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When you bring home a second dog, you’re probably hoping (or even expecting) that he’ll be fast friends with your first dog. But what do you do if your current dog is actually terrified of your new dog?
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re going to address this exact problem. We also discussed the fact that not all dogs love other dogs here.
I have an anxious Maltese poodle and have recently had to adopt a neglected English bulldog. How do I stop the poodle from being scared? I’ve walked with them and tried everything I found online. She trembles and hides. He is not aggressive and barely notices she’s there. She also doesn’t like treats, so rewarding her with them doesn’t work.
– Sincerely, Desperate for Harmony
In the remainder of Desperate for Harmony’s intake form, they indicated that they’ve already tried many of the front-line suggestions that we’d make for a case like this (and we made before in our article on how to help your dogs accept a new dog):
- Practice parallel walks. In this exercise, two people walk the two dogs. They start out across the street from each other going the same direction. Over the course of several blocks, they move closer and closer together. The dogs keep moving the whole time, and the exercise is cut off after any sign of stress from the dogs.
- Rewarding the dogs for positive interactions. Desperate for Harmony said that her Maltese/Poodle cross won’t eat treats in this situation, which gives us a good idea of why things aren’t improving.
- Giving the dogs space as needed. Desperate for Harmony says the Bulldog is polite and isn’t pressuring the Poodle cross to interact, which certainly helps!
Overall, Desperate for Harmony is definitely on the right track here. It’s only been one week so far, but clearly this isn’t going as planned.
Why Isn’t This Introduction Going Well?
Sarah Stremming said something really smart on a recent episode of Cog-Dog Radio: “Often, when you’re paying a trainer for help, you’re paying them to be a better splitter.”
Splitting is the term for breaking a behavior down into smaller parts. For example, your goal might be a dog who lies down on cue. Some dogs will just “get” the whole shebang right immediately – they lie down, you reward. Easy.
But in some cases, that’s too much for the dog right now. Rather than punishing them for getting it wrong, a good splitter will start by rewarding the dog for paying attention, then for lowering his head a bit, then
For many dogs learning to lie down, this isn’t necessary. It’s a pretty simple behavior. But for others behaviors (like starting to trust and accept another dog who currently terrifies your other dog), splitting is a huge part of success!
My guess is that Desperate for Harmony isn’t seeing success (and her Poodle cross won’t eat) because they’re not splitting the behavior down into small enough fragments.
Ok, great. So how do we fix that?
Let’s Make Things a Bit Easier, And Try Again
If I asked you to jump onto a two-meter box in one leap, you probably couldn’t. Should I punish you for that? No. I should create a training plan to help you build up the strength and skill needed, starting with a one-meter box (or lower if needed).
The same goes for our dogs. Right now, your dogs aren’t getting along. The mere presence of one scares the others.
We’re actually going to follow a training plan that’s more similar to introducing a dog and a cat (click this link for a video about dog/cat intros, or follow this one for a podcast episode on the same subject) than the “normal” protocol for introducing two dogs.
The basic idea is this:
- Give the dogs more space. Rather than trying to have the dogs just feet apart during a training session, let’s put them on opposite sides of a baby gate and put the dogs on opposite ends of the house. Feed the scared dog whenever she looks at the other dog. As the scared dog gets more confident, move them closer together. In the meantime, keep them separate – yes, this means a divided house. If the scared dog seems OK with it, you might be able to walk them together or let them outdoors together. That’s a case-by-case decision.
- Think of our box-jump example. Feeding the dogs right next to each other is like trying that two-meter box jump on day one. We need to start out with our one-meter jumps first! That’s what this distance is doing. The baby gate is kind of like having padding – it’s to make everyone feel safer.
- Use more exciting rewards. If the scared dog isn’t eating, we know one or both of two things are true: the task is too hard, or the food isn’t good enough. Imagine I’m offering to pay you for a job. You’re probably going to turn me down either because you literally are incapable of doing it, or because I’m not offering to pay enough. As the saying goes, everything has a price. If your scared dog won’t eat kibble in a training session, try squeeze cheese or meat flavored baby food or lunch meat or boiled chicken or hot dogs. Try a bunch of different options – you’ll find something!
- You can also conduct training sessions during mealtimes. Trust me, if you make training easy enough and use the right rewards, ALL dogs are food motivated. If they weren’t, they’d be dead (because they’d starve). This is similar to what’s described in our podcast episode on dog/cat intros.
