How To Live Peacefully in a Multispecies Household
I live in a multispecies household, I have always had dogs and a menagerie of other animals as well – from gerbils and hamsters to fish, frogs and lizards. No, it’s not a zoo, but yes, it is a lot of work!
But I manage to keep it pretty chill. I have peace in my house, due to strict supervision and routine. It’s all in the name of safety! I don’t live in a Disney movie, nor is the Law of the Jungle. My current animals include a whole flock of birds, a hamster, a leopard gecko and a pack of dogs. The animals coexist, under my supervision. They aren’t friends. While the world doesn’t need any more division, it’s my stance that I don’t mix species in my roof.
While my pets are family, I can’t discount the fact that they are animals with their own instincts and behaviours, adapted to their species. The nature of my pets must be taken into account. Predator and prey, and each species are different.
The dogs definitely fall on the predator side of the equation. Pretty much every other pet in the house can be seen as food to them. While they usually don’t seem to notice the fish, I have no doubt if they have the opportunity to eat them, it would be a sushi buffet. But the fish stay in their tanks, and the dogs stay out. So that’s an easy one. But with some of my smaller pets, like my hamster, leopard gecko or birds, there is no doubt that the dogs would regard them as a quick snack. And that’s fine – they’re dogs, and because I choose to keep many different species, it’s my job to keep them all safe.
Obedience training and dogs sports have gone a long way in giving me communication tools to use with my dogs. They are relaxed and calm in the house. But I don’t doubt for a second that presented with an opportunity, my dogs would act as dogs do, and chase and chomp. I respect my dogs and their amazing instincts. I know they can move faster than me. I don’t need to tempt fate by allowing my hamster to cross their path to satisfy my training ego. It’s just not worth the risk.
Even my most playful dog who literally would not hurt a fly has the potential to injure or kill a smaller animal. His play style is “paws” on and bouncy. If he saw one of my birds as a potential playmate, well, it’s just not gonna go well for the bird. He’s a sweetheart and obedient, but besides his instincts, there’s a huge size and behavioural difference.
Prey animals who squeal or run will trigger predatory instincts. That would be my hamster. She’s super awesome, and really good at being a hamster, but she has little training and kind of does whatever she wants. I have no guarantee that she wouldn’t squeal or run, triggering the dogs to chase.
I had a chinchilla that for all of his 22 years in my house, he hated the dogs. He wasn’t the type to run or squeal, he was all about the fighting first. All it would take was for a dog to even walk past his room and he would act defensive. Needless to say, no dog even ever attempted to go near his cage. But for precaution, the dogs couldn’t reach his cage, and he was always given play time behind closed doors without the dogs. I loved him, and I loved my dogs, but spending time with them together wouldn’t have made anyone happy.
Each species has its own system of communication. Some are highly developed, while others are not. But each communication system is specific to the species and can’t always be understood by other species. Allowing interspecies to play together might not end well at all – there is potential for injury on both sides.
You know your dog the best, but know your dog is a dog. Mixing species isn’t so cute when you consider the consequences. Love them and respect their instincts. Respect them for the dogs they are, and their amazing instincts.
Kevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: "Get outside and play with your dogs!
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