I have had the same question posed to me three times this week, and that means a blog is most definately in order.  All three people had different issues, all surrounding the same problem: introducing dogs that do not know each other, do not seem to want to know each other, and yet the humans need them to get along.

The first was a phone call. The woman on the other end is crying and desperate, because she has had her 10 week old labrador puppy for 3 days, and her 5 year old corgi has brutally attacked the puppy several times so far. The baby labby is now not only afraid of the other dog but has shown an increase in sound sensitivity and is generally scared of her own shadow.  She bought the puppy from a backyard breeder (her words) who does not have any interest in taking the puppy back (confiscate that womans dogs and spay/neuter them, please).  Unfortunately, the best solution for this distraught woman was for her to place the baby labrador, and soon while she’s still adorable and has a chance of bouncing back from this trauma.  That was very upsetting for the woman to hear, though she admitted she knew that was the best thing. 

The next two were email inquiries. One was from a good friend of mine who was asking for a friend of hers, I told her to give the friend my contact info, and haven’t heard any more about the situation.  The other was from my cousin (hi Hollie!), who is trying to integrate her small mixed breed dog with two dogs who are already not getting along with one another. Oh boy. So here’s what we do.

Be Patient

The biggest mistake people make is they try to throw the dogs together right away. They figure dogs all get along, or that they will “work it out” on their own.  Wrong. Dogs do not naturally integrate well with strange dogs. Period. Introductions, especially if the dogs are going to be expected to eventually live together, must be done slowly.  By slow, I do not mean over the course of a few hours. I mean weeks, sometimes months.  I recently brought a new puppy into my house, and my older dog has dealt with dog-aggression issues his whole life.  He is a generally well-rounded and well-trained dog these days, but I do not expect him to interact freely with new dogs.  I expect him to go to agility trials and dog shows and not kill anything, but I never ask him to tolerate interactions with new dogs unless I need him to get along with them in the future.  He also has a particularly hard time with puppies, as many dogs do, because of their coarse social skills and often exaggerated appeasement gestures.  It was a full month before Kelso and Idgie would be allowed to be loose in a room together, and this was under very close supervision only–usually with one of them on-lead.  Before that time they were constantly separated by a baby gate or crate.  I didn’t allow them to have free loosely-supervised access to each other (I didn’t “trust” them) in my house until Idgie was 6 months old, and I got her at just shy of 2 months. So that’s four months people! Four months of work so that I could have peace in my home, and I have to tell you how worth it it was. Kelso and Idgie are now so great with each other I will put them in an ex pen or small kennel run together without concern for fighting, and they eat very near each other in the kitchen.  So it is possible, with patience.

The Process

As I did with Kelso and Idgie, the dogs need to be separated by a physical barrier all of the time.  There really is no room to be lax about this.  I had one incident just days after bringing Idgie home where she knocked down my lazily placed baby gate and came rushing up to visit her new brother, who promptly put a hole in her lip to show his appreciation for puppies.  Bad human! Needless to say this did not happen twice.  Idgie practically lived in an ex-pen or crate, and later on a leash for a very long time.  This way the dogs can sniff each other through the barriers at their own pace, and get used to each other’s presence without the pressure of social contact.  In the meantime there is a lot to be said about taking the dogs on walks together.  During these walks they should be kept separate, on leashes, preferably handled by separate people.  They should not be interacting–just walking near each other.  This process goes on as long as it takes for the dogs to no longer show an interest in each other.  When they decide that the new dog is “business as usual” (this may take a day or 6 months, just depends on your particular pooches) it is preferable to take them to an area where they can both romp off leash (with minimal other dogs, a dog park is probably not your best bet here).  Walk them together to this neutral open space, casually drop or unclip leashes (dragging leads can get caught and cause injury, but if they do have a conflict you can grab a leash instead of a dog, so it’s up to you) and watch them interact.  Any stiff body postures should be interrupted cheerfully, then leashes should snapped back on, and it’s back to the drawing board.  If all goes well at off-leash romping time, it’s time to let them do some hanging out around the house while dragging leashes.  The dragging of leads is important, you need to be able to get them away from each other without getting your hands too close to dog jaws.  Casually remove the barrier, have both dogs dragging leads around in a (preferably large) common room, with constant human interaction.  If all goes well like this for a few days you can ditch the leashes and keep the supervision heavy, then in a few more days go to off-leash dogs with passive supervision (you’re engaged in another activity but in the same room).  Keep tabs on the situation constantly, by this point you should have a general feeling of ease with the dogs out around each other.  If you don’t, you moved too fast and need to back up.   If at any time you sense or see conflict arising, it’s time to go back to SQUARE ONE–not just back to the previous step.  Remember caution is your friend.

As Always, A Few Words on Advocacy

Let me mention now that you, as a dog owner, need to familiarize yourself with basic canine body language.  Here is a great resource http://www.brendaaloff.com/books.html and here is another http://www.canis.no/rugaas/index.php.  Just do it, you owe it to your dog to have some background knowledge, and you’ll be surprised at how much you didn’t know, I promise.  You can’t expect to advocate for your dogs if you can’t understand them.  I am saddened when people selfishly throw dogs together with no regard to the wishes of the dogs.  The woman who called me in tears over her corgi and new lab puppy would not have found herself in such trouble if she had paused for a moment to consder what her older dog wanted.  She knew, as she later admitted, that her corgi didn’t like other dogs, especially puppies.  And yet, she figured they would “work it out” and got a puppy anyway, to meet her own wants.  I knew my dog Kelso would not be thrilled to have a new dog in the house, but I also knew that I had successfully integrated him with dogs before, resulting in lasting doggie friendships.  Because of his previous background, and my experience with the process, the odds were good that I would be able to not only teach him to tolerate the new puppy but to accept and love her in time.  I have little doubt that had the corgi/lab situation been dealt with correctly from the start, those two dogs could have also become friends.  I feel with proper behavior modification the dogs could have been taught to tolerate each other, but in that case it simply was not in anyone’s best interest to try that route.  If you are struggling with inter-dog conflict in your home please do not try to resolve it alone, or worse, do not let the dogs “work it out.”  Call a qualified trainer who uses only positive reward based methods.  This is a good place to start to find a trainer near you www.ccpdt.org

If the dogs in your home are already fighting, acting aggressively through the barriers, or have caused injury to one another, the process needs to be modified, and you need the help of a professional.