Many of us have been there: You already have at least one dog but have found another one you really want to add to the family. At one point, I had 9 dogs in my home, four of whom were recent street rescues. How do you go about the process of integrating the new pooch into the existing family? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How well do you know your dogs?
- Do your existing pets interact well with other dogs?
- Is there enough room in your home for another pet?
- How protective are your existing pets of you and their home?
- Can you afford another dog?
- How is the new dog with other animals and new people and surroundings?
These are all good questions, but you’ve no doubt thought them through and are committed to add a new fur baby to the family. You feel it’s the right thing to do, and are ready for first introductions. Here are some practical steps to take before you bring the new dog into your house:
- Introduce the dogs on neutral territory, in a quiet park or neighborhood, away from your home. This will reduce your existing dog’s territorial instincts.
- Take everyone for a walk together. They will be concentrating on the smells and sights of the walk rather than on each other. This is a low stress way to introduce new dogs to each other.
- When your existing dog(s) and the new dog meet for the first time, make sure there is at least one person for each dog, and that all the dogs are leashed. Having said this, some dogs are less protective of their humans when off-leash so know your dog and decide whether he will be more at ease off-leash. You may want to make the initial introduction while on-leash and then let everyone run around together in neutral territory.
- Watch for signs of stress but try not to convey your anxiety to any of the dogs. The key is to pay attention and ‘listen’ to what the dogs are trying to tell you through their body language. Check out the handy Dog-to-English Translation Chart here.
- Make the introductions positive and observe the all dogs’ body language. Relaxed, open mouths and play bows are a good sign. Encourage the dogs when the interactions are positive. Teeth-baring, growling and prolonged stares are all signs that the dogs feel threatened, so if this happens, pull the dogs apart, and spend time with them separately. Then continue your walk together and let them decide when and how quickly they want to ‘make friends’.
Once you are happy with the way your pack and the new dog interact, it’s time to bring the new dog into the house. To do so, bring everyone outside for a quick walk together and then let your existing dogs enter the house first with the new dog last. This will reinforce your existing hierarchy and reduce the ‘threat’ the existing dogs may initially feel from the new dog.
- Before you bring the new dog home, pick up all toys, chews, and possessions of high value. These items can be reintroduced after a little while, once the dogs have developed a stronger relationship.
- Be sure to give each dog his or her own water and food bowls, and initially give them toys only when they are separate, and in their crates or temporary area of confinement. Initially feed your existing dogs in a completely separate area from the new dog, and pick up the food bowls when feeding time is over.
- Initially keep the new dog’s interactions with your existing dogs brief, and avoid over stimulation. When the dogs are separate, it’s a good idea to let them get to know each other better through a barrier, like a gate. You may initially have the new dog in a temporary confinement area (like one of the bedrooms) with a gate across the entrance, leaving your existing dogs free to move around and visit the new dog when they want to. The idea is to get the dogs used to each other in a safe, non-threatening way.
- Be sure to praise your dogs when they are interacting nicely, and remember to spend time individually with each dog, making them each feel loved. Integrate the new dog slowly, and keep an eye on the mental and physical well-being of each of your dogs, while sticking to your usual daily routine.
Time, patience and love are what you will need to integrate a new dog into your home and the effort you make will be well worth it.
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