Most of you are about to make some big mistakes when introducing dogs. The kinds of mistakes that result in dogs who just don’t like each other or even aggression. It’s not your fault!
This is a neglected topic in the world of dog training. A quick Google search gives you the suggestion of taking a parallel walk in a neutral location. But that’s NOT enough. Because relationships between dogs are complex. They can’t be boiled down to a single sentence. Here at Wise Mind Canine I’m changing the way we think about introducing dogs and giving you the tools to create a harmonious and happy multi dog household. This blog is a follow to my Facebook Live talk with Chelsea Murray KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CTDI of Pawsitive Futures. Which you can watch here. But keep reading I have something else for you!
Today we’re going to talk about the Don’ts of Dog Introductions, if you want my handout on the Do’s of introducing dogs you can sign up for the mailing list at the bottom of this blog post and download it for free. You can also join me at The Virtual Puppy Raising Summit for pet owners to hear my talk on Creating a Thriving Multi Dog Household, along with 18+ hours of other puppy raising content! The conference takes place on November 12th-14th, 2021.
Mistake #1: Not Preparing for Your Introduction BEFORE Your New Dog Comes Home
You are about to radically change your life, your current dog’s life, and your new dog’s life. That’s a recipe for stress, anxiety, and frustration on a normal day. Think about how you had to adjust when you brought your first dog home. This time you’re going to have less time to devote to your dogs as individuals AND you’re going to be navigating your dogs’ relationships with each other simultaneously.
Save yourself from the post adoption scramble figuring out what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and how to set up your management to keep everybody safe and happy. I want you to enjoy your new dog, not descend into the Puppy Blues from complete overwhelm.
You need to consider how to prepare yourself, your current dog and your home and implement those changes well in advance of your new dog’s arrival. Trigger stacking is real for dogs and people so anything you can do to keep everything from happening all at once is going to make a big difference in stress levels.
Mistake #2 Rushing Your Introduction Process
Can you think of a major transition in your own life that had you feeling less than your best? Maybe a move, new school, a new job, or even adding your very first dog? These changes disrupt our routines, environments, and expectations in big ways. In the light of these disruptions we can experience things like irritability, frustration, depression, and even fear all alongside any positive aspects of the transition. Our dogs can experience similar struggles in transition, without the benefit of mental preparation, choice over their environments, or our human plethora of coping skills.
This new transition will create stress for you, your current dog(s) and your new dog. It’s important not to rush things knowing that no living being in your household is going to be at their best. Give ALL of your dogs the space and attention they need to adjustl before being expected to navigate their new housemate(s) 24/7. Equally important is to give yourself time to ease into your new normal, so that you can be the person your dogs need to succeed in living together.
It’s also critical to consider that your dogs just don’t have the relationship to navigate tough situations yet. Rushed introductions where the dogs are rapidly expected to be together all of the time often result in 3 big issues for multi dog households:
- Minor negative interactions between dogs that have a deep impact on early relationships.
- Conflicts or even dog fights.
- Dogs who learn to constantly interact and play causing general chaos and frustration for you who has to play dog referee.
Mistake 3: Treating your new dog like a “gift” to your current dog(s).
If you have been on the internet you have likely seen numerous, “adorable” videos, of older dogs being “gifted” a puppy. Usually the puppy is either placed in a box and revealed to the older dog, plopped suddenly onto the floor, or held and brought down to the older dog to sniff. I won’t link to any specific videos because I’m not out to shame anyone but a simple Google search of “Dog Surprised With New Puppy” will give you plenty of examples if you don’t know what I’m talking about. The body language alone is often enough to make ANY dog trainers’ eyes bug out of their head.
There’s also the VERY common rationale for adding a second dog: “I want a puppy/ new dog so that my dog has a friend and they can entertain each other.” This puts a lot of pressure and assumption on what this new relationship is going to be. Think about the new addition of a sibling, or a random pairing with a roommate or officemate. Odds are you have an example of someone that was brought into your life, without your consent, that you didn’t end up getting along with very well. This is what is potentially happening to your dogs. It’s not always destined to be sunshine and rainbows, ask my dog-dog aggression clients.
