Dog Behavior and Training - Introducing a New Dog to Your Family Dog

Is it possible to bring a second dog into my home?

Before making the decision to bring a new dog into your household, there are some important considerations. First, consider your current dog’s personality. Even though dogs, as a species, are social animals, some dogs, just as some humans, are more social than others. Dogs that routinely play well with other dogs may appreciate having a canine companion living in their home. Other dogs are very much people-oriented and can be neutral or even uncomfortable around other dogs.

Having a second dog will require some additional work on your part. To keep a strong relationship between you and your first dog and build a good relationship with your new dog, you will need to find the time to provide individual interactive play and training for each. You should also be prepared to handle any conflict that arises between your two dogs. If your current dog tends to growl or snap when disturbed while resting or when in possession of special objects, then there may be challenges, including physical confrontations, with a second dog.

There are certainly some benefits to having two dogs instead of one. First, your dog will have companionship when you leave the house. Second, your dog will have a playmate. For older dogs that are getting on in years but are still able to enjoy a light romp, having a play companion can encourage physical activity that is important for healthy aging. Finally, you will undoubtedly enjoy watching them play.

If you are not prepared for the responsibility of a second dog, a good option is to provide social enrichment by arranging playdates with compatible, friendly dogs.

Should my second dog be a puppy or an adult?

Puppies can be fun! They are a lot of work, of course, including housetraining. A nice thing about puppies is that they are not yet set in their ways and are more likely to accept any ‘house rules’ that your current dog might have. Also, many adult dogs are more tolerant of puppies than other adults. If your dog is playful and active and you have time for extra training, a puppy might be for you. On the other hand, the advantage of adopting an adult dog is that you already have a better idea of the dog’s personality and may be able to make a better match than you could with a young puppy.

"In any case, consider your own dog’s preferences before adopting."

In any case, consider your own dog’s preferences before adopting. If your dog is quiet and appreciates quality napping, choose a calm dog that is ready to play but also settles easily. If your dog spends most of the day playing, you might look for a more active dog.

You may have the opportunity to let your dog meet a new potential housemate and get a glimpse of the way the two dogs interact. Of course, it is difficult to appreciate the entire conversation as dogs have subtle ways of communicating with each other. Dogs that are getting along tend to do a lot of soft tail wagging and play bows. They take turns playing. When dogs put their hackles up, or when one dog repeatedly tries to retreat with tucked tail and ears back and the other pursues anyway, then the communication is not successful, and this might not be a good fit. If you have a trainer or behavior consultant that you trust, have that person come along and observe the dogs together with you.

Does size matter when getting a second dog?

Choosing a second dog that is about the same size as your first dog reduces the chance of injury to the smaller dog, however, with two dogs the same size, injuries can happen during rough play. A very large dog can much more easily injure a very small dog. Dogs that are not matched for size may need long-term supervision depending on their temperaments.

Once I find the right dog, how should I introduce them?

Initial introductions between dogs should be done in a neutral location, preferably outdoors. Do not rush—it is better to take your time than to have one dog get nervous and possibly aggressive. Have the two dogs on their leashes. An ideal introduction would start with a few walks through the neighborhood or the park. If either dog is staring or stiff-postured or has their hackles up, do not bring them any closer. For some worried dogs, it may take more than one walking session to gain comfort. After a walk, once you are back home, separate the dogs with a gate or even out of sight. Don’t give the dogs an opportunity to stare or growl at each other through the gate.

Once the dogs walk calmly side by side, they are ready to sniff each other. If the dogs become tense when sniffing, cheerfully call them apart and resume walking—avoid putting pressure on the leash, as a pull can startle the dog. A good sign during a sniff is a soft tail wag followed by a play bow.

"A good sign during a sniff is a soft tail wag followed by a play bow."

The next step is to allow the dogs to spend time together indoors, starting with the dogs on leashes. Watch closely to be sure the dogs continue to be friendly, perhaps giving each other some soft tail wags the way they did outside. A second option is to position the dogs on either side of a gate and allow them to communicate through the gate so long as they continue to appear relaxed and friendly. Ensure each dog has plenty of space to walk away and a bed for resting.

Special note: If your new dog is a young puppy that has not yet learned to walk a leash, set the puppy up with a barrier, such as a gate or an exercise pen, that will prevent your puppy from jumping on your dog. Your adult dog should be held gently on a leash so that he cannot rush over and frighten the puppy. Only let them sniff each other if they are both comfortable. The puppy may even try to roll onto its back as a signal that he is not looking for a confrontation. Your adult dog should respond to this roll with a soft tail wag but not a lunge. If your dog has never met a puppy, take your time. Continue to do leash walks together and use the gate when the dogs are indoors.

If your adult dog has a good history of playing appropriately with other dogs, you may progress to supervised play. Continue to separate the dogs when you are unable to supervise them until they are mingling fully.

How can conflict between the dogs be avoided?

Certain situations may be naturally challenging for some dogs and by managing these situations from the start, the risk of a conflict may be reduced.

Some resources are innately valuable, including toys, bones, resting spaces, and special people. Dogs signal ‘stay away’ by staring or growling. Supervise the dogs and, if you notice one dog staring as the other approaches near a valuable resource, call the approaching dog away. Be sure there are plenty of toys, bones, and resting spaces for both dogs. When you give very valuable items to the dogs, supervise them or use a physical barrier, then put that valuable item away before letting the dogs mingle.

"Be sure there are plenty of toys, bones, and resting spaces for both dogs."

Since a special person can be a valuable resource, teach both dogs to come over and sit politely before they receive attention so they focus on the person and not each other and learn that they need to sit calmly to get attention. When you are giving one dog individual interactive play and training time, put the other away.

To prevent conflict at mealtime, establish a feeding station for each dog. The stations can be across the room from each other or on opposite sides of a barrier. Call your dog that finishes first, ask him to ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘wait’ for your other dog to finish. Pick up the empty dishes before letting the dogs mingle.

Besides resources, most other triggers for conflict are related to excitement, such as rushing through doorways, greeting people, or barking at outside stimuli. You can easily train your dogs to sit quietly before going outside and before greeting. Dogs can learn to lie quietly on mats in the face of external triggers. These training techniques will reduce the risk of a fight and will probably have a calming effect on everyone in the household.

What should I do if the dogs growl at each other?

If your dogs start to growl at each other, try to calmly distract them. Avoid raising your voice or scolding, as that can trigger a fear-based response that could turn into a higher level of aggression. You may be able to call the dogs for a treat or invite them to go outside to play. When the danger has passed, try to identify the situation. It may be a context or trigger that is easily avoidable.

Keep in mind that growling is part of the normal communication repertoire for dogs. A quiet growl in a situation where there is a clear trigger can be normal if the dogs react appropriately. In other words, if, once a dog growls quietly the other dog calmly walks away and the dog that growled relaxes as well, this interaction is not a cause for alarm. If you observe repeated growling or if growling leads to fighting, particularly when the triggers are not avoidable, you should seek expert help. Ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist. Aggression between dogs can escalate quickly and it is never too soon to have the relationship assessed.

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