- Keep training sessions shorter. We often get excited or impatient. That’s normal. Try to make everything feel super easy for your scared dog. You want her to be excited to go to her super-easy job where she just gets paid awesome food for no work. End your training sessions after just one minute to keep your dog WANTING to come back for more. You can do many one-minute sessions per day, but don’t do one two-hour session!
- Reduce stress elsewhere as much as possible. If your scared dog is normally pretty stressed out, it’s not a huge surprise that the addition of another dog is just too much! Puzzle toys, exercise, nosework, and training games can all help reduce stress. Some alternative therapies may also help, such as Zyklene supplements or Adaptil – though you can’t expect a supplement or medication to do the work for you!
- Go slow. This process can feel like it’s taking forever. That sucks, I know. We just want them to be friends! But pressuring them is more likely to backfire than anything else. Just keep at it – for days, weeks, or even more. Take tiny steps and be patient. If you need support and help with the process, we’re here for you as online dog trainers!
- Let the scared dog back off when she wants. This is important! It’s much easier to get over a fear if you know you can “opt out” when needed. If the scared dog needs a break, TAKE IT. If she pulls away, whines, pins her ears, widens her eyes, or starts to tuck her tail, back up from the other dog. Trying to force her to “get over it” will just teach her that you’re not a supportive friend here.
You can do this! Do your best to support your scared dog and make sure the other dog is getting what she needs.
In some cases, the dogs might just not be a great fit together. That’s ok. Seriously – if your dogs are terrified of each other, you’re not doing them a service to force them together. Give it a good try and get help before making this decision, but it needs to be mentioned.
And as always, Journey Dog Training is here for you for remote behavioral support if you need.
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
Hi I know this post is probably old, but I have this exact problem. My new dog (Mars) is kind of a young, pushy type and often chases my older, more passive dog (Zeke) away. Now my older dog is scared to walk past him, come when called or even come into my room. It breaks my heart. We are trying to get the new dog to be less possessive and calm, but not a lot of progress so much. Mars can be fast asleep and if I call Zeke, Mars will bolt up and run between us. Then Zeke refuses to come to me. Any suggestions on how we can help Zeke have more confidence?
Hi Kait, why don’t we schedule a 15-minute consult to go over a plan on the phone?
I would love that. How can we get in touch? Thank you so much
There are a variety of options in the menu bar!
Hi! I am not sure if I can post question here. My old dog scared or bothered new puppy. It has been 3 month.we walk together. Puppy love old dog and asking lot of comfort however my old dog just escape from her. Just don’t like to puppy get in close to her.There is lot of site says give space ,walk together etc but no any answer about what do I do if my my old dog doesn’t like new dog forever. I don’t want to my old dog constantly get stressed.
Hi Bella, I’m glad you’re thinking about the long-term for your dogs. That’s very responsible of you. It’s hard to give a definitive answer at this point, but I’d be happy to discuss more if you’d like to touch base privately.
I have a similar situation. One of my dogs passed away and I got a new dog. My newer dog is much younger than my older dog. My older dog is also very hard of hearing and has become much more timid since I got the new dog. I have their crates next to each other in the gated kitchen and use pee pads when I am away at work and at night. The two dogs eat in adjoining crates and walk together fine, though the new dog is always in front of my older one. They also sleep in adjoining crates while gated in the kitchen. When I am away at work (I have a camera where they are kept), my new dog will take over my older dogs crate. My older dog looks visibly afraid (his tail is tucked) of the new dog and will stay several feet from her. I have tried separating them by having the older dog stay gated in the kitchen with his crate and the newer dog outside of the kitchen. However, when I do this my older dog will destroy the pee pads and pee on the floor in the kitchen. It also looks like they truly miss each other’s company. I cannot leave him in the rest of the house or he will pee on the carpet while I am away. I have had the new dog for three months and I am not sure of what else I can do.
Hi Krista, I’m happy to help in detail if you book a consult! Best of luck.
Hi! I got a 35 day old boxer male puppy yesterday and I already have a 6 year old boxer male . My older Dog refuses to come to his bed or his usual relax spot if he sees the puppy there . He never even comes close to the puppy . He thinks its no longer his territory. He doesn’t even go close to the new puppy’s toys or food bowl . He stays a few meters away from the new pup. And he also seems afraid and sad . What should I do to try and make it better ? Please tell me in the comments .
Desperate for help.
Hi Shaniah, 35 days is far too young to be away from mom and siblings – is there any way to get this puppy back with his family until he’s old enough to be adopted? Separation from his family at this young age can be seriously detrimental (check out this info on that). You will also find this article on dogs who don’t like puppies helpful. But again, for the long-term benefit of everyone, your 5-week-old baby needs to be with other young puppies and his mom!
