Most “dog people” have multi-dog households. In the ideal situation, you will be introducing two “dog friendly” adult dogs, or a dog friendly adult to a well socialized puppy, with relatively little or no concern for the introduction. Even so, it’s always wise to consider having the dogs initially meet on neutral territory, but it’s probably not so critical.
But how about if you have some concerns? Maybe your dog hasn’t always taken to every dog he or she has met? Or you’re bringing in a new dog with an unknown history?
It pays to be safe.
We are fortunate that Amy Pike has agreed to give us some ideas for introducing new dogs!
Amy Pike DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and Owner of Veterinary Behavior Solutions in Louiseville, KY, is extremely well qualified to help us with dog to dog interactions. Amy can be reached for consulations at http://www.vetbehaviormed.com.
Thank you, Amy, for taking time out of your busy schedule to give us some advice on introducing new dogs to each other.
Introducing Unfamiliar Dogs
There are several factors to consider prior to introducing dogs that are unfamiliar to one another.
- Wha is the socialization history of these dogs to other dogs during the sensitive period of 3 – 12 weeks of age?
- If either dog was not socialized appropriately during this period, proceed with caution.
- Has either dog ever had positive interactions with other dogs in the past? If so, how long has it been since the last positive interaction?
- If either dog has never had a positive interaction with another dog or it has been longer than 6 months since the last one, proceed with caution.
- Does either dog have a history of aggression (including growling, snarling, barking, snapping, nipping or biting) towards other dogs?
- If so, again, proceed with caution. Working with a highly qualified trainer or behavior consultant to accomplish introductions may be advisable.
- Training both dogs to wear basket muzzles prior to introductions may also be advisable to minimize any potential for injuries.
- Does either dog have a history of being aggressively challenged or bitten by another dog?
- If so, this dog may show fearful reactions when introduced to a new dog which could manifest as aggression. Proceed with caution!
Introductions should ideally take place on neutral territory in a setting that is quiet and with minimal distractions for the dogs or people. The two adult handlers should have good control of each dog on a fixed length (non-retractable) leash attached to either a no-pull style body harness or a head collar. Each person should have a treat pouch or pocket full of small pieces of delectable treats to use for rewarding good behavior or redirecting negative behavior.
Start walking the dogs going in the same direction, but at a distance apart where neither dog is overly focused or worried about the presence of the other. Reward each dog for calm behavior with praise and treats and slowly decrease the distance between the dogs as the comfort level allows. Closely watch each dog for body postures or signals that it is worried, anxious or aggressive (ears pinned back, tail tucked up tight, hackles raised, excessive panting, stiff body, staring directly at the other dog, barking, lunging, snarling, lip lifting or snapping). If at any time these signals are seen, increase the distance between the dogs and attempt to refocus each dog’s attention on the handler using the treats, calling the dogs name, or making kissing noises or a high pitched noise such as “pup pup pup”.
Let both of the dogs comfort level determine how quickly this process progresses. Depending on the dog’s temperament and history, introductions may take several shorter sessions over numerous days or they may proceed quickly during the same session. Once the dogs are walking comfortably at a relatively close distance, you can allow them to meet. Handlers should hold the leash during this portion of introductions for safety reasons, but attempt to keep the lead loose so as not to convey any need for worry or concern to the dog. Allow the dogs to sniff one another and continue to monitor them closely for any escalation in anxiety or aggression. If at any time there are concerning body postures from either dog, attempt to redirect both dogs using the methods above. It may be helpful to have a “safety password” that both handlers know ahead of time and can be used to calmly signal to one another the need for redirection, versus just pulling one dog quickly away from the other which could trigger an attack.
If both dogs appear comfortable in this scenario, the next step would be to introduce them in an enclosed, but still neutral, area (such as a tennis court, baseball field or a neutral backyard). Handlers should walk both dogs into the enclosure together and once in the middle of the area, drop the leashes, step back a few steps (but still in reaching distance if needed) and allow the dogs the freedom to sniff and, if desired, run around. If all goes well, you can then proceed to introduce the dogs at the resident dog’s home.
Select an area of the home that can be safely divided with a tall sturdy baby-gate. Since dogs may fight over resources, ensure that all food, bones, toys, and bedding is picked up and put out of visual and physical access for the duration of these sessions. Ideally, the resident dog should enter the home after the new dog is already settled into their sequestered area and is safely behind the baby-gate. Over the next several days, if interactions across the gate are calm and non-threatening, the dogs can start spending more and more time together, but always while supervised by a responsible adult.
Dogs can become over aroused during play or in excitable situations (such as when the doorbell rings), which can lead to aggression. To safely interrupt play that is escalating to unsafe levels, utilize a loud noise (like clapping your hands loudly) or call one of the dogs by name to get them away from the situation. Manage the dogs by separating them during known times of high arousal (visitors, dinner time, etc) at least until it is known how each will respond. It is also a good idea to keep harnesses and leashes on both dogs as a safe way to be able to pull them apart in case of a fight.
In a multi-dog home, it is prudent to feed all dogs in physically separate areas from one another; never give any high value long-lasting treats (such as bones or rawhides) unless the dogs are kept confined away from one another during consumption.
It is important to remember that growling is a normal part of dog communication- it is just their way of saying no or voicing their displeasure. As long as the recipient to the growl backs off, the owners should not interfere and/or punish the growler. Instead, every attempt should be made to try and redirect the recipient dog to a more appropriate behavior.
If the owners or handlers are not well versed on dog body language or play postures, it would be best to hire a trainer or behavioral counselor to assist in the introductions and monitor the progress. If at any time there is aggression from either dog, do not proceed without consulting with a professional. Ultimately, there are just some dogs who do not enjoy sharing their space with other dogs and the owners should respect this and not force them to interact.
Thank you Amy! We appreciate your time and tips for introducing two dogs to each other!