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Introducing a new dog into an existing pack

I frequently get asked the best way to introduce a new dog into an existing pack. Obviously a lot depends on the breed, age and sexual status of the animals involved. If you have a geriatric dog and want to bring in a new puppy, is it really fair to allow the old dog to have a puppy bouncing all over it when it wants to live out its life in peace? And if you have an adult dog and want to introduce another adult, what is the best approach to adopt?

In my opinion, there are a few basic rules that need to be applied. Should you wish to bring a new adult dog into an existing doggy household, the first criteria should be to be aware of the sexual status of the dogs (i.e. it would be really silly to expect two intact adult dogs to get along with each other, whether they be males or females). Sterilize the dogs concerned, and that will lower the likelihood of there being a fight. If the existing dog has not been regularly socialised throughout its life (i.e. taken off the property to training, taken for regular walks in different environments, been allowed to meet a variety of different animals and people of all ages, etc.), then there will probably be a problem when the new dog is brought home. Think of it from the existing dogs’ point of view. It has had thi s house all to itself for the duration of its life. It has never been off the property except for occasional veterinary visits. It has no clue about “life on the outside”. And you go and get a new dog and expect your dog to just accept it. If is extremely unlikely that this will happen. If, on the other hand, your dog has been regularly and well socialised, it will make the introduction of a new dog much easier.

If the new dog is a puppy, it is important that the adult dog has been exposed to puppies in the few months prior to the puppy’s arrival. I had one person ‘phone me, who was most upset that her 8 year old Labrador attacked her new puppy. When questioned, this lady admitted that Labrador had not been off the property for 8 years and last saw a puppy when it left its dam and litter mates 8 long years ago!! How can any dog with this background even know what a puppy is, let alone want to welcome it into its home?

Probably the best approach to both of these scenarios would be to:

  1. Ensure that your dogs are all regularly taken off your property and socialised with other dogs, animals and humans.
  2. When your new dog (be it an adult or puppy) comes home, keep it separate initially. Perhaps allow contact through a security gate, or keep the existing dog on lead until you are able to properly assess the situation.
  3. It is often a good idea to introduce adult dogs in an environment foreign to both animals, and to keep them on (loose) leads until you can be sure that they are receptive to one another. It is important that all humans present are relaxed and at ease. This helps the dogs to realise that everything is OK and their owners are in control.
  4. Swop the new and old dogs around. E.g. new dog outside, old dog in the house. Then put the old dog outside and have the new dog in the house. This way the new dogs’ smell starts to permeate the old dogs’ environment, and starts to become part of the background. As we all know, the sense of smell is vitally important to a dog. It helps them understand about what’s going on around them. This method allows the old dog to understand what the new dog is all about, without having to have the visual stimulation of seeing it.
  5. Never allow a young puppy to run unattended with an adult dog. Accidents happen incredibly quickly and can have horrible consequences. E.g. a friend of ours acquired a new puppy, and introduced it into his existing 3 dog household. His dogs were extremely well socialised, so no problem there. All the dogs played together, slept together, ate together, etc. They’d had the puppy about 2 weeks when the owners quickly popped out to the shop to get some milk. When they returned, their puppy was on 3 legs. A visit to the vet and resultant x-ray showed that the puppy’s foot had been crushed. On returning home, they discovered that a flower pot had fallen over, no doubt crushing the puppy’s foot. The puppy had been bought as a show dog, and was also destined to work in various canine events. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be – the foot never fully recovered, even after extensive veterinary attention. The puppy limped for the rest of its life, and of course suffered from arthritis as it grew older. It was unable ever to compete.

If you are in any doubt about how the introduction of another dog might affect your family, speak to your veterinarian and your trainer. You could also consult the breeders of the dogs to find out if they have a suggestion that could make the transition of the new dog in to your house easier. It is far better to prevent an unpleasant reaction from the dogs than to try and fix it afterwards.

The bottom line is socialise, socialise, socialise your dog. The more confident your dog is with strange things and different situations, the more relaxed and happy it will be.

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