Living with Multiple Pets Safely and Happily

Photo by  Andrew Branch , used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Andrew Branch, used under a Creative Commons license.

Since I was 22, and have almost always lived in a multiple pet household. It was usually dogs and cats, but there were an assortment of reptiles, small and furries, and amphibians as well. The most educational were my years spent fostering rescue dogs with Underdog Rescue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition my own pup, Miles Davis, I usually had two additional furry tenants under my care. Sometimes they would stay for months, sometimes only days or weeks; but it was a revolving door of different dogs and cats coming in and out so I had to create a working system to ensure everyone (including me!) was safe and experiencing minimal stress. I also worked in a dog daycare that grew exponentially in the three years I was there, growing from an average of 30-40 dogs per day to 200+. This also required some quick and creative problem solving to safely and effectively manage a large pack of pups. My experience working with many dogs sharing a single space isn’t really something I have considered as a practical skill, but in truth I use this skill every single day, both professionally and personally.

Currently, I live in a home in Seattle, Washington with a sweet/mischievous 7 year old pit bull mix (Ziggy Starpup), an adorable 4 year old bearded dragon (P. Diddy), a ball python (Arlo Guthrie), and of course my soulmate, a 13 year old dachshund (Miles Davis). My skills and experience managing a multiple-pet household have been heavily utilized over the years—and put to the test!

To make your life easier, I have compiled a list of dos and don’ts to save unnecessary stress for you and your pets and to keep everyone safe. Living with multiple animals can be an amazing and fun experience and we are here to help!

1. Boundaries

Setting our pets up for success is extremely important and creating physical boundaries is often necessary in order to achieve this. There are many tools to assist in this, including ex-pens, baby gates, tethers (leashes), and doors. Here are a few examples of how these tools can be implemented:

  1. While enjoying a daily dental chew, dogs Freddie and Maxine are closed into their crates to avoid any tension caused by resource guarding.

  2. When Charlie the new rescue cat is added to the family, he stays in a separate room for a few days to allow everyone to adjust to the new smells.

  3. While the family enjoys dinner around the table, the dogs are kept behind a baby gate to avoid any scuffles over a dropped food item.

You can also employ boundary training so you don’t even need physical boundaries! We can help you teach your pup to stay behind a boundary line of your choosing.

2. Exercise and Mental Enrichment

Photo by  Patrick Pegg.

Photo by Patrick Pegg.

As always, exercise and mental enrichment are paramount to an animal’s health, well-being, and behavior. Walks are wonderful, but hikes in new places are better so they can explore all the news sights, sounds, and smells of a new environment! Pack walks can also be a fantastic way for animals to bond, especially dogs. In my current household, I walk with Ziggy daily, while Miles rides in a backpack. Sometimes I even let the bearded dragon ride on my shoulder! If you can safely run with multiple dogs, it can be even better exercise as it is important to raise the heart rate for fulfilling exercise.

When high value items are involved like toys or food, be very careful and provide boundaries when necessary.

For mental enrichment, there are many games you can play with multiple animals. Check out our article on fun and easy ways to provide mental enrichment to your pets. These things include nosework, puzzle toys, agility games, fetch, and many more!

3. Maintaining Individual Relationships

When living in a household with multiple pets, it can be easy for every activity to involve all the pets, especially when they are all dogs. For many reasons, it is necessary to give each pet individual quality time with you as their caretaker. First, it can prevent resource guarding issues by ensuring that each animal has enough attention. Secondly, it can prevent your animals from bonding so much so that they become codependent. On a personal, somewhat selfish level, it gives me time to really know my animal’s individual personalities and quirks.

Independence and autonomy and essential to an animal’s mental well-being. You can ensure this by giving each animal special training and play time in which they can make their own choices. The way I do this for my own dogs is utilizing nosework by playing “Find It” with each dog separately. Ziggy gets his time for the game on his walks and Miles plays it with me inside while Ziggy spends some time alone.

4. Health

In order for our pets to be on their best behavior, they have to feel good! If you are struggling to get your pets to get along, I recommend bringing them to the vet to make sure they are in good physical health. For example, say Buddy has a sore leg and Molly bumps into him. He may react aggressively because it hurts!

Pack of dogs

Great health begins with a healthy diet. Every species of animal (including humans) needs a complete and healthy diet to thrive. Of course, this means something different for each animal, so always consult with your vet to ensure you are feeding the best diet possible. We have a wonderful article about dog food specifically that may help if you are wondering about dog nutrition.

Here at Tully's Training, we pride ourselves on being a holistic dog training company that takes a "whole picture" approach to training, and we believe nutrition and exercise contribute to good behavior

5. Training

Photo by  Sneaky Elbow  on  Unsplash

There are three training techniques that I always use in a multiple dog household. Train each of these behaviors separately before using them together.

  1. Teach each dog his or her place. You can use dogs beds, mats, or even a corner of the couch!

  2. Train your pups to always sit and stay before going through doorways to avoid congestion in tight spaces.

  3. Train your dogs to walk nicely on leash together.

For each of these behaviors, contact a positive reinforcement based trainer in your area to assist!

