At the pound and the refuge, the staff are experts in introductions. We make up between seven and forty new pairs of dogs a week and there are several things we do that can help you as well. The choices we make are based very much on choices you can make before adopting.
There are decisions we make without knowing the history or personality of the dog. These decisions are based on gender, breed and size. Female-female introductions can be the hardest ones and can cause the worst fights. Male-male introductions can also be very difficult, especially if neither dog is castrated. The easiest introductions are between sterilised females and castrated males. There are no hormones and no agendas.
Size is also a factor. Similar-sized dogs are generally less aggressive as they feel less afraid of their new partner. Small dogs can feel intimidated by bigger dogs. Bigger dogs can be very afraid of smaller dogs, believe it or not.
Breed is a final factor. If a dog’s breed is one for independence, you may find you are working against hundreds of generations of careful selective breeding to end up with a dog who is independent, territorial and protective. For this reason, shepherds and rottweilers can be very hard to pair with others if they have not been socialised at an early age. Likewise, hounds who have been bred to work as a pack and live with other dogs may find it very distressing to be on their own. Recent studies have shown up to 70% of dogs feel anxious when left alone, and that is reduced to 35% when they have a friend. That’s a lot of dogs who need company and who need the presence of a canine companion.
These factors do not mean it’s impossible to integrate two dogs. I have two entire males who get on fine. One is a Malinois shepherd and the other is a collie x flat-coated retriever. It works because there are other factors to consider: personality and history.
Personality very much depends on what you know about your dog. How are they around others? You know better than any other about how your dog gets on with others. Have you socialised your dog? Are they used to meeting others and even living with others? Have you had other dogs in your home? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you may have a bit of work to do before taking on another dog. Please don’t assume that a puppy is the solution if you are looking to adopt a dog. If your dog is poorly-socialised, doesn’t meet other dogs regularly (at least once a day) and has never lived with another dog for more than 24 hours, you may want to ask yourself why you want to change the dynamic of your home. A puppy is as big a threat as a full-grown dog to some.
When you know your dogs, you know how they are around others. My American Cocker Tilly is fairly well-socialised but she yaps like a fiend at other dogs for about two minutes. If they do nothing, once she’s said her bit, she is happy to get on with her daily business. She needs to be the boss and she will happily tell another dog off if she feels threatened or if she feels it is getting in her space. She doesn’t like dogs who invade her space but she is fine if they have good manners and leave her alone.
For a long time, I thought Heston was not okay with other males. This is not true. He is very good with older dogs and very respectful of their space. He is also fabulous with puppies and bigger dogs. He hates other dogs to sniff him over much, but he loves to sniff them – kind of ironic. He is actually okay with males if I am in control of how they meet and if they do not bark at him. Once the two minute tension of a first meeting is over, he is fine. I trust him completely with little dogs as well. The older he gets, the wider his repertoire of dogs is.
Amigo would prefer to be an only dog. He is not a fan of other dogs. He never wants to smell them. When I got him, I thought he was fine with other dogs. I had no idea of his history and had never seen him react to other dogs. Now I know him, I know he is fine with other dogs who are under control. Off-lead, in-your-face dogs with no manners are his worst nightmare.
Ralf was fine with all other dogs. All. He was never aggressive or grumbly, although he was a bit of a humper. Tobby is great with other dogs, but he doesn’t have good boundaries. He likes to say hello and if they don’t say hello back, he gets a bit obsessive. If they say hello back, he’s fine and he’s moved on. He is not a fan of puppies or small dogs who run in between his legs. He is scared of terriers. I know this stuff now.
These are the kind of things you need to know about your own dogs before you adopt another.
Once you know your own dogs, you can make sensible decisions about what would be a good match for your dogs. And despite what your own heart wants, your dogs might disagree. It’s them you have to listen to.
So how do we make greetings go smoothly?
At the refuge, we take them into neutral territory. This is the alley behind the refuge. It’s “owned” by two hundred dogs, so it’s not got any emotional stakes. We walk in the same direction, about 100 metres apart, and we gradually close the gap. You can make a choice if you have reactive dogs about who goes at the front. Sometimes it’s better to have the reactive dog at the back so that they can see the dog as they move towards them. How long you take depends on the dog. There’s no rush. It can take minutes, hours or even days. That’s all fine.
