Adding a Dog
“The worst way to introduce two dogs is head to head in a small space.” Gwen Bailey
It is not uncommon for families to decide to get a companion for their dog to play with while they are away at work and the children are at school. Very often they are able to add the newcomer to the family with relative ease and since they experienced very few problems in the process, may end up with a multi-dog household. However, not all additions to a canine family are trouble free because dogs have their own clear-cut rules about an ideal companion for them and inexperienced owners may not have given enough thought to the selection of the new dog. It may be fine with the other dog/s but may hate cats or may not be sure of children. We may regard the dog as “part of my family,” but it must be remembered that by bringing the dog into your home, you allowed him to join your “pack.”
It then is your responsibility as the owner and pack leader to ensure that the new addition becomes a happy, well-adjusted member of the family or pack. Thus, the dog’s behaviour, no matter how difficult or how much of a problem, is your responsibility and if you cannot cope, the dog becomes the loser and gets banished to the backyard or returned to the shelter. That is why great care must be taken in not only choosing the correct dog but also deciding on what training it is going to get otherwise the perfect pet can easily become the perfect pest. What you will get out of your dog depends largely on what you put into him and the realistic expectations you have of him.
Choosing a dog
Breed selection is a very subjective matter. Adults often choose a similar breed to the one their parents or friends owned. Some people like big dogs while others prefer small dogs. Different breeds have specific advantages or disadvantages that may require some reading. Irrespective of the choice, at the end of the day a dog is still a dog. What is most important is that everyone in the family agrees, not only to have or add a dog, but to agree to having a specific dog, puppy or adult, male or female and are committed to applying the same house rules and use the same commands.
If there is already another dog in the home then greater care must be taken in the selection of the newcomer in order to avoid problems that may occur, if not immediately but in the future. You may have been lucky and have successfully introduced another dog into the family, but to avoid the risk of fighting it is generally better to choose a bitch if the resident one is a male and vice-versa, a male as companion for a bitch. Have them neutered if you do not want to breed with them.
There is no such thing as equality amongst dogs! Pecking order is very relevant to all dogs and when they meet they invariably set about determining where they fit in relation to the other one. This happens irrespective of how the owner has established his dominance as pack leader. Dogs will still compete for status whether it is for No 3 and 4, or No. 6 and 7 in the pack. Worse choice would be two dogs of equal status, like two brothers or two sisters from the same litter, because over time they are constantly going to compete for “top dog” status. Getting a puppy that does not yet show any dominance may be a solution to this problem. However, puppies grow fairly quickly and may at a later stage show dominant character traits. If the dog at home is elderly then it must be protected from a boisterous pup that wants to play rough.
Dogs, when allowed to, are very capable to establish a pecking order with clear-cut rules within their pack. Since two dogs already constitute a pack, any newcomer will be involved in the process of determining which position it is going to fill. Once sorted out between them, they quickly settle down and live in relative harmony. It is human interference that usually is the cause of dogs fighting. A common mistake is for the humans to decide that the dog they had the longest should be the top dog. Rather watch them closely for signs of dominance and submission. The submissive one will likely lie down when the other one wanted to smell her.
However, humans can go a long way to avoid conflict by choosing one that is very opposite to the one they have at home. Opposite sex, dissimilar breed, age and size difference and a difference in temperament are what should be considered. If the dog at home is a large, dominant male getting on in years, then a young, placid bitch would likely be a good companion. Dogs of opposite sex are more likely to get along than two of the same sex and will have fewer squabbles. The younger the dog is, the more active it is likely to be, the less set in its way and the quicker it will learn and adapt. Temperament is usually very closely linked to the breed of dog. Questions like; good with children, other pets, strangers, guarding, energy levels, trainability or cuddliness are amongst those to be considered before choosing a dog.
Two dogs should never be allowed to meet head to head for the first time, especially not in a confined space. The likelihood of a defensive display of aggression by one of the dogs is very real because of the feeling of being trapped with no option of escape.
