March 3, 2011
Dear Inquisitive Canine,
Several years ago, I brought a new puppy into the family “to keep my older dog company.” The older dog was a male Yorkie, and the puppy was a female Cockapoo. I intentionally bought a female because I knew that the male was territorial and thought he wouldn’t be threatened by a female. Wrong!
I fed them separately. I gave lots of attention to the older dog, just as I always did. But I had to keep them apart because they fought constantly. It wasn’t “play fighting,” it was vicious biting, snarling, and turned out to be a disaster. It was a terrible two years.
The Yorkie passed away a few years ago from cancer. I’d love another dog in my family, along with the Cockapoo who is now four years old, but the last experience was so terrible, I’m afraid.
What should I do? What is the best way to introduce a new puppy into a family with another dog?
What a devastating experience for you and your dogs. It’s a shame the situation didn’t work out as you had intended. I’m also sorry to hear about the passing of your Yorkie. Although it’s been awhile, I’m sure there’s still an emptiness in both your heart and home.
As a certified pet dog trainer , I’ve helped many clients assimilate new pets into their existing families. And when it comes to bringing a new dog into a home with a resident dog, first impressions are key!
You’ll want to concentrate on creating a situation where both dogs are enjoying themselves, each other’s company, and the overall situation, which in turn leaves them wanting more…of each other! As opposed to a disaster where they end up never wanting to see each other ever again.
I often say, it’s best to have your own dog choose their new “sibling,” as opposed to just “setting them up.” Therefore, when determining which dog would be a good choice as the second dog, it’s best to “ask” your resident dog – or at least, take into consideration your dog’s likes and dislikes.
Ask yourself, does my household dog:
- Like other dogs? If not, then do you really want to push this relationship? Maybe he or she likes to hang out with cats instead.
- Have lots of doggy playmates? Just a couple? None at all? If it’s the former, this gives you more choices. If it’s the latter, again do you want to spend the time training your dog to like other dogs? Our domestic dogs adapt much more easily than us human-folk do. You might just need to be pickier when finding that perfect match.
- Like a particular type of other dog? Breed? Size? Gender? Age? Consider the potential pros and cons of bringing a puppy into a home with a senior dog versus bringing home a dog who is closer in age, temperament, and play style to the resident dog. If I were setting up a friend on a date, I would choose someone they would find interesting and want to hang out with – not someone that was completely opposite in every way.
After narrowing down the best possible choice for you, your dog, and the rest of the household, you’ll want to take proper steps to help ensure a successful encounter:
- Be a cheerleader! It’s all about creating pleasant associations for both dogs. Use your happiest voice, praising both dogs, cheering them on about how exciting the situation is that they’re both around each other. You can also use yummy treats, rewarding any behavior you like. Not only are behaviors reinforced, but both dogs will start to associate great things with one another. “Hmm, whenever that other dog is around, great things happen for me. I can’t wait to have that other dog around again!”
- Location-location-location: Provide a safe, non-threatening, neutral location where both dogs are most comfortable. An area where your own dog has a history of fun times meeting and playing with other dogs would be a good choice. At the very least, have it be any area where both dogs have room to move around, and where there would be less risk of any type of “territorial guarding.”
- Keep it “loose”: If dogs are on leash, do all you can to keep the leashes loose. Tension on the leashes can increase tense behaviors. Avoid other methods of restraint such as holding one dog while the other dog investigates. Dogs communicate through body language. If you keep one from communicating, messages can get misconstrued. Watch your own behavior. Keep a happy tone and posture. This helps relay to both dogs that all is right with the world. “Hmm, whenever she has that look on her face, good things happen for me.”
- Allow dogs to be dogs: Have the dogs set the pace regarding wanting to meet, sniff, and play. Learn to recognize what dog play is and what is appropriate. Encourage and reward desired behaviors, but don’t force the issue. Better to take it slow, with multiple pleasant meetings, allowing for a relationship to form naturally, versus forcing them to like each other. Think of it in human terms: arranged marriage as opposed to meeting someone at a social gathering, hitting it off and wanting to see each other again.
- Allow both dogs to display customary canine greeting skills: including sniffing both ends, and performing the ‘circle-dance.’ Avoid any type of punishment if part of “greeting” appears more like conflict – low growls, a snark or two. This is part of normal canine greeting, where dogs assess one another, determining where each one fits within their canine social scene. Just like us humans forming a “chain of command” in group environments, dogs will do the same. Allow for dogs to communicate to each other what the best “pecking order” is for them. It could be either one, and it could change depending upon the situation.
- Prevent disasters: You’ll want to watch carefully for any type of threatening postures that could escalate into a fight – stiff body, tense face and mouth, raised hair on their back, growls, snarling, hard stares, T-ing over (one dog places chin/neck over other dogs neck/shoulders, which other dog does not tolerate). If this does happen, intervene by calling their names, creating a ‘startling’ noise to interrupt their behavior (clapping loudly, banging two pots together), and luring them away from each other. Ask them to do something more engaging with the humans instead of provoking one another.
- Maintain a happy home: Once you bring the second dog into your home to stay, make sure you (and other humans) continue to supervise interactions for at least a few weeks before leaving the dogs on their own. You’ll want to:
- Continue to encourage and reward desired behaviors of both dogs.
- Maintain your resident dog’s regular routine, as much as possible.
- Provide individual attention for both.
- Continue to allow dogs to set the pace of their own relationship, establishing their own canine boundaries.
Just like us humans not wanting to be friends with every other human we meet, dogs don’t necessarily get along with, or enjoy the company of every dog they meet either. It’s unfair for us to assume that just because they’re dogs, they should like every dog they meet.
Sometimes it’s best to decide what is best based upon the dog’s wishes and desires, not the human’s, especially when it’s the resident dog who is the one spending the majority of the time with the new pup.
Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.
Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.