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How Many Dogs Are Too Many?

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Adding a dog to an existing household of dogs can sometimes be tricky. It requires trial meetings on neutral territory to establish the dogs' tolerance of each other before throwing the unsuspecting pair together permanently. Where even greater numbers of dogs are involved, pack dynamics must be considered.

Naturally, the dogs' temperaments must be considered, but age and seniority – basically who was there first – are also important factors. In fact, the best way to start out may be to favor the original resident over the newcomer, and the elder dog over the younger dog. This "senior support program" may have to be reversed to a "junior support program" if after four to six weeks hostilities persist or are escalating.

When several dogs share the same close quarters with each other, there is often some occasional inter-dog aggravation. This may sound worse than it is, with much growling and posturing over some issue important to the dogs. This is normal dog behavior that is best ignored. Let dogs be dogs – unless there are serious biting incidents (not just a nicked ear) or biting lower than the neck (e.g. on the abdomen). In this case, you will have to work hard to establish the true leader and support that dog's position over the usurper.

It is probably true that as the number of dogs in a household increases the incidence of behavior problems also increases. Let's face it, the larger the pack the more complicated the social dynamics and the more diluted the owner's attention. But how large a pack is too large? If one dog is fine, two's company, and a small group of four to six dogs (natural pack size) is manageable with care and knowledge, what about 25 dogs?

The Envelope, Please

Having more than six to eight dogs as pets does seem excessive, unless you are a breeder or are involved in some canine enterprise that requires you to own many dogs, like foxhounds that you use for hunting. Owning large numbers of dogs means that individual dogs do not receive the same level of attention they would if they were part of a smaller unit. The relationship of human and dog changes, becoming less personal, and the dogs themselves become less pet-like and more pack-like.

While there is nothing wrong with this altered dynamic, it is in a direction away from what is normally understood as pet ownership. In general, this is a move away from close human-companion animal bonds, and indicates a more perfunctory type of relationship.

Some folk take the acquisition and mass ownership of dogs a stage further in the name of humanity. They often surround themselves with scores of dogs that live in cages like battery hens and/or run rampant around the home, soiling the place and creating an unhealthful existence for both human and dog. In extreme cases, dogs in these situations are not fed or cared for properly and end up emaciated and sick. People who foster such situations, known as animal collectors or hoarders, may be psychologically unwell and don't appreciate the inhumanity of what they are doing. They may even have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and should seek help – though they usually don't.

One thing is for sure, how many dogs you can humanely care for depends on your availability, energy and resources. For most people, owning one or two dogs is a full time job, but some may be able to balance upward of four to six dogs. Anything above this number requires a special kind of person with special circumstances if each animal is to receive the kind of attention he should receive as a pet.

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