What works best for me is to take both dogs for a walk in a fairly large space that is an unfamiliar area for both dogs. A 5m long line is ideal for control on the walk. At first it is held like a short lead and later can be extended to allow more freedom so that the dogs can walk next to each other but away from the handlers.
The owner walks with his own dog and the
newcomer is with a friend. The newness of the area will occupy the interest of
the dogs and they will not be too interested in each other. At first the dogs
are walked on a short but loosely held leash and at a brisk pace, not allowing
for sniffing or peeing along the way. This, not only gets rid of any pent-up
energy after having been cooped up in a kennel or car, but it also serves to
establish leadership, respect and bonding in the process. After a brief rest to
explore, away from each other, both dogs are now walked on parallel lines to
each other about a road width apart.
The handlers continue to walk in the same direction for as long as possible while keeping up a friendly discussion and gradually moving closer to each other.
At this stage the new dog takes the
lead closely followed by the own or resident dog in order for it to have a good
bum sniff (our handshake) before reversing positions and allowing the newcomer
a sniff of its future friend. The leads must now be kept as slack as possible
to avoid body signals from the handlers. The dogs will mostly be ignoring each
other even while walking near each other, which is the signal for the handlers
to slow down and eventually to stop. With luck the dogs will start to play, but
most dogs will still show little interest in the other one. This can be
regarded as a successful first introduction if there has been no fighting. Dogs
need time to get to know each other and still need to work out a hierarchy.
What is quite normal is that one of the dogs may resort to a dominant posture
when he thinks the other one has taken a liberty that it should not have taken.
They will sort it out as long as there is no human interference. The danger is
that the balance will be upset by someone rushing in to scold the one they
think has started the trouble and in so doing may elevate the wrong dog and
upset the dominance/ submissive levels. Although such a confrontation can be
frightening to humans, it usually is a lot of noise and some spit on their
coats. It must be stressed that the initial on leash walking next to each
other must be fairly passive.
I have applied this method successfully in urban areas where I started the new dog on the opposite sidewalk to the new owner and then gradually moved closer to him as we chatted to each other.
If the dogs have been playing with each other it may be possible to take them home in the same car. With both dogs well exercised they can be taken home and let into the garden. Both dogs must still have their long lines attached and left dragging on the ground. The new dog will immediately smell that there is a resident dog living there and, as the intruder, may at first act in a shy manner. It may be a good idea to leave the new dog to run in the garden on his own so that he can familiarise himself with the property. Wait until he wants to go to the toilet. Take him to the place where you want him to eliminate. Praise him enthusiastically and reward him with some treats. This will be the start of a good habit right from the beginning and prevent accidents in the home on his first day. Be careful not to allow him to be overwhelmed by too many new experiences of people and dogs in a strange place and in a short time.
Be sure to have removed anything that they are likely to fight over such as toys, food, beds and bowls. Separate the dogs while you allow the new dog to explore the garden. Keep the family away until later when they are introduced to the dog one at a time.
Meeting the family
If the children did not go along to meet the new addition, then they will be all excited at home waiting for the arrival of their new pet. It is important that the new dog is not crowded by the children and they must be told to treat him with respect and not to touch him until they have been given an opportunity to meet him one at a time. Start with the eldest child who must stand upright and still while the new dog is brought to smell him or her. Then place the open palm of the child’s hand on top of your open palm with a treat on the child’s hand and supervise the dog taking it gently. Allow the child to continue feeding him a few times on his own before repeating the process with other younger children.
Entering the house
When taking the dog on leash into your home for the first time, remember to enter first, and then invite the new family member into the house and straight to the kitchen or eating place. Offer him some food and water and get him to sit down quietly or settle on his bed. Do not allow him to wander around the house and explore on his own. You will gradually invite him into rooms where he is allowed to go and the family will be briefed on what is off-limits for the dog. At first, my dogs are not allowed in the lounge or bedrooms unless invited.