My Old Dog Is Scared of My New Dog – What Do I Do?

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 lowering a bit more, then bending his shoulders, then bending his elbows, then lowering his belly, then touching his chest to the ground. A really great trainer can get even more granular about this as needed.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. 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.

Comments 11

  1. 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?

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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 .
    Regards,
    Desperate for help.

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      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!

  4. 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.

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  5. 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?

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