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 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!