Bonding Activities For Dogs Can Help Improve Relationships in Your Multi Dog Household
This week I’ve had a few questions about bonding activities for dogs so I thought I’d write a blog post to cover the topic for more people.
Can you think of a time when you felt a strong bond with someone? I know when I think about those people in my life, the answer to “why” we are bonded comes down to the experiences we’ve shared with each other over time. Hours spent talking, coffee runs, shared meals, bonfires, board games, growing up together, concerts, movie nights and more. All of these events and experiences shape relationships and take us from casual acquaintances to true friends. Makes sense right?
But when it comes to dogs, people forget that these same rules apply. Dogs form relationships in similar ways to us, just with a lot less choice over their friends and the experiences they can share. Meaning that the dogs we have chosen to share our homes with need our help forming positive relationships. We can accomplish that by providing access to activities that help them bond.
Today I’ll talk about bonding activities for dogs that you can use to increase harmony in your multi dog household.
Safety Considerations For Bonding Activities:
If your dogs have challenging dynamics surrounding resources like food, treats, toys, and people you’ll need to use your best judgement as to which of these activities is safe for your dogs. When resource guarding is at play in multi dog households it can severely limit your abilities to help your dogs bond and live peacefully together. If you need help with resource guarding in a multi dog household you can get help here at Wise Mind Canine. Schedule a free assessment today to find out how!
Bonding Activity 1: Chew Time
This is one of my dogs’ favorite shared activities. We started it when my youngest dog Fish came into the picture. Pairing chew access with togetherness, and using management strategies like leashes to help teach them to focus on their own items. Now you’ll often find them grabbing hold of new Nylabones and arranging themselves in good old fashioned chew circle. The key is not to allow stealing, and stepping in to help if there’s a disagreement.
Bonding Activity 2: Playing Together
Play is a great bonding activity for dogs, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for all dog combinations. If play isn’t happening between your dogs they may need work on the other activities in this blog before they feel comfortable offering it. Importantly, sometimes you can use options where the play starts with a person and expands to the other dogs in the room to help jumpstart dog-dog play.
Now play comes in many flavors and could probably benefit from a course all on its own. But let’s talk about the 4 different kinds of dog play you could use here.
- Dog-Dog Play (No Toys): The dogs use their bodies to play with each other.
- Great for dogs who don’t want to share.
- Some dogs aren’t excited about toys.
- Others are so excited or concerned that they’re not good for shared experiences with other dogs.
- Dog-Dog Play (With Toys): Games like tug and keep away.
- A person playing with multiple dogs separately: Both dogs are playing with you, but not with each other.
- Games like tugging with two dogs at the same time with different toys or taking turns chasing a ball.
- People and dogs playing together: Everyone is playing the same game at the same time.
- These are going to be really individual games but I’ll give you examples from my crew:
- Hide and seek where the dogs come find the person.
- Catch and scatter: The dogs chase you through the house and one reaches you, you reward with a huge treat scatter on the ground. Then you run away while they clean it up. A dog “catching” you starts the game over.
- Dance party: Turn on some music and initiate play with your dogs the way they like. Whether that’s without toys or with toys. Leave spaces for the dogs to engage each other when you’ve gotten everyone into a playful mood. My dogs like silly singing and movements and will try to play when they see them.
- These are going to be really individual games but I’ll give you examples from my crew:
Bonding Activity 3: Shared Training Sessions
What’s not to like here? The training you need gets done, the dogs learn to listen to you at the same time, and they’re bonding while you do it.
My favorite time for a shared training session is while I’m cutting up dog friendly vegetables or fruit in the kitchen. I work on capturing good behavior like holding their bodies back and sitting or lying down to wait and reward them with whatever I’m cutting up. We also work on reinforcing patience and taking turns nicely.
But you can work on anything really, tricks, specific behaviors, dog sports, it just needs to be time together where they’re earning awesome rewards that make them happy.
Bonding Activity 4: Hanging Out
That’s right, you don’t have to do a thing for this activity other than let multiple dogs into a space together. They’ll find something to do. Just set them up in an environment where anything they choose on their own is appropriate. Because nothing is less fun and bonding than a human having to yell at you over doing dog stuff.
