We looked at how to introduce new cats to resident dogs and cats in a previous post. Today we’re going to look at how to introduce new dogs to resident dogs.
Introducing a new adult dog to your resident dog can be a little more challenging than introducing her to a new cat. For starters, you need to know how your resident dog behaves in the presence of other dogs in general. If she’s iffy with every dog she sees, then getting a new dog might not be such a good idea. If she’s generally quite friendly and sociable, however, then the chances are good that a well-handled introduction will help establish a good relationship.
If you’re getting an adult dog, the first thing you need to do is find out as much about his history and behaviour as possible. Most good shelters will provide you with accurate information, even when it’s not always good news, because they want their dogs to go to the best possible homes – and stay there. If they don’t disclose behavioural problems, animals are likely to be returned and they could face legal action.
Once you’re satisfied that you can manage whatever the new dog is likely to throw at you, you can begin introducing him to your resident dog. It’s a two-step process that starts on neutral territory.
Jolanta Benal recommends the “parallel walk” as the first step. This allows the two dogs to suss out each other on their own terms, but you will need to be able to read the dogs’ body language so you can help them move at a pace that is comfortable. Generally, someone from the shelter will help you with the introduction, and they will know what signs are good and bad. If you’re adopting privately then it’s a good idea to hire a professional trainer or behaviourist to help with the initial introductions.
The parallel walk requires two people, one for each dog, and enough space for the dogs to be able to walk a fair distance side by side (about 10m apart). Handlers should be on the inside and dogs on the outside. If the dogs are comfortable, you can angle towards each other to narrow the gap, always watching the dogs for signs of discomfort. Hard stares, stiff bodies, high alert tails and pursed lips are signs that you should increase the distance. Relaxed faces, low wagging tails and friendly interest are signs that the distance can be decreased.
When the dogs meet, keep the leads loose and allow them to sniff each other. If all is well and they start initiating play, you can drop or unclip the leads. Keep an eye on the play. You’re looking for balance, with each taking a turn to be on top. If one dog has had enough and gives a bit of snap, the other should get the message and back away. A little “snark”, as Benal calls it, is ok – they’re giving each other important information about their boundaries, but if the arousal levels get too high you’ll have to separate them, put them on lead and take them off for a little walk to calm down. Don’t put them on lead and then stand around where they can keep lunging at each other, as their levels of frustration will simply increase.
When the dogs are happy to be together on neutral territory, then you can bring your new dog home. Once again, you’ll need two people. Benal recommends that on the day that you bring your new dog home, you first take both out for a long walk or play together. This gets rid of excess energy that could be translated into nervous energy that could turn into a high state of arousal and unpredictable behaviour. If they’re both tired, they’re less likely to “snark”.
Let your new dog enter the garden first and after he’s given it a thorough once-over you can bring in your resident dog. Keep both dogs on-lead until you’re sure that their body language is friendly and then let them off to say a proper hello. When it’s time to go inside, your new dog should go in first again. When he’s settled down and his head is no longer exploding with novelty, you can bring in the resident. Ensure they’re in a room with lots of space so that they have room to close the gap as they feel fit. Leave leads on but let go; this is just so you have something to grab in case things go pear-shaped, but considering all the work you’ve put in, this shouldn’t happen.
In the name of safety, it’s a good idea not to leave your dogs alone together for long periods of time during the first few days and you should monitor all interactions. Remember to reward all the good behaviour you’re looking for; for example, lying peacefully side-by-side, sitting calmly, playing nicely and cooperating for attention.
Note: even if initial introductions don’t go as well as planned, it doesn’t mean that the relationship can’t be salvaged. Consult a professional trainer or behaviourist to help you manage the situation. And if the relationship goes pear-shaped after successful introductions, don’t try to cope on your own by punishing the behaviour – you’ll make the problems worse – rather call in professional help immediately.