Managing a Multi-Pet Household
When my older sister or brother moved away to college, a room in the house became empty. Soon, my parents, for some absurd reason, welcomed a stranger to use the empty room. I asked, “Why?” But, my parents kept telling me that it’s for my own good. With the stranger, the dining room table where everyone gathers, the hallway I walk after a shower, and the backyard where I play frisbee no longer feel like my home. Everything seems to stress me out.
Multiple Pets: “It’s for my pet…” But, Is it?
Imagine your lovely pet as the main character of the story above. Do you get a sense of what he/she might feel when you introduce a new furry friend to your home? Pet parents often get a new pet to provide the companionship and socialization of their pet. Pets, however, see new pets as competitors fighting for the parent’s love, just like children do. Therefore, if you want to manage a multi-pet household, you need to take the initiative to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Just because your neighbor's dog gets along with its household pets doesn't imply your pet will too.
▪︎ Securing own space: Dogs and cats who previously roamed around the house alone must suddenly give up space for a new roommate. So before you adopt another pet, at least make sure your home is big enough for multiple pets to play around. It’s crucial to provide private space for your pets separated from their shared play areas. Cats, especially, require their own comfort zone. Just imagine how terrible it would be to cram a bunch of mischiefs into a small room.
▪︎ Meal Time: Meals should not become a competition. If you're raising a dog and a cat, it’s ideal to feed your cat while you’re walking your dog. Generally, cats are sluggish eaters, and if you don’t keep a watch, hungry dogs can ravenously devour your cat’s meal. If you have more than one dog, it’s best to feed them in separate areas where they can’t see each other.
▪︎ Resource Allocation: Treats, toys, and constant attention. These become resources to share in the presence of a new competitor. If so, who should be the one allocating these resources? It should be the job of pet parents, and it should be done fairly so that no pet is left behind. For example, pet each of your pets in turn. Once pets learn that they each have a turn, the order should not cause issues.
▪︎ 1 on 1 Meeting: What if your pets become so close to each other that they ignore you? Pets that live in a group tend to have weakened connections with their pet owners. If that's the case, keep persistent efforts to form strong bonds. From simple training to short walks, make 1 on 1 time for interactions and reward them after. Let your pets learn that they can enjoy themselves even when they are separated from one another.
▪︎ Pet parents are the United Nations: If you have a feeling that something bad is about to happen, quickly eliminate any potential sources of conflict. If that doesn’t help, separate your pets in each of their favorite areas. There's no need for your pets to establish a pecking order, and you should be the one actively interfering and resolving issues. For example, if one of your pets shows possessive behavior with a particular toy, do not toss it anywhere or give it to another pet.
TL;DR All I'm saying is that having pets is exactly like having kids!
Having multiple pets is just like having kids in that you feed them the same food, buy them the same toy, reconcile them if they fight, teach them manners, and show them the same affection. However, your lovely furry friends don’t talk, so you’re unlikely to recognize problems until one pet is injured. Therefore, always remember that how you handle situations determines whether you live in a zoo or a house filled with love.
[Editorial note: I'm a parent of two dogs myself. One is a bichon; the other is a poodle. While writing this article, I realized how well-behaved my pets are. I don't even follow some of the rules in this article, but my dogs haven’t fought in two years. Or it might be that they fight but reconcile before I get home from work.]