The AHS blog is kicking off a new series called Tips, Tricks and Tools by Mailey! This new series is dedicated to answering reader questions. We want you guys to write in with all your inquiries on animal behavior and training. Here’s how it will work: e-mail your questions to email@example.com, Mailey McLaughlin, our Animal Behavior and Training expert, will answer them and then they will be posted in one week.
We have 3 3 year old Malteses, 2 girls and 1 boy. The 2 bigger ones are from the same litter and have bonded more and the little one from a different litter is subservient to them. The 2 bigger ones bark when anyone comes to our house, and if we don’t put them on a leash, they will attempt to nip at their pant leg or skirt. If they get used to the visitor but the visitor gets and leaves the room and then comes back into the room, the barking and attempt to nip will begin again. We have tried to get them to stay but they will not when the guest gets up. Any ideas?
Another problem is that there is a dog next door and now when we go to let them out in the fenced in back yard, the 2 big ones immediately run to the fence and start barking even if there is no one on the other side. What can we do?
It can indeed be challenging to have multiple dogs, especially littermates or dogs that were raised together from puppyhood. They are harder to train and housebreak, and they tend to bond so closely with each other that they don’t respect the humans as leaders. It sounds like you have a case of “littermate syndrome” going on.
Fixing the problem means setting it up so that you can get their attention and train some simple commands that they can obey even when excited or distracted. They will need to be separated on a regular basis so you can establish some leadership. I recommend against getting multiple puppies at once, but if it’s already done, the best thing to do is keep them separated a lot as they grow up so they are easier to train and don’t develop hierarchy issues (this generally flies in the face of what people think is best; they get multiples so they can have companionship, but constant togetherness in growing puppies is actually detrimental to their growth). Since these guys are already grown, it’s going to be a little trickier, as they are not going to take to being separated much, I’d imagine. But with patience and work, it can be done.
I’d start crating them separately, in separate rooms, only allowing them to have time together a few hours a day. If they’ve never been crate-trained, this will probably be trying as they will likely cry more than the average dog in crate training. Be resolute and ignore the noise. One of the adults in the home should take over the training of one of the dogs, and the other adult the other dog, if possible. Teach them some basic commands like “sit,” “lie down,” and “come to me.” (Consult a good book like Kilcommons’ and Wilson’s My Smart Puppy, or hire a trainer to help you).
Keep them on leash (or keep them crated when you can’t be actively training them) when guests visit so that you can control them. Teach them to lie quietly beside you instead of allowing them to nip at pants legs. Leadership comes when dogs learn that you will allow certain things and not others, the right things will be rewarded, and you control all the good stuff. It is not harsh, but firm, and since dogs crave structure and a leader, most respond right away.
When they have a solid “come,” the hijinks in the yard will cease because you will be able to get their attention and call them away from the fence and give them alternative behaviors. Right now, they think barking at the fence is their “job.” They don’t know any other way to behave, so guide them to a better, quieter behavior, and reward.
The importance of consistent basics cannot be overemphasized, and even small breeds need training. They are still young, so they will learn. Good luck!
These answers were provided by Mailey E. McLaughlin, M.Ed., our Training & Behavior Manager and Certified Dog Trainer. For more information, email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.