6. Safety First

Photo by  Jay Wennington  on  Unsplash

The last thing we want to happen is for any injuries to happen to any of our animals. Within a multiple pet household, there are many opportunities for tension to arise. It is up to you are the caretaker or parent of your household to maintain a healthy, positive balance and keep stress to a minimum. First and foremost, this means ensuring a safe environment so that everyone can thrive. For example, if you have cats and dogs, provide many high perches that are accessible only to the cats so they can hide safely if they need. As discussed above, implement baby gates, crates, and tethers for dogs when necessary.

Occasionally, a muzzle may be necessary to ensure the safety of everyone. Muzzles can be a wonderful tool if you have a dog that has bitten in the past. Karen Pryor has a informative article about the reasons muzzle training is a great idea!

Lastly, until you are absolutely sure your pets are well socialized to one another, never leave them unsupervised together.

Living with a Variety of Species

We’ve all seen those adorable viral videos of interspecific interactions—the one that immediately comes to mind is the dachshund and the lion.

While these videos are heartwarming and ridiculously cute, the fact is that our responses to these videos can be dangerously anthropomorphic. It can cause people to put their pets in stressful and sometimes dangerous situations in their attempt to create similar relationships. Never allow multiple species to interact unless you are absolutely sure it is safe. It is not fair to them. For example, I would never put my lizard on Ziggy (even though the photograph would be adorable.)

Photo by  Amber Kissner

Photo by Amber Kissner

Diddy, my bearded dragon, will hang out with the dogs on my bed. Even though I have seen absolutely zero aggression from Miles towards him, I am still extremely careful and supervise their interactions closely. When Ziggy originally met Diddy, he was a bit too interested in him, if you know what I mean. Ziggy has a pretty intense prey drive and it took months of training to get him to the point where he stopped fixating on him. When Diddy is out of his enclosure around Ziggy, I hold him and watch Ziggy closely. Realistically, I know that if something startled him and he moved quickly, it still may cause Ziggy to chase him.

Sharing your home with multiple pets can be a fun and rewarding experience, though stressful at times. As always, we are here to help! Schedule your free training consultation today!

Adolescence — And Getting Through It!

Teenage years are rough for both children and parents! Hormones are raging and boundaries are tested, creating a lot of tension in the home. We’ve all been there—those of us that have raised children have been there twice or more!

There are many correlations between human and canine development and adolescence is certainly one of them! We receive so many concerns and complaints from parents of adolescent pups that we decided we should write about it.

Adolescent White Dog

What is Adolescence?

The period of adolescence begins when a pup turns about 6 months old and will last until the dog is about two years old, in general. This timeline, though, is not set in stone. Some dogs will “grow up” earlier than others, and for some dogs, adolescence may last years. Founder and director of Tully’s Training, Mary Tully, has this to share about her own dog, Kai: “Kai stayed in his adolescent phase until he was about four years old. I wasn't sure both of us were going to survive. He was a nightmare. Now at age 10 he's such a good boy - but I still remember those years!”

Puppyhood can be difficult, but most new dog parents are prepared for it. But then adolescence hits and by this time, many parents are at their wits’ end. Adolescence brings more energy, intelligence, and curiosity. Those three things combined can cause many a headache for their people. For example, the 4 month old puppy who wanted to follow you everywhere is now much more interested in chasing a bunny or exploring a tree away from you.

For this reason, living with an adolescent can be very fun in that they can be hysterically funny and creative. It is extremely important to set boundaries and structure so that the shenanigans they get into are safe and cause minimal damage. Also, this is the time to instill appropriate behavior patterns that will continue into adulthood.

Training for Adolescents

Above all, adolescents need structure, socialization, and exercise (both mental and physical).

Exercise and Enrichment

The first thing every dog owner should do is evaluate how much physical exercise their dog needs. Generally, dogs are at the peak of their exercise requirement during their adolescent period. The amount and style of exercise varies greatly. For example, a young Labrador Retriever likely requires at least 60-90 minutes of intense, tongue-dragging exercise per day, while a French Bulldog needs far less—in fact, you have to be very careful with brachycephalic breeds because of their limited ability to breathe and handle heat.

Puppy Playing Fetch

Mental exercise or enrichment is equally as important as the physical requirement. Dogs are very intelligent—more so than we give them credit for! Besides basic obedience training, there are many ways we can provide mental stimulation, including puzzle toys, agility, scentwork, herding, and many more! One easy way to incorporate more brain games into your dog’s life is to stop feeding them from a bowl and instead have them work for their diet by putting their meals into a puzzle toy and tossing it into the yard for them to find, or work on helpful basic behaviors like sit, stay, down, come, leave it, leash walking, etc. There are many easy ways to incorporate enrichment.


For this behavior you will need:

  • 4-6 foot leash

  • 15-30 foot training line

  • A variety of high value treats (try cheese, chicken, and beef liver!)

  • Optional: a whistle

Begin by “charging” the cue word (usually “Come!”) by saying it cheerfully in a quiet, non-distracting environment and immediately following it with a delicious snack. Repeat this many times until your dog gets very excited about hearing the word.

