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By Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation,

 

Hey all, I was in the process of posting a video which demonstrated some of the techniques I use when introducing new dogs to my pack or home environment, and it dawned on me that maybe I should elaborate on how I approach this challenging situation.

Let’s start off by examining what I feel are the main causes of problems that owners often accidentally get into. The biggest issue, and the one I see the most often is: “let’s put the dogs together and see how they feel about each other.” Yow! This is such a perfect way to not only have a dog fight or a scuffle, but even more importantly, if your goal is to have these two dogs co-habitate, it’s the perfect way to get things off to a perfectly terrible start that will very possibly continue to escalate.

 

I never, repeat, never, let dogs figure out how they feel about each other without my guidance. If you have a nervous dog, a territorial dog, a dominant dog, a pushy dog, or an exuberant dog, each one of these states of mind could be the perfect storm for a fight with the wrong dog. And that’s not even mentioning or assessing the behavior of the other dog or dogs you’re bringing into the situation.

 

Another big cause of problems between new dogs (and often even dogs who have lived together for years), is an obvious lack of human leadership and control. When dogs sense a leadership vacuum, they start to come up with their own solutions to situations. And that my friends, is the last thing you want. This lack of leadership puts every resource up for grabs/competition. It also creates the dynamic where one dog perceives another dog to be behaving inappropriately, and decides it is his or her job to step in and correct that behavior.

 

The chaos and lack of structure that most dogs live in creates a free for all, wild west mindset…everything and everyone is up for grabs…trust me, you do not want the wild west in a multi-dog household. This is usually what the home environment looks like in my most challenging client situations.

 

Something that most owners aren’t aware of is, all of these scenarios create massive stress in your dog(s), which is a major player in causing dogs to make extremely poor, often aggressive choices.

 

So what is the answer, what is the best approach for creating a safe and harmonious introduction? I don’t profess to having all the answers, but I will happily share with you what works for me.

 

THE WALK:

 

The first thing I like to do is, walk the dogs together…not next to each other, but on either side of you. This gives the dogs a chance to get to know each other at a comfortable distance, while insuring that no one acts like a knucklehead – which can easily cause an interaction go sour. It’s imperative that you keep the leashes short, but not tight/tensioned. If the leashes are too loose, you will not have control, the dogs will likely get into each others spaces and this will very likely get you into trouble. I would also heavily recommend a prong collar on both dogs. In order to be safe, you have to have control of the dogs…and flat buckle or harnesses will not do the trick.

 

If things are really dicey, and you’re not feeling that you can safely manage both dogs, have someone assist you. But lets back up a bit. As soon as I put the leashes on, I set the tone…I shift my mindset, energy, vibe…whatever you want to call it immediately. I let all the dogs involved know that I will be directing and running every aspect of this endeavor. I cannot stress enough how important it is for both dogs to be in a state of mind where they are taking you seriously. This doesn’t mean any heavy handed interaction, but simply that you control every bit of movement and behavior, and insure all dogs are acting politely, BEFORE you begin the walk. Like I said, set the tone. This tone is saying,”this walk will be 100% controlled by this human, and any monkey business will not be tolerated, and will  warrant a correction and immediate addressing.” Be sure your state of mind is relaxed and confident.

 

It should go without saying that both dogs should be walking right by your side…no pulling, darting around, disregarding etc. You want to create a really nice, relaxed heel.

 

Once again, if one of the dogs is too intense, have someone help you. They can start by walking the dog behind you or in front of you, and as things relax, they can close the distance. If you can achieve this, than I would move the dogs to either side of you. How does it look? How do things feel? Are they lunging at each other, or calmly enjoying the walk? If they’re calm, I will then move one dog out in front of the other (but do not stop moving!!), and I will create a moving, controlled, butt sniffing ritual. Be sure no one acts the fool and tries to nip, lunge, or hump. If that looks good, then I switch positions, and move the front dog into the rear position (literally!), and do the exercise all over again.

 

I love this exercise because it safely introduces dogs to each and gives me the opportunity to see how they feel about each other. After I’ve completed this exercise (it only takes a few minutes), and if things are feeling comfortable, I will bring them back to either side of me and continue walking them for a good amount of time. You need to be constantly watching and gauging the vibe between the two dogs. The hope is that they’re feeling more and more relaxed. If so, you’re off to a promising start. If one of them erupts and goes after the other, you have more work to do.

 

After walking a while, you can put them in a sit (while sill controlling their access to each other), and see how they feel…has anything changed due to the lack of movement and their ability to focus solely on each other? If you see any tension, mad dogging, or other nasty intentions, I would correct that immediately…nothing extreme, but enough to redirect their attention off of the other dog and back to you. Then back to walking.

 

The longer you walk, the more opportunity the dogs have to feel more comfortable with each other. Personally, when new dogs come into The Good Dog, I usually will walk them with my pack for a minimum of an hour. This will give me an opportunity to see how everyone feels about each other in a number of situations and with a number of distractions or triggers.

 

This is the first step I utilize when introducing new dogs, and it has worked extremely well for me – but this is only the first step. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to remind you again that THE most important component of successfully introducing new dogs on the walk, is that you take your time, move slow, and control EVERYTHING – every moment, every action, and you do it with a no-nonsense, assertive state of mind. This approach to the walk is why in all the years I’ve been doing this (and sometimes I have 10, 12 14 dogs all together), I’ve only had one problem on a walk…ever.

 

Next time we’ll talk about safely introducing new dogs to your pack in the house.

 

If you have any questions, please hit me up in the comments section! Thanks!