So remember when adding a dog, that they are all individuals with their own feelings, opinions, and needs. Your job is to honor that in all of your dogs, and not let one enjoy themselves at the expense of the other. Always remember that you are making a commitment to this new dog and their wellbeing. They are not a thing or a toy or entertainment. So please, don’t put your new puppy or dog in a gift box, literally or figuratively. The initial introductions when we view our new dogs this way can make a terrible first impression on an already stressed animal.
Mistake 4: Not Being Mindful of Resources
MANY dogs need strong relationships to navigate valued resources successfully. For those of you not familiar, resources for dogs include things like food, toys, treats, chews, locations (especially sleeping locations), people, and even water. This mistake has been the NUMBER ONE source of behavioral issues in my clients experiencing dog-dog aggression. It’s particularly prevalent in young puppies added to existing multi dog households of 2 or 3 existing dogs. I’ve had 11-16 week olds actively resource guarding EVERY resource on that list. Those pressures of feeling like they’re competing for everything they want is the fastest way to create a defensive puppy. So be aware of resources in your home. Supervise your dogs when they are available. I want you to ASSUME there will be aggression until proven otherwise.
The other place I see mistakes being made with resources is feeding dogs in the same space without barriers and where they can see each other. Let me break this down for you in human terms.
The Nightmare Restaurant:
Imagine you went to a restaurant and at this restaurant they have decided that everyone gets randomly paired off to sit at a table with a complete stranger. It already sounds delightful right? Well it gets better. Your stranger has a habit of creeping closer to you in the booth and grabbing your food right off your plate. Maybe the first time you give a polite request for the person to stop but this person, they just keep going. Now you’re getting really angry. Perhaps some of you ask for a new table and you’re denied. Others might leave the restaurant altogether. Then there are those of you who are REALLY hungry, you might yell, or slap the person’s hand, or even throw a punch if this behavior keeps going. Isn’t it much nicer to eat at a restaurant where you get to sit at your very own table and eat your food in peace?
When you take dogs who are new to each other and free feed them out of bowls that stay down all day or throw their bowls down on the floor in the same room without barriers you’re potentially throwing your dogs into that nightmare restaurant. Most dogs aren’t going to leave their food and they’re not going to be able to ask you for a new table with words. This leaves them with the tools nature gave them to defend their food. Things like barking, freezing, hard stares, growling, and even biting. They’re the dog equivalents of our yelling, slapping a hand away, or punching. Things that might have felt understandable if you were in that restaurant scenario, but maybe a little less forgivable when your dogs are doing it.
Avoid conflict. Sit your dogs at their own tables without any pressure from another dog. Let the dogs eat in their own space, out of sight of other dogs, with no way of being disturbed or approached. It’s the polite thing to do. Later on when the dogs know each other better, they might be able to eat in the same room successfully but right now, it’s just not worth the risk. Two of my dogs have been together for over 8 years, and they eat their meals, spaced 10 ft apart in the same room without intervention, but they didn’t start that way. And sometimes you just choose to never find out if it’s possible, like with my much younger dog who happily eats dinner in his crate, alone. If it’s not broken, why fix it?
Mistake #5: Allowing the Dog to Bully Each Other Into Play
This is so important I’m going to say it for a second time. If you want a happy multi dog household, no dog can be permitted to have fun at the expense of another. This is where conflict starts. If you’re lucky you won’t see the consequences of letting this happen regularly for a long time. Others are going to see dog-dog aggression in a hurry. Sometimes it’s even the puppy, because a defensive puppy using the only tools nature gave it to survive can quickly learn that the best defense is a good offense. Either way, if you want to cut hard onto the path that leads to a complex behavior modification case, let the dogs bully each other into play or over resources. Conflicted play is not good relationship building play. Play that starts after one dog has essentially given in after having their no’s ignored is only teaching the instigator that this works. Eventually, the dog being pushed into play can finally snap. Play without consent is not play. These things are contrary to your goals. Full stop.
