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— July 24, 2012 —

So, you want to get a second dog.
How will you introduce it into your pack?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In this week’s issue, I’ll discuss the right way to bring a new dog into your home. For a lot of people, a second dog is no sweat. If you have a super social, affable dog and he readily accepts a new dog into the pack, this Tail isn’t for you. If you’re like me, with a dog that can be ”selective“ then read on.

Gunnar, my little pit mix is not exactly a social dog. He’s not super dog aggressive, but he occasionally gets into fights and usually he starts it. Late last year, when Jelly came to live with us, we had to work diligently to ensure that he didn’t end up in a fight with her. The fact that she is naturally social and super friendly didn’t hurt.

The classic advice about meeting on neutral territory is good, but there are a few other steps that will make the introduction go more smoothly.

First, your current dog needs to be well trained. Gunnar’s training and my ability to direct him verbally make the whole process of introducing a new dog much easier. If I instruct Gunnar to lay down, he will do so and he will stay there while I deal with the other dog. If you are struggling to handle your current dog, it may not be time to get a second dog yet.

Be realistic when it comes to evaluating your dog’s obedience level. If your dog won’t at least hold a sit or down while in public, then more training is in order. Also, I have written about stimulation level in previous Tails. If your dog is constantly overstimulated, introducing a new dog is going to be much more difficult as overstimulation can make a dog unpredictable. If you have a dog that is dog selective, overstimulation could cause a fight during the introduction. This is another thing that can be dealt with through training.

Second, by going through training you will learn your dog’s triggers. If your dog is toy or treat possessive, removing those items from the environment would make the introduction go more smoothly. Once the dogs have bonded, toys and treats can be reintroduced under controlled conditions.

Third, and this is the most overlooked part of introducing dogs, I NEVER allow dogs to meet by dragging me to the other dog for a face-to-face meeting. Meetings (especially between less social dogs) should ALWAYS happen through a walk. Through the training business and the rescue that we operate, we often have families who come in to introduce their dog to a potential second dog. When I have a family who wants to introduce their dog to a new dog, we take the dogs for a walk together.

Think of it this way. In dog society, the pack moves together. They are usually going in the same direction. When they confront a threat, they stand together facing towards it. When we allow dogs to meet face-to-face, we can set up a confrontational dynamic. Certain dogs automatically view a dog facing towards them like a boxer in the ring and it triggers them to become defensive. Often these same dogs will be dis-armed by setting up a situation where they simple go for a walk with the other dog. This walk that I’m describing is done a certain way. We don’t go for a slow, leisurely walk and let the dog sniff each other. This walk is done at a fast pace and the dogs are kept moving the whole time. Once we have gone a few blocks and the dogs have calmed down and are basically ambivalent to each other, we’ll allow them to greet and sniff each other. Some dogs require a number of walks to get through the introduction phase. If this is the case, we keep the dogs separated during the day by kenneling one or both dogs.

Even with the best of efforts, a fight may still happen. I have been asked many times how to break up a dog fight. I hate to answer that because there are just too many variables. Here is a link with a few ideas. This link seems to be directed at dogs fighting that do not live together. http://www.wikihow.com/Break-Up-a-Dog-Fight. If you can find something to separate the dogs with like a box or chair, etc use it. It’s generally a bad idea to get in between fighting dogs or to try to grab the dogs’ collars. The one thing in that link I don’t agree with is to immediately separate the dogs in different rooms. If the dogs are to live together, then as soon as you have stopped the fight, they should be leashed and made to sit or down in the same general area, but far enough away to avoid a rematch. The reason for this is as follows. If the last thing they remember is fighting, they may ”pick up where they left off.“ The idea is that if they calm down before they are separated, then they will be less likely to keep building upon the bad experience.

How long will the introduction take? That depends on the individual dog. I do know that after living in multi-dog household, I could never have just one. There is a lot of work involved, but the rewards are even greater.