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Imagine a stranger walks into your house uninvited. He helps himself to food from the cupboard, sits on the sofa, and picks up your phone and starts fiddling with it. You'd be pretty irate!
Well, this is what it can feel like for the resident dog when a newbie four-legger enters into his world.
Instead of the nuclear approach of bringing home a newbie and expecting the dogs to organically get along, try a different tack. By making gradual introductions and protecting the existing dog's property and personal space, the two dogs are much more likely to hit it off rather than fight.
Instead of the stranger invading your home, imagine a pleasant day trip to the beach. While swimming in the surf you encounter a like-minded individual and strike up a conversation. You get along so well that you spend the afternoon chatting and before you know it, it's time to go home. You're reluctant to part and are about to exchange phone numbers when your partner invites your new friend home for supper. Instead of the sadness of parting, you experience the joy of more time together.
See the difference?
In terms of two dogs accepting one another, those early meetings are crucial for setting the tone of the future relationship.
Training your dog to accept another very much depends on understanding dog psychology and how their minds work. It's essential that their acceptance of each other is more than superficial, so you have confidence they will behave when you are present and, crucially, when you're not there.
Acceptance is most likely to occur when there is a clear pecking order between the two dogs. This is because it is tussles for supremacy that are most likely to undermine their relationship. Since the new dog is entering into the established dog's territory, it is only fair to have your dog treated as if he's in charge with the newbie in a subordinate role. When the dogs receive this message loud and clear, they will get along together just fine.
It's never too soon to start preparing the established dog for a new arrival. Daily obedience training has numerous benefits, such as bonding the dog, improving his behavior, and getting him to listen to you. All of these factors are invaluable when introducing another pet.
In addition, it's helpful to have:
- Individual equipment for each dog, such as collar, lead, bowls, toys, beds, and crates
- Treats for training
- The help of a friend
- A new park or field to explore
The Polite Introductions Method
Understand the idea
Introductions are key for setting the groundwork to have the dogs accept one another. Get off on the wrong paw, and nothing but trouble lies ahead. Do things right, and the path is smoother. Dogs are creatures of habit, they like things 'just so' and don't like having their routine disrupted. They also have 'rules' of what is and isn't acceptable behavior from another dog. By respecting these rules and anticipating what might be difficult for the existing dog to deal with, you can ensure a smooth introduction and two happy hounds in the long term.
Ahead of the big day, make sure the dogs actually do get along. Try and arrange a walk at a neutral park, where the two dogs can 'accidentally' meet up. If they hit it off and start to play, then the chances are you're onto a winner. If either one of the dogs is cowed, aggressive, or unhappy, then it's time to reassess if this is the newbie dog for you.
When the two dogs are meeting for the first time, make sure they are both pleasantly tired. Take them for a walk (get the help of a friend if necessary, to walk them separately). This helps to burn off excess energy which might otherwise be put to mischievous purposes.
Meet and greet on neutral territory
Have the dogs meet somewhere neutral, such as a park that you don't normally visit. That way the resident dog isn't immediately protecting his territory, and is less likely to feel threatened by the newcomer. Praise and reward the established dog when he plays nicely with the newbie.
A managed homecoming
Bring the dogs home. Amuse the existing dog in the yard (be sure to give him attention, rather than leave him outside unattended) while the new dog goes indoors. Only let the newbie have access to one or two rooms. Let him sniff around and familiarize himself with the layout before bringing the existing dog indoors also.
The Respect the Resident Method
Understand the idea
It's important to respect the residency rights of the established dog, over and above those of the newbie. To do otherwise risks distressing the first dog and making him antagonistic towards the new arrival. What works best is having a clear demarcation of which is 'top' dog, so the two canines don't fight for supremacy between them. Of course, over time which dog is 'top' may change depending on a range of factors, but when starting out, always favor the established dog over the newbie for a peaceful household.
Respect his space
Have separate beds or crates for both dogs. If the newbie lies on the established dog's bed, then say a firm "No", and remove him. Take him to his own bed (perhaps scatter a few treats inside it) and praise him when the dog gets in.
Allow the existing dog to 'boss' the newbie
It's important the existing dog feels in control. If the newbie gets uppity, the established dog may tell him off. This is fine (as long as no blood is shed!). Allow the first dog to growl at the newbie, in order for him to establish he is indeed in charge.
Greet the established dog first
When greeting the dogs after an absence, be sure to give the established dog first attention. Again, this bolsters his position as lead dog and in turn, this reduces conflict between the two dogs. Also, make sure you put the established dog's lead on first, put his food down first, and generally give him precedence.
If the two dogs have to share resources such as toys or food, then there is more likely to be conflict and they are less likely to accept each other. Avoid this by making sure each dog has their own toys, food bowls, coats, collar, and beds.
The What NOT To Do Method
Don't favor the newbie
If the two dogs are grumpy with one another, never chastise the established dog for growling. Instead, say "No" to the newbie and correct his behavior. This may sound strange, but what you should do is back up the authority of the established dog so there are clear lines of command as to which dog is in charge. It's when there is no clear leader, and the two dogs tussle for authority, that most fights happen.
Don't ignore the established dog
Especially when the newbie is a puppy or even a rescue dog that has been abused, it's tempting to give them the lion's share of the attention. However, imagine what it would be like if you went from a position of being the center of attention to being marginalized. Not nice! Even though you want to make a fuss of the newcomer, make a point of giving the existing dog lots of time and petting.
Don't crowd the dogs
Give the dogs space to investigate and accept each other. Avoid having the dogs together in a small room filled with lots of excited people, watching how they get on. This raises the dogs' anxiety levels and could result in fear turning to aggression. Try to give them plenty of space, and if you are worried about how they'll get on, leave leads trailing. This enables you to extricate one dog without harm, should tension mount.
Don't leave the dogs unsupervised
All seems to be going well and the dogs have accepted each other. Even so, be wary about leaving them unsupervised, especially in the early stages. It would be all too easy for the newbie to discover the established dog's favorite bone under the sofa... and the fur would fly. For those times you can't be present, put the dogs in separate rooms or crate train them.
Don't expect it to be smooth sailing
Some dogs have a hard time accepting each other. Anticipate this. It's really helpful to practice obedience training with both dogs (separately), with commands such as 'look', 'sit', and 'stay' being invaluable for diffusing incendiary situations. Know that there will be times of conflict, but back up the existing dog (no matter the rights or wrongs of the situation) and bring the dogs under control using commands rather than physical force.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 12/06/2017, edited: 01/08/2021