Head Count

One of the challenges of a multi-pet household
By Julia Lane, February 2011, Updated June 2021

A few days ago, a friend encouraged her six dogs to go outside after dinner then let them back in. She and her husband returned to watching TV in the living room. Fifteen minutes later, they heard a high-pitched bark that seemed to be coming from outside! Sure enough, one of their dogs had not followed the rest of the pack. After some more backyard fun, he had patiently waited at the back door before giving an alert bark.

 
Despite the cold and snow, he was fine, but his owners were upset with themselves for not having noticed his absence. After sharing the story, my friend said, "I forgot to do my head count!"
 
I knew exactly what she meant; we do a head count now, too. A couple summers ago, when we had five dogs and two cats, our Pit Bull mix, Shelby, enjoyed a backyard sleepover because we didn't do a head count. I remember opening the back door in the morning to find her sitting on the back stoop, watching for squirrels. It was a sickening feeling; even though we have a fenced, half-acre property, I imagined many terrible things that could’ve happened while we slept.
 
If you have multiple dogs, do you always do a head count? What else can you do to keep track of a large pack?
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Photo: Julia Lane

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.