Great Introductions – Dog to Dog

Adding a new dog to your current dog family should be a wonderful experience.  It can offer extra companionship and exercise to your existing dog(s). But, like all good things, it takes time for them to build a relationship. The following article should provide you with suggestions for safety and for getting the relationship off to a good start.

Before you bring the new pooch home, do a quick run through of your house. Pick up all toys, chewies, bone, food bowls, etc.  Sometimes resources can cause rivalry. Until you know they are going to be able to share their resources, only bring toys, bones, etc. out when you can supervise their interactions.

The other thing you should consider before the new dog comes home is buying the new dog a new food dish, bed, crate, and his/her own toys.  Your resident dog(s) might not take lightly to having to share his/her prize resources. Make sure they each have their own.

Map out where you are going to be keeping the dog.  If you are going to be crating or somehow confining the new dog, make sure he/she has their own crate and/or confinement area.  It is never a good idea to crate two dogs together and until you know your two dogs are going to get alone, do not leave them alone together unsupervised or unconfined.

First, you should introduce them outside your home in a neutral area.  Of course, most of you will be getting your new dog from a shelter, so you should always introduce them at the shelter first.  But, try taking them for a walk or to a nearby park before you bring them home.  This gives the dogs something fun to do while they get to know each other.

When you are first bringing the dogs home, make sure the new dog is somehow behaviorally contained.  Don’t let him/her go racing through your house claiming it all and practicing bad manners.  Assume that your resident dog is going to be  a little put out about having to share his/her house.  Also assume that the new dog is going to have to learn the new rules of your house.  So, keep the new dog on a leash.  That way, you can prevent bad habits from starting and can teach the new dog the new rules he/she is going to have to live by.  And, the resident dog is given a break from the new pup.

A lot of times people bring younger dogs into households with older dogs.  This can be a great thing, but realize that some older dogs are settled in their ways and will tire easily of a younger dog’s antics.  By keeping the new dog on leash, it can give the resident dog a break. When I adopted my greyhound Phoenix last summer, my one resident dog JJ was so happy that he just kept bugging and bugging and bugging Phoenix.  I hadn’t realized he was going to be such a pest.  I had to contain him to give Phoenix a break!

At first you might want to consider feeding your new dog separately from the resident.   You don’t know yet how the dogs are going to react when they both are fed.  The worst fight of my multiple dog life started when one dog was hovering over the other dog’s food. You cannot be too conservative when it comes to high value resources, and food can be a high value resource to many dogs.

Speaking of fights, I think it is unrealistic to expect two or more dogs to live together and never fight.  Think of you and your siblings.  Did  you ever fight growing up?  Of course, if they are regularly injuring themselves, you need to get professional help.  But, an occasional fight, even with blood, is not the end of the world.

Supervise the new dog around resting places.  Many older dogs hate when younger dogs disturb their sleep.

Remember to keep things light and happy.  Use a happy praising voice when the dogs are having positive interactions. Use a lower toned voice to interrupt any naughty behavior.  Keep play sessions short and sweet as well. Do not let the dogs get overly tired or overly aroused as those are times when many dogs can become aggressive.

An occasional growl or snarl can be appropriate.  If the new dog is over-stepping his/her boundaries or becoming obnoxious, it is ok for the resident dog to correct him/her.  Just do not let the corrections get out of hand.  And, do not tolerate any inappropriate aggression.  A time out is the best punishment for inappropriate aggression.  I advocate what I call the “crazy mom routine” at times.  If a dog acts inappropriately aggressive I say “you must have to go outside” and out the dog goes for a short time.  Remember, the punishment is being removed from the scene. There is no need to yell or use force or get mad when giving a dog a time out.  A trainer friend of mine has taught dogs in his day care to go to their crates for a time out by throwing a treat into the crate.  Most dogs at his place run happily to their time outs with their tails high.

The other thing to do is to let the dogs figure out their status themselves.  Do not assume the resident dog is going to be the higher status dog.  He/she might actually lose status, but as sad as it is for us to see that happen, if  you try to artificially interfere, you could be causing serious problems.  Most trainers who stay up to date with best practices are no longer suggesting you enforce the status of your pack.  So, what that means is that everyone has to be nice to each other, but one day one dog gets fed first, the next day someone else is fed first.  It also means one day one dog gets to go outside first, the next day another dog.  Spend individual time with each dog.

Again, remember to keep things light and happy and do not expect a good healthy relationship to be born overnight. The more vigilant you can be about the interactions of your new dog and the resident dog(s), the more likely the relationship is to be a positive fun one.  

Lilian Akin, CPDT

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