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According to a 2006 Gallup poll, 44% of American families include a dog. Fifty-nine percent of these dog-friendly households include a single dog, but the remaining 41% of dog-owning families include multiple dogs. Chances are, these dogs became a part of the family at different times, and had to learn to live together peaceably. If your family is considering adding a new dog to the household for the holidays–or any time of year–there are several considerations to discuss first.
Before Attempting Introductions
Before attempting to introduce your dog to a new dog, determine whether one or both of the dogs are spayed or neutered. Introductions and future interactions are likely to go more smoothly if both dogs are spayed or neutered. You also want to consider the previous social experience and social history of each dog. Have they gotten along with others well in the past? Are they timid? Are they anxious? What kind of social behavior has each dog typically exhibited before?
Each dog’s background and history should also be taken into account. Perhaps one is a rescue who has suffered some trauma that may make meeting new dogs difficult, for example. Perhaps the other has spent his life socializing at the dog park and usually gets along well with other dogs. If either dog has had trouble getting along with other dogs in the past, you may want to consider hiring a trainer to help with the introductions.
Once you have decided to introduce your dog to a new dog, be it a potential new addition to the family, a walking buddy’s furry friend, or a dog who will be visiting for a period of time, be aware that it may not go as smoothly as planned. Each dog’s past social interactions and general background can pose difficulties for the introductions.
For example, if one dog has been attacked by another dog and is therefore anxious, initial introductions may prove challenging. Also, like people, all dogs have certain personalities and may be predisposed to be open or closed to new social settings and new dogs. As stated above, if either dog has a history of or predisposition towards anxiety, aggression, etc., hiring a trainer to be present for the introductions is likely a wise choice.
Be Aware of Body Language
Before introducing dogs to each other, you should make sure you know how to read their body language. Here are a few things to look for as you proceed with introductions:
- Prolonged eye contact or staring indicates a challenge or aggression. If the dogs give each other quick glances and then look away, this can be a good sign; however, if either or both dog is engaging in extended, intense eye contact, the interaction is not going well. This type of eye contact indicates the dog feels aggressive and could be a precursor to a fight.
- Stiffened body and raised hackles are typically not a good sign, as they can indicate anxiety, protectiveness, fear or aggression.
- Rough play, though it may seem like a good sign, can quickly turn into fighting between dogs who do not know each other well. Closely monitor any intense play, and if it seems the dogs’ energy levels are growing too high or the play is getting too rough, separate the dogs and allow them to calm down before beginning introductions again.
- Chasing each other may also be a good sign, as long as things are even. Make sure one dog is not always chasing while the other always being chased. If it appears one or both dogs are tired of the game, separate them for a break.
- Gentle corrections are a normal part of the introduction process, so be careful not to mistake a quick head whip or a sharp warning yelp for aggression.
- Pawing the air and play bowing are good signs that they want to be friends.
Steps to Follow
- Before initial introductions, it’s a good idea to take a nice, long walk to help the dogs expend some energy and thus feel calmer when they meet.
- Choose neutral territory for the first meeting. Outside is best, as neither dog will feel trapped. Avoid places with which either dog is familiar, such as your backyard, a favorite dog park, or a frequent walking route.
- Keep the dogs separated, each with her own handler, but within sight of each other, on loose leashes. Each handler should have high-value treats on hand.
- Walk the dogs within sight of each other, but not within reach.
- Be sure to let the dogs set the pace. Do not try to force interaction before both dogs are ready.
- Provide positive reinforcement for good behavior, such as when the dogs look at each other without growling.
- If interactions at a distance are not going well, or if as the dogs get closer together the introduction begins to sour, redirect the dogs’ attention and try again after both dogs are calm.
- Once both dogs seem comfortable in close proximity to each other, allow one to walk ahead of the other, and then switch, or allow the dogs to cross each other’s paths. This allows the dogs to become accustomed to each other’s scents.
- Allow the dogs to walk side by side.
- After the dogs have successfully walked side by side without incident, allow supervised off-leash interaction.
- At the first sign of even the slightest agitation on the part of either dog, slow the pace of the introduction. This may require separating the dogs for a time to allow them a break.
Throughout the steps above, remember to use positive reinforcement, such as high-value treats or praise, for all good behavior. Use verbal prompts for less than desirable behavior, and slow down the introduction if necessary. If the attempt seems a failure, consider involving a trainer.
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In the Home
If the initial introduction goes well, your situation may eventually require the dogs to be in the same household together. Do not attempt to place the dogs in the same house or building until they are 100% comfortable on neutral territory. Once this is the case, transport the dogs from the neutral territory to the home in separate vehicles if possible, or separate crates in the same vehicle if necessary. At first, keep the dogs in their own separate space within sight of each other, using a tall baby gate like the one shown below. Be sure to continue to reward any positive social behavior.
Even when the dogs are separated but within sight of each other, never leave food, treats, toys, or any high-value object out or accessible, as the dogs may fight over it. Monitor the dogs closely with the gate up before allowing them to spend time in the same room together, and maintain close supervision for an extended period of time whenever the dogs are together in a room.
Even once you are confident the dogs will get along in the same room together without close supervision, always separate them when they are eating or when you are providing treats. You don’t want to create a reason for competition to begin.
Finally, allow the dogs themselves to establish dominance and submissiveness. Do not impose upon them your idea of which dog (senior pack member, for example) should be dominant.
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Hounds in Harmony
While introducing dogs to each other can pose some difficult challenges, if done correctly, introductions can prove smooth and successful, and lead to a happy, harmonious pack.