Mistake #6: Leaving the Dogs Together Unsupervised.
NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. It’s not worth the possible consequences in these early days. I don’t care if your current dog or your new dog, “Loves all other dogs”. How dogs interact with guest dogs or other dogs out in public, while a positive sign, is not a guarantee of the same when living with another dog. It’s equally important to remember something from earlier in this blog. In transition and amidst all of these changes NONE of your dogs are their best selves. What is normal and typical is likely an unreliable expectation right now.
In a similar vein, what you think you know about your new dog based on the first week or two might not hold true as they settle into your home. More and more of your new dog’s personality and behavior will come out as they begin to relax. Sometimes these traits are good things and sometimes they aren’t. This goes double for young dogs who are still developing and changing constantly.
Mistake #7: Letting the Dogs Work it Out.
As we learned in the possible dog responses to the nightmare restaurant scenario, people often don’t like the choices dogs make when dogs “work things out”. I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing between lunging, growling, and biting and using my big human brain and opposable thumbs to help the dogs out, I’m helping the dogs out.
They didn’t ask to live with each other. We forced them into it without choice. So the very least we can do as pet owners is help them live together without hostility. Without burdening them with the job of babysitting their new housemate and punishing them when they’re wrong. At the end of the day forcing dogs to regularly correct each other does nothing to teach the other dog what the appropriate behavior is or increase their chances of having the friendly relationship you want. Be a good human, and help your dogs find solutions.
Mistake # 8: Leaving Relationships to Chance
I want you to take this notion of “Hoping for the Best” and throw it out the window. You have SO MUCH power to influence the course of your dogs’ relationships. You just don’t realize it and that makes sense because nobody in the dog training world is telling you how. You don’t have to live in a multi dog household you hate, feeling trapped in your own home for years on end, you don’t have to accept conflicts between dogs as your everyday life. Start on this path by heeding Mistake #6, don’t give your dogs the opportunity to sour their relationships. Be there to help them. We don’t look at our relationships with people and just hope it works out. We do things to improve our relationships, and we can do those same things for our dogs.
Mistake #9: Not Learning to Speak Dog
You cannot help chart the course of your dogs’ relationships if you don’t understand what they are saying to you and each other. It’s the same with preventing conflict and aggression. Before you add another dog to your home you need to learn what dogs are saying with their bodies and behavior. This isn’t as optional as it may have felt when you had one dog.
“If you listen to the Whispers, our animals and our learners really don’t have any reason to shout or scream. But when we don’t listen the whispers they have to get louder and louder and louder until the loudness is like the bite or the punch or whatever it is with the animal or learner we’re working with” -Chirag Patel
Don’t make your dogs scream, learn to hear their whispers and respond to them effectively.
Mistake #10: Not Seeking Professional Help Until you Have Established Dog Fights
DO NOT WAIT. If you have increasing levels of conflict in your home be that growling, snarling, barking, stealing items, bullying behavior etc RUN, don’t walk, to a professional who can help you. You have years of your life to live with these dogs. Do not bargain with the quality of years of your life. It’s worth the cost of a professional dog trainer, a veterinary trip, even a veterinary behaviorist. Don’t set yourself up for anguish and hard decisions. The road back from dog fights can be a long one with an intense time commitment and restrictive management. If those whispers are getting louder, it’s time to get help!
While I love helping my clients solve their dog aggression problems, nothing makes me happier than a dog-dog introduction done so flawlessly that you never need a private lesson to help fix their relationships. SO, if you sign up for the mailing list below you’ll be able to immediately download my 10 Do’s For a Successful Dog Introduction.
As always, my course, MDH 101: Dog-Dog Introductions and Relationship Building is available for purchase on the website. You can prevent problems before they start with none of the guesswork that often goes into introducing dogs (and none of the mistakes!). Start before your new dog comes home!
Finally come see my talk on Creating a Thriving Multi Dog Household at The Virtual Puppy Raising Summit on November 12th-14th, 2021! I’d love to see you there!