Integrating a new dog to a household is almost always a bumpy road. Things only get more difficult if the original dogs aren’t enthused about their new housemate.
In the latest “Ask a Trainer” question, we’re helping a reader smooth over relations between his three dogs:
Our reader writes,
“How can I get my 2 existing dogs to except [sic] a new dog? The new dog wants to play and he jumps around, I don’t think my other 2 like that. What can I do?”
If you’re having a hard time teaching your new dogs to accept a new dog, I can help.
It sounds like this reader really needs to focus on Steps Two and Three, outlined below, to help his dogs accept a new dog.
Step One: Do Proper Introductions
Just like people, not all dogs love all other dogs. This doesn’t mean that your dog is “bad” or “mean” or “dominant.”
In fact, it’s often possible for two dogs that don’t love each other to share a home without problems!
But that doesn’t mean that you can just chuck two (or more) dogs into a home and “let them work it out.”
Whenever I can, I always start with a parallel walk when trying to help multiple dogs get along.
This method allows the dogs to focus on the walk, diffuse the situation as needed, and sniff when they’re ready. It helps keep things low-pressure!
Be sure to meet in a neutral location for this meeting, if at all possible.
Step Two: Monitor Interactions
It’s not uncommon to have mismatches in your dog’s personality. One might be younger and more playful, smaller and more skittish, or large and powerful – while the other is not.
It’s your job as the big-brained primate to keep an eye on things.
It sounds like our writer is dealing with a bit of an energy or play style mismatch – so monitoring interactions is extra important for him!
If you can’t be watching your dogs, then it’s best to put them away for a little bit. This is called management. You can put one dog in a room, a crate, on a tether in the yard, or behind a baby gate.
Give both dogs stuffed Kongs or something else to occupy them if you need to!
Now, pay attention to how the dogs are interacting.
Good dog play goes back and forth. One dog chases, then the other dog chases. One dog is on top of the wrestling pile, then the other.
If you’re seeing lots of single-sided play or if one dog is starting to show signs of irritation or fear, it’s time to break things up.
Separate the dogs by calling them apart if you can. If you can’t (that’s common), gently remove the more boisterous one using their harness.
If the other dog (the one who we think is being picked on) comes back for more play, then that dog is saying she’s OK. Let them keep playing.
But if the other dog doesn’t come charging back in to continue the play, then it’s time for a break.
Put the dogs away and give them something to chew on.
Important: Keep an Eye on Valuable Possessions!
Many dogs don’t like to share. This can cause a problem with newcomers in the house.
Many dogs will growl, snarl, snap, or even bite when another dog tries to take their food, chew toys, squeakies, or resting places.
This is called “resource guarding” and is a very natural behavior – but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it!
It’s best to pick up valuable possessions at first when you’ve got a new dog in the home, just to make sure no fights break out.
Over time, you’ll learn what your dogs can share and what they can’t.
Just like you’d give three children three different bowls of ice cream but expect them to share a swingset, your dogs will share some things and not share others.
If you’re struggling with resource guarding in your home, check out the book Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs.
Step Three: Encourage Positive Interactions
Early on in any relationship, it’s easiest to do an activity together to keep everyone relaxed.
When you first make a new friend or start dating someone new, you probably spend most of your time together doing something specific. But once you’re old friends or an old married couple, “doing nothing” is much more comfortable and less awkward.
The same goes for dogs.
Help your dogs accept a new dog by keeping them busy together. Talking all of the dogs on lots of walks and hikes together will help them start to “converse” more openly while they engage in some “parallel play.”
Activities will also help the most boisterous dog tone it down a bit.
Skip the dog park or other adrenaline-fueled activities for now. Just let the dogs walk together in a park and smell the roses (or pee) together.
Whenever you catch your dogs being good, praise or reward them. Try to do this 50 times per day (like in SMART x 50).
If you catch your dogs in a tense or inappropriate interaction, call them apart in a calm, relaxed voice. Don’t scold, swat, or yell – this only adds tension to the situation!
Step Four: Get Help if You Need It
Helping your dogs accept a new dog isn’t always easy. If you’re seeing lots of squabbles, arguments, or outright fights, it’s time to get help.
Work with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant if at all possible.
Graduates of Michael Shikashio’s Aggression A to Z course are also excellent resources.
Above all, only hire a dog trainer who:
- Adheres to the Humane Hierarchy.
- Has experience with dog to dog aggression (if that’s what you’re dealing with).
- Uses kind, reward-based methods that you feel good about.
Ask a potential trainer if you can see testimonials from past clients with your same issue. Then ask what will happen if your dog gets something “right” or “wrong.”
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.