Introductions - "Nice to meet you...I think..."
by Barbara DeGroodt
One day while walking on the beach with your dog, you stop to watch a couple of dogs playing together. They chase each other, pull each other around with a stick, run in the water, and splash around having a wonderful time. You look down at your dog and wonder if he is lonely for a dog companion.
You go to the shelter and find who you think would be the perfect companion. You bring your dog to the shelter to see what he thinks. It all appears to be good, so you adopt the new dog. Soon a problem has developed: they don’t seem to like each other. They may even fight. What went wrong at the time of the introductions? Possibly nothing, but maybe the introductions weren’t that great. After all, just because I meet you at a party doesn’t mean I want you following me home and staying!
Let’s begin with the shelter introductions. Were the dogs actually engaged with each other or did one seem indifferent? Did one move away from the other? Did one “protect” you? Many times dogs display dislikes by indifference; they will do this with children, people and other animals. It is their way of biding their time: “Since you wanted to look at another dog, I’ll just hang out here. We aren’t actually taking him home, are we?”
Often you can bring in a new dog and the established dog is fine, but when it isn’t fine, it really isn’t! They might fight; you might even have to take one or both to the vet. So what should you do? Let’s look at several things you can try. Persistence, patience, and consistency should pay off. If you are not successful, though, there may be a point when you have to make some difficult decisions, especially if the dogs are a danger to each other.
The standard is to have the dogs meet on neutral territory. This does not mean the dog park or beach that your dog frequents. Many dogs look at those places as their vacation homes where an interloper is an interloper and must be dealt with. Each dog should have a handler. Try to meet somewhere that you can walk home from. It is best to have a second person handling one of the dogs. First begin by approaching each other from across the street. If the interaction is calm, reward the behavior with great treats and move to the next step. Move closer and try walking the dogs along side each other, perhaps with ten feet between them. Now narrow the gap if it’s going well. Continue to narrow the gap until the dogs are almost touching while walking side by side. When there appears to be no tension, walk on home but watch for tension developing as you near your property. A head halter (Gentle Leader) can be very helpful during this phase. (You may want to consult a professional to aid with proper use of the Gentle Leader.
Don’t leave the dogs unsupervised at any time during the first couple of days. It may all be fine until one dog looks at the other’s Kong, and then there’s trouble!
What if in the beginning, you decided another dog was out of the question, but maybe your dog would enjoy the company of a cat. If you have a dog with a high prey drive, a cat may not be a good idea. Cat/dog relationships are twofold: if cats didn’t run, most dogs wouldn’t chase. You want to introduce the cat and dog to each other with the dog on a leash, perhaps with the head halter mentioned earlier.
Don’t just put the cat down in a carrier and let the dog sniff all around it; this is very stressful for the cat. Put just the empty cat carrier down and let the dog sniff that. Watch what he does. Put the cat in a safe room of the house where the dog can sniff under the door. Do this until the dog seems uninterested. Then you can put a baby gate up and let them see each other while still protecting the cat. By now you should have a real good idea of whether this is going to work or not. In most cases, if the cat can get away or jump high, the cat may make the first move towards making friends. Go slowly; let them tell you when to proceed.
Usually introducing a puppy or kitten is much easier than another adult. Also, typically male/female interactions are better than female/female or male/male.
With all introductions, make sure you have some really, really yummy treats available. Let your dog think, “When a cat appears, I get boiled chicken. When another dog comes into the picture, cheese appears.”
Multiple-pet households can and should be pleasurable. If you run into a tough situation integrating pets, seek the help of a professional.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.