I confess I love home shows, DIY shows. I am not just jumping on the latest trend- I used to watch This Old House long before they changed hosts. Bob Vila emails me daily. I have noticed a trend I do believe is helpful for managing the active dog and multi-pet household: open concept living. Here are a few takeaways that could promote our favorites species happiness all while justifying watching HGTV. Disclaimer: I am not an expert on behavior, consult a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. I have just lived in a multiple pet households by choice since 1993.
Open concept forces one to reduce clutter. There is no kitchen door to close to hide the dishes or the multiple appliances. Dishes need to be in the dishwasher and the counters need to be wiped. This can help with dogs who guard food, guilty party pictured above. Nothing left to guard except the entire kitchen. That leads us into the next topic.
Lack of doors, lack of points of conflict. Some dogs compete with other dogs for being the first through the door, or prevent access to some household members. Fewer doors, fewer fights. The downside is that now one has to design a few nooks for the less assertive dog to feel secure in without incurring the wrath of the dog who seems to make the rules. Guilty party shown above, laying on his back, saying "who me? I am so sweet!" Instead of crates, I suggest tables to crawl under with no walls around for easy escape. I follow the rule I learned for litter boxes, the number of pets plus 1 is the number of tables for a pet to crawl under. Two dogs need a coffee table, dining table and a desk with no sides. With rugs on pads.
Lack of doors, clear sight lines for praise. The dark ages of punishing pets for training are behind us. Positive reinforcement options abound. When the owner can observe the dog who may choose, even rarely, to inhibit a problematic behavior instant heaps of praise can be given for really small behavioral changes. Praising inhibition can start small changes. It's a type of shaping behavior that is very easy to do while not actually in active training mode. Watch a dog make a small positive change and say "great work you are the BEST dog ever" as though your life depending on convincing the listener that you really mean it. Then motion for them to come over for affection or a treat. So this is really shaping behaviors, not training skills. And having no walls does make the "find me" game pretty boring.
Lack of walls and doors, more space to move freely. Not everyone will love their pets running around and playing in the house, but being able to interact and build the bond of play between dogs has helped my pet family. So, let them play, on the good couch, jump over the wood coffee table, roll around on the rugs. A basket of toys, rotated or replaced, allows the dog choose the object of play. We have no yard, and play with toys is a treat saved for the house. At the fenced-in dog park, we practice our social skills (more later).
Lack of walls forces the footprint of the furniture to count. When you're unable to fill walls with short pieces, the natural good design progression is to build up, and this is where the cats win in the multiple pet household: a place to escape or just enjoy being a skilled athlete. Just secure tall pieces of furniture to the walls. And let the cat jump.
The open concept can a friendly design choice for the multiple pet household by allowing better supervision and better timing of praising, less resources to guard, and more space to bond through supervised play. All while minimizing the clutter and adding peace to a small space. A large home with acres fenced-in and a dog waste management service daily could be wonderful, regardless of design. However, I would miss being part of the small acts of kindness and the nuanced interactions. Having the pets close by and under watch forces one to acknowledge and praise the small good and kind acts, instead of reacting to the loud and unmissable pet disagreements.
To all the DACVB who have helped us, thank you. I still adopt Australian shepherds so I still need your help and I hope you like this article.
Jennifer Hess is a board-certified anesthesiologist who has a life-long interest in helping high-risk patients survive and thrive after anesthesia.