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Maryland Dog Magazine

Living with Multiple Pets

Feb 11, 2015 09:24PM

Teaching your dog to live with other pets

by Debbie Winkler

Dog and Rabbit Living TogetherDogs are such a huge part of our life.  Known for more than a century as man’s best friend in this country, dogs have been companions and helpers since recorded history.

We have anthropomorphized(humanized dogs), and also other animals to a lesser degree, to such an extent that we fail to recognize normal behavior when it occurs.

Dogs are predators, foragers and scavengers. They can recognize prey at a glance. Actually, both prey and predator can recognize each other at a glance very easily: prey have eyes on the sides of their heads and predators have eyes in the front. So even if a dog has never seen a rabbit before, at first glance the dog knows the rabbit is a food source.

Anthropomorphism has a place and there are both positive and negative aspects of this. For example, on the plus side being anthropomorphic has caused us to realize that animals do have feelings and emotions that we can relate to on many levels. I became acutely aware of the fact that without films like Flipper and aquariums that have dolphin shows, no one would have cared that dolphins were dying in tuna nets years ago. Because of the connection, though people did care and boycotted the tuna industry so well that tuna became line caught in lieu of nets.

On the flip side, putting human emotions on animals, especially dogs, often causes people to have very unrealistic expectations.

It is not uncommon for people to  bring in their family dog for a counseling session, feeling betrayed by and angry with the dog and wanting to know if they need to part with  their dog for  causing the demise of a child’ pet rabbit. It is so hard for people to believe that the same companion dog that shares the sofa watching TV with the family after dinner and sleeps at the foot of the bed might not be compatible or could even be dangerous to another pet in the home.

We have shows and movies depicting prey and predator cohabitating and enjoying life together. This is, however, often not the real world and most people do not realize that the businesses that have the animal actors have imprinted prey and predator from a young age. Then they all behave as if they really were family.

There are fortunately many ways to incorporate having multiple species together in your home.

One of my favorite behaviorists is a friend from the Netherlands and they often seem light years ahead of us in this respect. I have received many pictures and videos of people everywhere there imprinting puppies with kittens with parrots and guinea pigs etc.

My first piece of advice is to begin when the dog is a young puppy, imprinting that puppy to many other species before 14 weeks of age.  This dramatically increases the chances of compatibility with many species that are prey.

Obtain secure confinement for prey animals. Sturdy heavy gauged metal bird and rabbit cages. While it may appear to be a peaceful/compatible situation, having the dog sleeping in your child’s room with the rabbit, guinea pig or hamster in a cage nearby.  The situation may not be quite what you think and the dog might be becoming more aroused than you know.   The prey animal may be experiencing emotional discomfort daily in the presence of the predator.

Using a baby gate or closing the door to the room when the animals cannot be supervised is always advisable. Just play it safe!

Dogs that chase cats may do so because they often move in a manner that simulates the behavior of prey.

It is always beneficial to consult with a professional that has experience with multi-species environments to ensure success.

Questions: Q: Can food cause behavior problems in my dog? A: Certainly food /food allergies could be a problem. If you think your dog's unwanted behavior is related to the food you would want to speak to your veterinarian about this. One veterinarian I spoke to when I received this question told me that there is growing evidence that dietary changes in some dogs will improve/change behavior.

Q: I know how to housebreak a puppy, but I adopted an older dog that is not housebroken.  Can you give me some advice? A: Absolutely! I encourage people to use the same methods they would for a puppy, meaning no corrections and rewarding with one word or sound followed by a small, very palatable treat immediately  after the dog completes urinating or defecating outside. Keep the dog close to you so you can notice when your dog becomes a little restless and looking for a place to “go” and take the dog outside immediately. Older dogs, once they understand, usually respond quickly. If by some chance your dog does not respond or is urinating /defecating  excessively/frequently,  drinking excessively or showing no signs of becoming housetrained see your veterinarian ASAP

Debbie WinklerDebbie Winkler, CABC, CPDT is the owner of Humane Domain in Sykesville, MD. Debbie is an animal behavior consultant, trainer and educator with a career spanning more than 25 years. Debbie can be reached at 410-549-1135 for questions or to schedule a training session.

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