In my home the favorite hangout activity that doesn’t involve resources like chews or toys is window watching. We give them the opportunity at times we can supervise in case someone finds something to react about and needs a little help.
Bonding Activity 5: “Naughty” Dog Things
Some of the behaviors clients comes to me to “fix” are just natural dog things that dogs find to be fun. Sometimes my job is finding the space for compromises between you and your dogs. Maybe they can’t dig holes in your yard, but they can dig through a pile of old sheets and towels or in a sandbox you set up for them. You get the picture.
My big compromise with my dogs? Barking. I’m not sure how this started but my dogs want to stand in a circle and bark joyously after dinner. Why? No clue. But the one things I do know is that those three think it’s the BEST part of the day. Me? I HATE barking. Throw migraines and PTSD together in one person and you’ve got lots of sound sensitivity. But hey, it’s their house too, and it’s something that bonds them together, so the after dinner bark? It’s allowed.
So what are “naughty” dog things that might be bonding for your dogs?
Remember you can flip these “naughty” things into appropriate outlets. I’ll give some examples below. The most important things is that yelling at and punishing dogs for doing fun things together can actually impact their relationships. They can associate that response not with what they were doing, but with each other.
- Barking: Let them bark where appropriate/reasonable. Interrupt kindly when it’s not.
- Howling: Let them howl where appropriate/reasonable. Interrupt kindly when it’s not.
- Digging: Give them appropriate digging opportunities.
- Chasing wildlife: Allow this to happen in cases where dogs can’t catch or hurt wildlife in your yard. Give alternative chasing games like chase the human (improves your recall and your dogs’ ability to pay attention to you) or chasing a flirt pole.
- Counter-surfing: Create opportunities for dogs to forage together in your house or yard for kibble or treats.
- Chasing/ Wrestling with each other: Kindly redirect them to an appropriate place to do that in the house, or help them take the fun outside.
- Begging for food: Teach your dogs appropriate ways to ask for you to share food with them. Like my cutting board example in the shared training activity.
- Chewing/Shredding inappropriate items: Give them items that they can chew and shred. Pay attention to what they’re chewing and shredding and try to match those materials.
- Rolling in mud or nasty smells: Let them where you can. Baths can fix this right up.
Bonding Activity 6: Resting
One of the sure ways to know if your dogs are bonded is when you find them choosing to rest together throughout the day. Some dogs need a little extra help getting to this place. Either through intentional work on teaching the dogs HOW to relax in the same space or by using the other bonding activities to build a relationship where that happens on it’s own. I help my clients approach this activity from both angles.
Bonding Activity 7: Shared Walks
Walks on your property and in your neighborhood are a great way for your dogs to engage in their sense of smell together. Entertain yourself by watching all the times they track their way to the same scents.
If walking your dogs together sounds like a nightmare you can reach out for custom private training here at Wise Mind Canine for help!
Bonding Activity 8: Outings and Adventures
You can take the dogs on dog friendly excursions out in the world. Whether it’s car rides, forest preserves or national parks, trips to the pet store or other dog friendly establishments, dog friendly patios at restaurants or coffee shops, training classes, dog sport events or training, visits to friends and family etc makes no difference. It just has to be something that both dogs can enjoy and participate in together successfully.
Bonding Activity 9: Foraging
A lot of dogs love foraging together. The key is to use low value food in large quantities, spread over a large space in order to avoid conflict. My favorite way to do this is nature’s snuffle mat AKA spreading large quantities of kibble throughout my yard for the dogs to find. This activity obviously isn’t safe in all dog combinations.
You can see my video on Nature’s Snuffle Mat and learn about fast ways to meet dog needs in this blog post.
Bonding Activity 10: Human Affection and Quality Time
All too often people spend a lot of time when they’re with all of their dogs being frustrated and unhappy. This creates the association that togetherness with the other dog just leads to conflict with the human. Instead I want you to create a multi dog household where togetherness between dogs and people means good things for dogs. Affection, attention, activities, or just simple, quiet companionship. While also getting you the multi dog household you dreamed of when you got another dog in the first place. Sound nice? Join the mailing list and you’ll be the first to know when Multi Dog Households 101: Introductions and Beyond is available in DIY Online Course, Group Online Course, and Private Training formats.
You can also check out my current services HERE.