I am the manager of an eleven-mammal household: one very busy teenager, one old grouch, a cat that hides, seven papillons, and me. Actually, what I’m in charge of is picking up and putting away whatever they leave behind and also their entertainment.

The teenager isn’t so bad except for the picking-up part, and she’d rather I didn’t try to entertain her, just give her my money and my car. Except for listening to him grumble that “no one in this house picks up after themselves” (including him), the old grouch is pretty self-sufficient.

In fact, I think grumbling is his entertainment, and since I have to listen to it and make soothing sounds, I feel like I’m facilitating it.

Then there are the dogs. Seven of them. I have to keep repeating that to myself — seven. I also force myself to remember that papillons normally weigh between five and ten pounds so even at 7.5 pounds each, all seven don’t add up to one good sized dog.

But, seven dogs is still a lot of dogs in one household and it is certainly a challenge to meet the needs of each one.

Outnumbered and Probably Outsmarted

Photo: Eric E Castro

If you live in a multi-dog household you understand my struggles and the title of this column.

I know our dogs work together to outsmart the humans in our household, and more than likely yours do as well.

How and why I acquired so many dogs

My grandchildren lived with me for two or three years — from the time they were three, four, and five respectively. The oldest one was very scared of dogs, so I took her to dog shows as often as I could, thinking that exposure to dogs in a controlled environment might accustom her to them.

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And it did. After about six months, she walked right up to a papillon coming out of the ring in its owner’s arms. The dog kissed her, and eyes shining, she said, “Oh, Grammy, I want one of these.”

Success! I assured her we would get one and split the cost so we would both own it. After looking at the papillon price tag (gulp), I decided her “half” was $100. I figured if she could save up that much, she was ready for dog responsibility. I told her that she had to be six years old and save up money to pay for her half and then we would get one. And we did. Skylar was a very pretty male who at seven weeks weighed slightly more than two pounds and whose lineage included champion show dogs.

Photo: Cherrie Mio Rhodes

Then the middle child, Monica, wanted her own dog. She saved her money, and we picked hers up during the winter holidays in Mountain View, Arkansas. (We rarely see snow so let’s go to the mountains in the winter!) Sophie weighed even less than Skylar and was a very dainty girl. Her feet didn’t touch the ground.

On her sixth birthday, Alexis, the youngest, wanted to know where her dog was. I began explaining about saving her money, and she stopped me by holding out her money bank, which had a little more than $100. I found a breeder whose bitch had just had a litter, and she let Alexis pick the puppy she wanted from pictures online. Two or three times a week, the breeder emailed Alexis a picture of her puppy so she could see how it was growing.

Naming their puppies

Leticia couldn’t decide between Skylar and Star, so of course this descendant of champions became Star Skylar. Monica’s best friend at the time was Sophia. Sophia Munchkin was such a prissy little puppy. Being at the Disney age, Alexis went through several names — Ariel, Jasmine, Tink (for Tinker Belle), and Snow (for Snow White), and when I steered her away from those, she came up with Star, Fairy, and Twinkle.

Because I could not picture myself yelling for Tink or Twinkle for the next ten to fifteen years (and I’m sure I would mix the two up on occasion and yell for Tinkle), I tried combining two of her favorite names into something else. Belle looked as if she had a mask on (a typical papillon puppy look), so I suggested we name her after a female outlaw, Belle Starr, so BelleStarr she became. For future reference, I should learn to look things up before suggesting them to a six-year-old.

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Then along comes number four…

I bred cocker spaniels about twenty years ago, and the girls knew this. We had looked at the pictures. Nothing would do but that they have their own litter of puppies.

After BelleStarr turned one year old, we bred her to Skylar. She had been a big puppy who turned into a big female. When breeding two dogs of different sizes, the male needs to be the smaller; otherwise, the puppies may be too big for the small female to carry and whelp. Belle was about twice the size of Skylar, so we lucked out. At least I think “luck” is the right word.