I need help! So, I’ve had Bubbles (Female) for almost a year now and I got a Tyson (Male) yesterday. Bubbles ran from him and started foaming out the mouth due to stress. She won’t get near him or even be in the same room. What can I do? How can I fix this? I feel like I should add they share the same father.
It sounds like you’re dealing with the issue described in the article – did you try any of the suggestions outlined there?
I have a similar situation. I have a dog door and My older dog(15))yrs old) seems to love outside now or maybe hides outside all day long and comes in only when I insist. Hes not food motivates either. I’ve seen him shiver inside the house now. Sometimes tail between his legs when I shut the dog door to the back yard.
My new dog is definitely the stronger personality. Should I let the old stay outside? He seems so much happier outside. I’m sad that he does not lay in his usual spots inside anymore. And or should I place the new dog in the crate when I’m not home and lock the dog door so they are forced to stay inside the house together?
Hi, I have a 5 month chihuahua raterrier mix named hestia (female) and my girlfriend has an older female dog (lady) We introduced them a few weeks ago and lady(older) kept growling at hestia (younger) and hestia was scared, we tried again today and hestia was fine but lady was growling, and curled up. We don’t have enough space to keep them far apart and we tried the food method for a while, it’s only been a day but no progress and I’m not sure I’m doing properly. I would love to get these two to get along. Lady is bigger than hestia and still seems scared (shaking and cowering in the corner while growling) please advise.
Hi Nick – if you’d like specific feedback through a video call, we offer that service! Book in the “1 on 1 training” tab up in the menu bar. We’d be happy to help you troubleshoot.
We have just brought an 8month old rescue pup Casper, into our house as a companion for our very lovely 11 month old Labrador bitch, Coco.
Casper was being aggressive towards the child in his last home with lots of resource guarding. The mother wanted rid of him urgently and we said we would take him.
They go along initially out walking and in the garden but in the house, Casper went for coco and now she is frightened of him in house and garden but not out on walks.
Any advice to air this work would be greatly appreciated
Hi Fiona, it’s concerning that Casper is already showing aggression towards both dogs and children at such a young age. If you’d like to schedule a consultation for in-depth help, I’d be happy to help you troubleshoot.
Please can you help me I have a 9 year old llasha apso and a 5 month old frenchie both males
Rocco is the frenchie hes a big personality and reggie my llasha is laid bk and chill
Reggie will tolerate him out walking but if Rocco gpesto runway him hes runaway
Reggie barks to tell Rocco to bk off but Rocco doesnt listen reggie ends upon corner near thedoor just barking I tell Rocco no and distract him reggie comes he he flys over to play reggie the runs upstairs I’ve tryesthefood but reggie eats it and then bogs off
I’m at my wits end of what yo do feel like Rocco knows now he will run away
Hi Lena, what have you tried so far based on the article above?
I have a 4 year old rescue boy called Carter, he is amazing, we’ve had him for about 3 years and we just decided to help another dog and adopted a 1,5 year old Pitty called Maya. they dont fight and walk fine together however they are both always looking for attention. they wont sit next to each other unless am between them.. am afraid when i wont be there she might attack him and hurt him.
Hi Osvaldo. We’d be happy to help you get to the bottom of this in a one-on-one consultation. You can find the link to that in the menu above, but unfortunately we can’t get into specifics of your case in the blog comments section.
We have an angelic 3 yr old maltipoo, Annie… we hoped to provide her companionship and adopted Lily, now a 6 month old maltipoo, four months ago….it has not been a bonding experience!
Annie is intimidated by Lily’s playfulness~ she has lately begun to growl at her, but usually allows herself to be backed into a corner , coming to me for comfort …
Ive tried to limit Lily’s access, by keeping her tethered indoors- with enough room to get comfortably to her food, her toys, her bed, and be part of the family life, while Annie usually hangs out on top of a club chair in the same space… that’s always been her preferred perch!
They walk very well together, but that’s about it! Lily would love Annie to play, but Annie just wants no part of her… is this an issue a trainer could help with??? Lily will be spayed soon~ will this calm her jumping behavior enough for Annie to relax a bit??? I’m a worried puppy mama!
Hi Beth, I sympathize with you being a worried mama! I’m the same way. We’d be happy to help however we can. If you’ve tried the suggestions outlined in the article and aren’t seeing success, the next step would be to book a 1:1 consult with our team using the options in the menu bar above.