Adding a new dog to your home could be one of the most challenging things you might have to do with your existing pup (s). But it doesn’t need to be so. If you plan ahead and follow a few simple rules, your dogs will stand a better chance of getting along and even becoming fast friends.
One of the biggest mistakes one can make (and this happens frequently) is assuming that dogs should get along because we think that this is the “polite” or social thing to do or because we like this new dog and we want to adopt him so our dog must like him too.
Dogs unfortunately for us, play by different standards. They truly could not care less about our infatuation as humans for social graces, per se. They are instead more focused on (possible) competition for resources and feeling safe. As a matter of fact, our dogs still share some traits with their wild ancestors and this is one of them. Let me explain. Wolves, contrary to popular belief, are very peaceful individuals within their pack. They indeed engage in very ritualized behaviors- used as warning to avoid a true conflict within their pack. Now, in order to keep the stability and safety within their family (yes, indeed the social structure of wolves in the wild truly resembles a traditional human family with parents taking care of the young with the help of extend family members) they must be weary of intruders, and as such, they will defend their territory ferociously.
As mentioned, our dogs, while not living in a pack anymore – even where there is cohabitation with the other dogs, since by definition a “pack” implies hunting together, still protect their territory.
With this new understanding, we can better come up with a plan so that incorporating a new member to the group is conflict free. Here are my recommendations for introducing a new family member.
To successfully introduce a new dog into your household, plan ahead and be patient. Don’t assume the dogs will instantly like each other or, if they don’t, that they will work things out themselves. If your dogs get off on the wrong paw, the relationship might not recover. Taking a little extra time is well worth the effort.
Before you get in the house.
Arrange an on-leash meeting on neutral ground. That means not in your house or yard, and with plenty of space around. Ideally, and this is important, introduce the dogs by walking on an arc versus approaching the other leashed dog straight on.
Keep the leashes loose and let the dogs approach each other calmly.
After a 2 second greet-and-sniff, call each dog away with a cheerful voice. Praise and treat the dogs.
Now take a short walk with both dogs. If, after the greeting, the dogs are a little stiff with each other, or they are pulling on leads to get another close sniff, begin the walk on separate sides of the street. As the dogs relax, gradually move closer together until they walk side by side.
In the backyard.
If possible, allow playtime in the yard. For safety, have the dogs drag their leashes until you are sure they get along well.
Should a fight break out, use noise (your voice, clanging or banging pans) to stop it. If that doesn’t work, you can also throw water at the dogs so make are you have plan ahead and have pans and water available. If these two options fail, use the leashes to separate the dogs. Never reach in between two fighting dogs.
In the house.
The first time the dogs are inside the house together, keep them on leash and keep the introduction brief, around 5 minutes.
Then confine the newcomer to a comfortable space, like a spare room, crate, or a dog-proofed, enclosed area where he can start to get used to his new home away from the attention of other family pets.
Over the next day or two, repeat the brief introductions. Keep them to 5-10 minutes and keep the dogs on leash. If a squabble breaks out, leashes make it easy to pull the dogs apart.
Make the time the dogs spend together as pleasant for them as possible. Reward friendly and playful behavior with food treats, praise, and toys.
Remember to be cautious when dispensing treats, your attention or toys since dogs competing for resources are a common occurrence. Using a piece of furniture between the dogs, a baby gate to create a bit of a visual barrier for the dogs is a good idea.
Don’t be tempted to try longer periods of time if the early introductions go well. Slowly work your way to longer and longer periods of dog-dog time.
Every now and then, confine your other dog (and any other pets) and let the newcomer explore the house by himself.
Keep break-away collars on your dogs when they are playing to avoid having them potentially tangle up which is highly distressing for any dog and an emergency.
Find other activities such as leash group walks so that the dogs share on a fun activity without the pressure to engage.
Praise all cordial and playful interactions between the dogs.
Feed your newcomer separately from other dogs. The same holds true for dispensing any other goodies that your dogs might compete for.
Keep your resident dogs schedule as consistent as possible so that they do not have to deal with too many changes at once.
With this approach, your new dog should be fully accepted as a family member within a week or two. However, If things are still not warming up after two weeks, get help from a trainer who has experience with this issue and one that uses positive reinforcing techniques.