Belle had one puppy in her first litter. By that time, Alexis had become very accomplished at wrapping her PawPaw, the old grouch, around her little finger. She would hold the puppy and say things like “I love you, Rocky. I’m sorry you have to leave us,” complete with lip quivering and teary eyes. She won.

Five papillons…

Belle and Skylar’s son was officially named RockStar SuperNova with a call name of Rocky. Rocky was show quality in looks, but he was truly a one-person dog and would growl every time the judge came near me. He outright dismissed my explanation of social cues.

Photo: Richie Diesterheft

Belle had two more litters. I told buyers that I knew unexpected things could happen and if they weren’t able to keep their dog, I wanted it back. I do not want my puppies (or anyone’s puppies) ending up in a shelter.

One of those buyers broke her foot shortly after buying one of the females and could not handle the cast and the training of a young puppy. Of course, I took her back. The buyer had named her Lucy but had never registered her. We decided her formal name would be Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and that she would have a permanent home with us.


Belle had two puppies in her last litter. I gave the female to a very close friend. I was on the verge of placing the male with a family who came complete with a vet’s recommendation when the old grouch said, “We can’t place that baby with children.” So the man who constantly complained about picking up after so many dogs talked me into keeping our sixth papillon, a male we named Popstar, Poppy for short.

Are you sensing a pattern here? RockStar, PopStar, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

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Seven of the little darlings…

Shortly afterwards, he found a rescue advertised online and had to get him. Thankfully, he was already named — Tyson. Seven papillons, three humans, and one cat who won’t come out in the open. I hope the list has stopped growing. I’m supposed to be retired.

Photo: naql

Everything I’ve read about papillons describes them as high-energy, active dogs who require a lot of exercise. I must have duds. This group likes nothing better than to sleep — in a lap or a car, in their beds, on our bed, or anywhere else they can find. It doesn’t have to be a big place as they are a “small and dainty breed.”

They enjoy having a job to perform. No one told mine that. Their only job is sleeping. One website describes them as having a high prey drive. Mine certainly do if the prey is a treat.

With one exception, the new dogs who joined our family had been with us since birth. Part of my socialization process is letting the four-week and older puppies out to play with the others for short times during the day. Rocky in particular loves playing with the puppies.

The only time we had any difficulty was when we brought in Tyson, the rescue. Every time I tell the dogs to go out, go to their room, or any other command, Rocky runs over to Tyson and starts barking at him. I think Rocky’s trying to tell him, “Come on. This is the way we do things.” Tyson takes offense at this, however, and responds with growls. Usually I let them work it out unless there’s a danger of bloodshed.

They are very intelligent and easily trained, and of course, it helps that they like to please and be with those they love. They are very intelligent. And they quickly learn from each other. Until Lucy came, I had no dogs standing on my kitchen table perusing the counters. Now all of them can do it. I go through a bottle of disinfectant cleaner a week.

Easily trained? Are there treats involved? The one trick mine can do, and they taught themselves this one, is stand on their hind legs for more than a minute, moving this way and that to keep their balance. We call that dancing. One of them is a howler, which she will do on cue (most of the time). We call that singing. So if the hope of treats is present, they will perform their one trick — singing and dancing.

Like to be with those they love? I agree with this one. They do enjoy our company, especially if we’re sitting and have an available lap, reaching for the treat jar, or going for a ride in the car.

Running a household with all of these different personalities — who would have thought I was so skilled. I won't ever say that it is an easy job, but it is certainly worth all the hard work. Each member of our pack, humans included, bring something different to the table. I'm sure anyone with a multi-dog household will agree.

The trick is to understand each dog's needs and meet them as best you can. Having multiple dogs isn't as hard as most think it is. They entertain each other, as long as they all get along, and truly enjoy being together. Not to mention they bring a lot of happiness to the human members of our family as well.

Catherine is a writer and editor living in Memphis, TN. After working for a state supreme court justice, she retired to write and work with her dogs, six papillons and a rescue. She has been a foster parent for abused children, using her love of dogs to teach them the benefits and responsibilities of loving something dependent on them.