How To Introduce New Dogs To Your Pack (pt. 1 The Walk)

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.ย 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 ย 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!

 

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9 comments
  1. Rich of the Simmons Pack said:

    Another great and informative post, thanks Sean.

    For more than one dog, like my situation five dogs, do you do a walk with the new one and only one of your pack or do you take the pack on one side and the new dog in the other hand?

    What are your thoughts on the meet and greets that shelters do. They have them meet in a run or enclosed area and she how they react, kind of like what you said not to do, would it be more beneficial to have them walk together like your blog says rather than having them just running up to each other, why do they do that if it’s not a better solution (time restraints?)

    • oshandy said:

      Hey Rich, I think the problem is that all comments have to get approved first (that’s the way it came set up), and I approved yours earlier today…so maybe it’s just a matter of me getting to them and approving. As for your question, it all depends on how stable and what kind of control you have of the rest of your pack. When I take new dogs out, I will usually do it with all of my dogs, but I know that my 3 won’t retaliate or start a fight…if you have any question about your pack’s behavior, then downsize to the ones that behave dependably, and work your way up. Bringing more than one unstable or frenzied dog on a walk together can be a serious issue. Set yourself up for success and start with one regular pack dog, and then the new one. You’ll be more confident and relaxed, plus you’ll be able to control everything much better, and more safely. Once you achieve that, then you can add another dog…as long as it’s calm. Any anxious, intense, panicky, freaked out, or overly exuberant behavior can trigger a fight or pack attack. That’s why I stress controlling everything in these first few stages when dogs are likely keyed up or stressed about the other dog’s presence. Once you have successfully added more dogs, and if it feels stable, you can begin to walk with the entire crew…but remember, if there is a fight with this many dogs, you are going to have your hands more than full. Be very careful, and take your time…better to move too slow than too fast. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. oshandy said:

    And to respond to your second question, I totally disagree with the approach of the shelter you describe. They’re taking kennel stressed dogs, who are most likely under exercised, under stimulated, under socialized, and throwing them together and hoping it works out. Often, dogs who could be totally fine with the proper greeting/introduction, will react poorly in this unfortunate scenario…and likely be labeled dog aggressive…when it’s really just human error. It’s a shame. I’m not sure if it’s a time constraint issue or a lack of information issue…but if their job is to advocate for, and set dogs up for getting out of the shelter, and the reality is, this approach is likely not serving them or the dogs very well. The lack of information in the shelter/rescue/foster world is something that many trainers are working hard to help rectify.

    I applaud your commitment and desire to better help the dogs you work with!! Keep me posted Rich!

    • Doug H said:

      I dispute one point as unrealistic, particularly in a county shelter (versus a larger town or SPCA) : “if their job is… getting out of the shelter…” Animal shelter workers manage found or abandoned dogs and destroy dogs. They are not an adoption service or rehab facility. Like it or not, that is how they operate. To expect that or assume it is a mistake. Shelters seldom have people who really are dog savvy; it’s a low wage and saddening job to know that most animals will be destroyed after unclaimed for a period of time. Dog rescue group volunteers frequently ‘babify’ the fostered dogs and set them up for problems, but do tend to separate the new dog from others initially. Not consistently or skillfully, but they do try.

  3. Hey Sean, well we brought our first foster Lester home last night ๐Ÿ™‚ we did everything you said, we threw one other thing in, we did the walk I had Lester Tina had one of the 5 others lol one at a time, we walked together, had them do the butt sniffing lol went pretty good. Then when we walked a bit, we let them confront each other while keeping the leash loose and they did great checking each other out. I then took them one on one side and the other on the other side for a bit eventually putting them on the same side no problem. Tina and I where so gitty lol , it went awesome, it helped Lester was an absolute doll, nothing bothers that boy, I think the shelter kind of toughens them up in a bad way get’s them used to noises and dogs and different people. Also funny part, this dog was had been dropped a level because he was getting harder to walk on the slip rope lol, I had him healing withing ten minutes, I used that video that you and Jeff where on in Buffalo and it worked great, his frist time with the prong he was a champ, where (uh hum Tina ๐Ÿ™‚ ) is gonna get him on the treadmill next and where working on teaching him the place command. Thanks again for the advice…you are the man, we really appreciate your knowledge and your willingness to share, between you and Jeff you have made us better dog owners!

  4. Carol Bordes said:

    Love your videos, blog and all the great information you provide those that want a better relationship and understanding with their dogs. I have 3 large dogs…German Shepherd, Great Dane mix and Pit mix. I started with one and worked my way up to being able to walk all three by myself in the heel position.
    Here is my question….I have been told differing opinions on where the dog should be when in the “heel” position. I KNOW it is by your side but does it matter if they are a step in front of you? Basically, my German Shepherd’s head in in front of my legs. Is this bad? She is still by my side and obeys and sits when we stop. I have heard to be strict about keeping them just behind you on the side…their head is not supposed to get in front of you for any reason. She is behaving and has stopped all her bad behavior on walks but I still feel she is wanting to lead the walk. I tell her I am the leader and correct her when she gets ahead of me. I just want to make sure that I should be correcting her or if a little leeway (sp?) is allowed on where they walk in the heel position. Thanks for any help on this subject.

  5. Traci said:

    What breed is the second dog from the right? Thx

  6. Marissa Douglas said:

    Hey sean i really need some advice on how to introduce a new puppy to my family which already includes a 2 year old cocker spaniel. Would also like some more info on e collars and where to find the best ones. My current dog is very bratty at times.

    • Hi Marissa, we have over 500 videos detailing all the different approaches and tools we use. I’d start with watching our weekly Q and A show. It dives deep into real-life problem solving. Our website has links for everything: http://www.thegooddog.net.

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