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.
Visit us at www.thegooddog.net