Wait until you can get the dog’s attention on you and do not approach the other dog until you can.
Take your time moving in closely and keep moving in the same direction as the other dog, making the distance smaller and smaller. Maintain a positive mood with the other handler and chat to them as you get closer. Ignore the dogs as much as you can.
When you are happy that the initial fear, curiosity and aggression has disappeared and the dogs are more under your control (or back to their normal energy levels!) you can walk alongside the other person. Keep the dogs at a safe distance so that they cannot lunge to attack the other dog. Do not force your dogs to sniff each other or get in each other’s faces. Dogs take time to suss out the other one and you’ll see them looking at each other as they size each other up and begin to relax.
Walk alongside each other and gradually relax the leads so that they can approach each other. Be prepared to separate them and never, ever get in between two dogs who decide to turn on each other. If this happens, pull them away and quickly walk off, getting as much space as you can between the dogs.
Watch for signs of playfulness between the dogs, but don’t force it or expect it. Some dogs take seconds to decide to play; others may never, ever engage in playful behaviour. Both are fine.
Watch the dogs’ body language as well. A wagging tail is not a sign of playfulness or friendliness in all circumstances. This blog post from Tails from the Lab is great for explaining doggie body language in more detail.
You can see posture asserting going on here between Ralf and Heston, tails raised high, Ralf deliberately avoiding Heston’s gaze. They’re both panting a bit because it’s stressful. Heston’s eyes look worried and they really are sizing each other up.
Heston’s tail is down and he’s loose, but Ralf’s hackles are up a little and his tail is raised high. He’s making himself all big. He lookes Heston in the eye and Heston looks away. Ralf’s wagging tail is big and high. This is not friendly wagging. It’s posture wagging. I’m not worried though. It took them three or four minutes for them to set their own boundaries.
I’ve heard people before say “you’ve got to let the dogs sort it out”, but I don’t agree. Many dogs are very excited on greeting. I’ve no doubt Heston would have attacked Tobby had I let him. Ten minutes later and we’re feeding them side by side on the lead. Heston has bad doggie manners and if I’d not have managed that situation, it would have ended badly. There was no need for a fight, no need for posturing. That initial greeting went well and where I’d been prepared for an afternoon, it took less than an hour.
Once you know your own dog’s likes and dislikes, it makes it a lot easier. You should also ask the refuge for dogs that are generally good with the type of dogs you have. Even if the dog has not been at the refuge a very long time, it is likely that they will know whether dogs are generally good with others or not.
If you have a pack of dogs, introduce the new dog to the most troublesome first, and take as long as it needs. Get that dynamic out of the way. Then bring in the least troublesome ones. Within half an hour, the dogs will be more familiar with each other and more familiar with their boundaries. Make sure your dogs are well-exercised before you meet. On the day that I brought Tobby home, Heston had a 16-km walk in the morning and then an hour of fetch. I also have a massive bag of treats for each dog and reward them for all positive behaviours.
You can also watch this great video from Zak George who introduces two dogs. It’s very useful.
The more you are prepared, the better. When you make small, gentle steps and take a bit of time to ensure that the dogs have time to check each other out, you have a much better chance of success.
You will see in the video the ‘head over back’ kind of move that Sadie makes over Deuce – that’s one thing I try to watch out for – having seen lots of dogs pairing up, it’s not good doggie manners and it often ends badly. What he says about picking up toys and treats is vital as well. It may be many months before your dogs feel happy to share toys or beds, and these can be real flashpoints.
I’d also advise getting a new dog bed and introducing your new dog to their safe space. They should have something that is theirs alone.
Separate feeding spaces (different rooms) is also a good idea so that you can build up to eating in the same space. I always give my new dogs their bowl first and make sure they have plenty in it, because I trust my own dogs to be patient where I don’t trust the new dog. Quite honestly, someone sniffing around my plate would make me feel a bit snarly too.
Time your dog adoption so that you have plenty of time at home to spend with them and take it slowly. Don’t feel obliged to introduce toys and play into the relationship and keep an eye on how they behave around beds, confined spaces outdoor spaces, and around you. Dogs seem to feel most under pressure when they have something worth guarding (a bed, a toy, some food or you) or when they are confined in too small a space (so hallways, door spaces or staircases)