Whether you only have one dog, two, or a whole pack, each scenario has its own unique set of benefits, drawbacks, challenges, and realities.
Living with a Single Dog
Living with only one dog is, for the most part, a little easier, or at least less labor-intensive than living with multiple dogs. However, only dogs can sometimes have a skewed sense of reality, and become antisocial and spoiled if their needs for regular socialization with their own species are neglected. Oftentimes, owners of single dogs are overprotective of their “furbabies,” and cater to their every whim to the point of obsession, unfortunately often resulting in a dog that is a neurotic mess.
To be really happy, your single dog needs leadership, boundaries, exercise, affection, training, and socialization more than he needs to be showered with loads of undeserved adoration.
Living with Multiple Dogs
Living with multiple dogs has its own challenges. In general, or at least without really good leadership, the more dogs you have, the more they tend to act like dogs. You have to make an effort to make sure each dog bonds to you and respects you as the leader. To some extent, you have to let the dogs sort out their own pack order, but you always have to be the pack leader, without an iota of doubt in any of your dogs’ minds.
Don’t get a dog as a pet or playmate for another dog. You never know how they’re going to get along, and if you don’t have the time or energy to exercise and play with one dog, you definitely don’t have time for two! Littermates are exceptionally difficult. They usually overbond to each other, and basic temperament traits like dominance or shyness tend to become exaggerated.
It’s a lot of work each time you add a dog to your household, who will naturally bond easily to other dogs, but probably not as easily to you. Crate the new dog separately, and do lots of individual work with her (and with your other dogs). She should have some freedom within the pack, but much of her early time in her new home will be spent tethered to you. When you can easily call her away from playing with the other dogs, she can have more freedom with the rest of the pack.
Practically every dog and owner team can benefit from taking a few obedience classes together. They allow you to work your dog under distraction, and some schools offer a variety of activities that can help you keep your dog’s energy and intelligence directed in a positive way — and you get to socialize with other people who love dogs, too.
What Classes to Take
Depending on your dog’s skill level and the school’s policies, you might want to start with the school’s basic class. Be honest about your dog’s level of training if the instructor asks so she can help you get into the right class. Plus, it never hurts to reinforce the basics in a new environment. If your dog’s skill level is obviously already beyond the basics, most instructors will be happy to move you into a more advanced class.
Depending on your interests and the school’s offerings, you might take advanced classes, therapy-dog classes, agility (competition style or just for fun), rally, or competitive obedience classes. Some schools even offer field trips for a real-world training experience. You may have a choice of private lessons, group classes offered from independent dog trainers with their own schools, community-education classes, and offerings by local kennel clubs, so you may need to do a bit of research to find which offers the best match for your goals and learning style.
Choosing a Training Center
There are several ways to find a trainer or school. Of course, you can always start with an Internet or Yellow Pages search, but don’t stop there. Ask friends, neighbors, vets, groomers, dog walkers, and even the local shelter whom they recommend. Once you have a few names, make some calls. Is the trainer respectful of you, or dismissive? Do they seem to care about you and your dog, or do they just want to give you a sales pitch?
One of the best ways to make your final decision is to ask if you can observe a training session or class. If the trainer won’t discuss their methods and doesn’t want you to see how they train, keep looking. When you do watch a class, are you comfortable with the student/ teacher ratio? Does the trainer seem to be in control of the class? Does she seem to like dogs and their owners? Are her explanations of exercises understandable? Do the people and dogs seem to be getting the individual help they need? The dogs may not be well behaved (that’s why they’re there), but does the instructor handle them well? Most importantly, are you comfortable with the methods used? When you find a place you like, sign up and enjoy the quality time with your dog.