 

By Sean O’Shea

Hey all, last weekend I had the great pleasure to attend Chad Mackin’s Pack to Basics workshop in Riverside CA. Chad has pioneered an advanced concept for socializing dogs with varying degrees of behavior problems. Without this program, many of dogs would never be able to be off leash around other dogs, and would never be given the chance to recover their natural social state.

The program uses the dog’s naturally strong social drive to reduce stress and fear, and to build confidence. It’s a breathtaking thing to behold…watching dogs with issues almost instantly begin to adapt and change their behavior and their choices. It’s definitely an advanced program, and not for the faint of heart. Any time you have strong breeds off leash, that have issues, the stakes are fairly high. But the reality is, you have to be able to push boundaries, and walk the tightrope a bit to give dogs a chance to improve their behavior issues.

The program was modified by Chad after studying with Dick Russell, who pioneered the large field socialization concept of dog rehabilitation. Dick would use a rather large piece of land (5 acres I think), and had a very specific set of rules and protocol for the humans to follow. And from everything I’ve heard, he was very successful with his approach, as well as an amazing dog trainer in general.

Chad sought to find a way to modify the basic approach for smaller areas both indoors and out – which folks  thought could never work – but work it did! Now Chad travels the country putting on Pack to Basics workshops to teach both dog trainers and dog owners alike, how to better understand, and better identify aggression, as well as read their dog in general. It’s a two day workshop that will change the way you view your dog, and change the way you interact with him as well. The workshop covers both the academics as well as the hands on.

Anyone interested in furthering their knowledge, and becoming either a better, more knowledgeable trainer or owner should definitely sign up and experience this amazing workshop! This is some seriously cutting edge stuff!

PS, I’m working to get Chad out here to LA for one of these babies in July! So anyone interested, let me know!

Here’s Chad’s info:http:

//www.facebook.com/pages/Pack-to-Basics/85497347392

http://www.facebook.com/ChadMackin?sk=wall

And here’s the link to the new documentary about the legendary Dick Russell and his work:

http://thedogmanmovie.com/index.html

By Los Angeles Dog Trainer Sean O’Shea,

Ok, so continuing where we left off from the last post, we were talking about how dogs on the walk are keenly aware of whether another dog is under human control, and how that perception either creates relaxation and comfort, or stress/nervousness/challenge.

So now, lets move this concept indoors, with a multi-dog household. Once again, the primary concern a dog has is, who is in control of their environment, and the dogs in it – am I safe, or do I need to advocate for myself?

This aspect of the human/dog relationship not being totally clear and rock solid, is what causes most dog fights in my clients home. When dogs see that no one is setting firm boundaries, or correcting inappropriate behavior, they are going to take matters into their own hands, and insure that the situation is “handled”. And you’re usually not going to like the way it is “handled”.

When dogs see other dogs in the home behaving in an anxious, pushy, dominant, possessive fashion, or simply acting nutty and hyper, they are going to take matters into their own hands. Why? It all depends on the other dogs in the scenario, and their personalities, issues, triggers etc.

I often hear about dogs from rescues or from the shelter, being introduced to a new home with other dogs by just letting them go and watching them feel things out on their own. Just saying that gives me the heebie-jeebies! I cannot stress enough what a recipe for disaster this is. You can take a perfectly viable situation, where if the right measures were taken, and the right amount of time given, a fantastic situation could be created, and instead, absolutely ruin the chances of ever having these dogs safely co-exist.

Here’s my method for introducing new dogs to my home that might have some issues: The first step is to take everyone on a nice long walk together. This way, the dogs can get used to each other’s scent and presence in a totally non-challenging, non-confrontational fashion. Watch them closely, they will give you all kinds of information about how they’re feeling about each other. And don’t feel the need to walk them side by side until you are seeing a massively relaxed conversation between them…and even then…take your time, move slowly, and be patient (this may be several walks down the road). If there is tension, you are going to have to move even slower and more cautiously.

Next, all dogs should be on leash in the house…the last thing you want one of you’re dogs seeing is a strange dog prancing about his home in a disrespectful or hyper fashion. You should immediately begin teaching the new dog a “place” command…you need to be able to have your dogs learn to exist around each other, and the “place” command is the best way for your original dog(s) to feel comfortable about the  new dog’s presence. Use this command A LOT!! All your dogs should be in a heavily structured regimen – just hanging out quietly around each other. If you’re consistent with this, you will slowly see all the dogs begin to relax around each other. The trick is to insure that all the dogs KNOW that you are in charge, and that no one but you is to be correcting, and that no one is acting the fool.

The new dog should absolutely be crated  when you leave the dogs alone…DO NOT open up the possibility for a fight simply because they seem ok at first.

As you continue the process, you will start to get a feel for the comfort level. Watch for negative eye contact, tension, avoidance (looking away when the other dog is close), growling, or a sense of unease. If things start to feel relaxed, you can then take some more steps…just move slowly and cautiously…walk them next to each other, “place” them closely (are they looking comfortable?), are both dogs wanting to engage in play, or is one growling and maddogging the other?

The trick is slow and steady. I never have fights at my place, even with known fighting dogs, because I always move slowly, and take my sweet time (and all dogs know unequivocally that I am running the show). If you’re paying close attention, the dogs will let you know when they’re ready for the next step. The biggest mistake (which sometimes can have terrible consequences), is simply moving too fast and not controlling the environment.

Remember, all your dog wants to know is, that you’re in total control, of yourself, the new dog, and the other dog(s) in your pack. This combined with good rules and structure create the opportunity for a harmonious integration. Take your time and you’ll be surprised how little friction/problems you’ll see.

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