We became a multi dog household back in 2006. I was still learning about dogs (well, I’m always learning). And the information I had at the time was to “support the hierarchy” – feed the first or most assertive or most "dominate" dog first; pet her first, let her out the door first, etc... Seemed to make sense at the time.
But if we really stop to think about this, what I probably did was teach my pushy dog to be more pushy.
In order to look at this a bit more scientifically, it helps to understand classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning (Pavolov’s dog) is about associations. i.e. if I LOVE ice cream and the only time I get ice cream is after I go to the dentist, I will start looking forward to dental visits (well probably not, but you see what I man). But what if we turn that around. If every time I ate ice cream, I had to go to the dentist immediately afterwards. After a while, I would hate ice cream.
So let’s extrapolate that to a pushy or assertive dog who feels a bit insecure about resources (food, toys, human, etc..). If I give my pushy dog food, then immediately give the “lower ranking” dog some food. What does that tell my pushy dog? To be even more concerned about food.
But if we turn that around and feed the subordinate first, then feed the pushy dog, the pushy dog might learn that watching the subordinate dog get food means good things. (food happens).
Operant Conditioning is about behavior. So we can teach the pushy dog some behaviors. Then ask for those behaviors when the other dogs are eating, getting pets, etc.. – i.e. impulse control, stationing.
Another way you can incorporate operant conditioning is that whichever dog is displaying desired behavior gets access to desired resources first - whether it’s the “dominant” dog or the “subordinate” dog. So desired behaviors get rewarded, not hierarchy. i.e. one dog runs to his crate the other dog tries to jump on the counter to get the food bowl. Which dog gets fed first?
Another option is to be completely random so no dog has to worry about resources. They will eventually learn that they will have access.
All of the above is just information on why “supporting the hierarchy” is not a good idea. If you live in a multi dog household where this is tension, I don’t suggest trying to fix it on your own. Work with a skilled force free trainer who understands multi dog household dynamics and who has extensive experience in classical and operant conditioning.
Below is a good video by Emily Larlham (KikoPup) on Stationing.
Some excerpts from the experts on feeding order
Kathy Sdao explains feeding order in her DVD set, “Does The Name Pavlov Ring A Bell” (just one small section of a 9 hour DVD set) http://www.tawzerdog.com/does-the-name-pavlov-ring-a-bell-10634.html
See an excerpt from the DVD set here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHp_dCiva68
My video on stationing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ7R-KGII6U
Something I wrote on impulse control: http://www.stubbypuddin.com/2014/03/impulse-control.html