Next, you’ll practice this same thing in that same indoor environment, this time running excitedly away from your dog as you cheerfully say “come!” then rewarding with a high value treat the moment your dog gets to you. If you have a nervous or shy dog, adjust your movements to minimize any fear or discomfort, perhaps going more slowly. Repeat this many times over the next several days until your dog follows you easily and with enthusiasm. Pro-tip: vary your reinforcements by using a range of yummy treats and mixing in your dog’s favorite game like tug or fetch as a reward.

Good news! You are now ready to take this behavior outside! Start off in a low-distraction location like your backyard with your dog on a 4-6 foot leash with your treat pouch full of real meat or cheese.

Lastly, use a long line in a park!

Calming Exercises

Image courtesy of Pexels, used under a Creative Commons license.

Image courtesy of Pexels, used under a Creative Commons license.


  • A mat, rug, or bed

  • Treats

Begin in a quiet room, seated next to a dog bed or mat. Lure your dog to the bed, praising and reinforcing the minute their paws are on the bed. Ask for a “sit” and then a “down,” rewarding as soon as they are in a relaxed, down position. Reward frequently at first, every couple of seconds while they remain on the bed. After many rewards, calmly add in the cue word “stay.”.

Continue building this stay by adding onto the distance, duration, and distraction levels. Some things to keep in mind:

-ALWAYS praise and reward BEFORE you release them.

-Use a calm, lower voice when working on “stay.”

-Build their long stay at home by asking them to lay down in a dog bed and stay. Then move away from in short periods and distances. Start with a short stay and build from there.

-Work on stay in distracting environments like parks or on walks.

So, while you are working, you will want to reward your dog frequently for staying, and remind him to do so with your calm verbal “stay’ and hand signal often. Your goal is to get up to 5 minutes, going back to reward them frequently!

If they ever get up and break the stay, just calmly bring them back to their spot. Do not reward them. Ask them to stay again.

*Do not work on this when they are overly excited or energetic. You will be setting them up to fail. Work on this when they are calm.

Appropriate Greetings


  • A leash

  • Treats

  • Optional: a rug or mat

Greeting someone is a very exciting and rewarding experience for a young dog. So, they must show us they are able to remain calm and not jump up in order for them to be able to say hi to someone. To do this, put your pup on a leash. The person they want to greet can approach slowly. If they jump up or pull towards the person, back them away from the person. When you have their attention again, you can try again. Here’s how the process will look:

1. Begin with a sit and look. Praise and reward.

2. Walk towards the person or let the person approach, praising them with “Good!!” as long as the leash is loose, and they are not pulling or jumping..

3. The moment the leash becomes tight, take 2 steps back.

4. When the leash is loose again and their attention is on you, begin moving toward the person again, talking to them the whole time and using name recognition.

5. Once you make it all the way to the toy, ask them to sit, or sit and stay. Then, you can reward them with the allowing them to greet the person.

6. If they ever jump or mouth a hand, they must go backwards or the person must move away.

**If they can approach a person calmly, they can say hello. Keep the greeting short and sweet, as they can get very stimulated by touch and attention.**

Alternatively, you can choose to teach your pup to go to her place when someone comes over.

So, when you have people come over, meet them outside with your pup on leash. Go through the greeting routine. If you do not have time for this, it is better to put them outside or in a safe room until they can calm down.


Image courtesy of Dan Prado on Pexels, used under a Creative Commons license.

Image courtesy of Dan Prado on Pexels, used under a Creative Commons license.

Socialization during adolescence is so important that it gets its very own heading! Many adolescents are social butterflies yet still learning how to interact appropriately in social situations, both with other dogs and with people.

Here are some wonderful ways to socialize your teenager:

  • Group or solo hikes

  • Group Dog Obedience or Agility Class

  • Play-dates with other people and/or friendly dogs of all ages and sizes

  • Take them to Home Depot and praise each time they pass something new

  • Bring them to a dog friendly party

  • Go to the dog park*

  • Walk around a lake or through a park

  • Visit a pet supply store

Often, as a dog goes through adolescence, they get into minor scuffles with other dogs in a play session, at daycare, or at the dog park. Many people see that as a sign that their dog is aggressive and stop taking them to interact with other dogs. This is unfortunate and can be very damaging to a dog’s social skills. If the scuffle isn’t major and the dogs can work it out for themselves with little to no human intervention, let it be! The next time you bring them to play, just monitor the play more closely and call them out of it before it get too stimulating. If the scuffle is more of a fight and it makes you nervous, don’t completely shut down their social life! Just find more structured ways to socialize, like pack walks or one-on-one closely monitored play-dates. If you are unsure, it is best to call a professional.

Watch videos of proper dog social skills from the amazing Patricia McConnell.

*If your dog is not social and instead fearful of new situations, dogs, or people, please contact a dog trainer to help boost their confidence.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when you are in the throws of adolescence is that this too shall pass! This time is a wonderful opportunity to enroll your adolescent pup in a dog training course to save your sanity and to set them up for success. At Tully’s Training, we provide group obedience classes at your nearest Healthy Spot and in home, private training programs.

Register for Group Training Class!

Sign up for your free behavior consultation!

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