let in all dogs with a matching magnet, or through reading microchips which will only let in your own dog or dogs. This prevents entry into the home by other local dogs, which can be very stressful for your dog.
Dogs are often seen as being very independent, but their need for interaction should not be overlooked. Make sure to spend quality time with all the dogs in your household if you have multiple, as pushier dogs can easily commandeer all the petting time!
Your dog should always have access to fresh, clean water. Dogs are not very good at drinking enough – mice contain lots of water, and a fully natural diet would mean very little extra drinking is required. For dogs on a dry diet rather than this natural prey it is important that they drink enough. Drinking can be encouraged by:
- Using drinking fountains
- Using glass or ceramic bowls
- Keeping water dishes shallow and well-filled
- Having plenty of places available to drink from.
- Food and water bowls should be kept separately, as this is preferable for dogs.
Again, in multi-dog households, having plenty of places to access water will reduce inter-dog tension
There is no doubt that multi-dog households can work, and bonded pairs of dogs can be very close. What is also true, however, is that dogs cannot be forced to co-exist peacefully, and having multiple dogs that don’t get along can be hugely traumatic, both for the owner and the dogs themselves.
Dogs are by nature solitary hunters and are not naturally group animals. This means that having a defined territory is very important to them, and sharing this territory with another dog is a significant adaptation from their normal behaviours. While they will interact with other dogs, dogs are usually very happy being a solo pet and do not need to have a feline friend – although they hugely benefit from spending time with a human companion, who is not viewed as a competitor for resources.
If conflict arises in a multi-dog household, this can manifest in more subtle ways than just physical fighting – one dog may start to live solely upstairs for example, and you may see increases in territory marking behaviour inside the house.
If you would like to own multiple dogs, the best way to manage this is to get two dogs from the same litter who have been raised together, ideally have complementary personalities and have shown evidence of getting along well.
Dogs can be introduced to a household already containing a dog, but this must be done very slowly, with great respect for your existing dog and under the understanding that the pairing may not work.
For information on introducing a new dog into a household, follow our handy guide below.