By Sherry Davis
What's the best way to introduce new dogs into a household?
There are so many variables that must be taken into consideration such as the dogs' ages, sex, breed, temperaments, prior socialization with strange dogs and the environment where they will be co-existing, that there is no one correct way to answer that question.
Of course, you can do what a lot of people do: Just throw them together and hope for the best. And if you get lucky, nothing will go wrong.
But since the adage "first impressions leave lasting impressions" holds a lot of weight in a dog's world, and a negative experience can set some dogs up for a lifelong rivalry, I tend to be less of a gambler than those types.
It also makes a difference if you're introducing puppies to adults, adolescents to adults or adults to adults,
Dogs instinctively identify the differences (intact or not, male or female) of strange dogs, and those that are insecure, sense a challenge to their position of status, an unbalanced energy or a claim to resources can respond with aggression.
Here are the rules that have always worked for me:
Rule No. 1: Because dogs are more likely to react negatively when excited, I don't do formal introductions. That's how humans meet, and since face-to-face meetings (especially on leash) with apprehensive owners can actually provoke aggression, I choose to simply insert any new dog into our established schedule. Whether it is an adult dog or puppy it is crated in a high-traffic area where it can safely observe the others who, after some initial curiosity, will usually settle back into their routine.
The new arrival is fed in its crate, exercised separately and taught to walk calmly (on a leash) past the others, an extra effort on my part not wasted on the resident dogs who observe that the new dog is submissive, under my control, and therefore, no threat to them.
I immediately take advantage of all opportunities to include the new dog into MY schedule by taking it on errands, to my classes and anywhere else I can enforce its behavior and respect for me and the boundaries I have established. Once it is understood that I will accept nothing less, I start working the new dog with each of the others in turn. Demanding obedience in each other's presence requires the dogs to focus on me instead of each other.
Rule No. 2: I don't make my dogs compete for resources.
Dogs don't understand the concept of sharing, and the dog controlling the resources has status.
I don't put multiple food bowls down on the floor with the foolish expectation that the dogs shouldn't compete over their food, and I don't know why it is so hard for some people to provide their dogs with separate areas where they can eat quietly without threat of attack. The same goes for bones and toys. It only takes one fight to start an everlasting grudge.
I don't pet dogs with competitive personalities at the same time or create situations on beds or sofas where the dogs may fight to claim ownership of space.
Each dog gets individual attention daily and takes turns getting "to go" which has the added advantage of teaching the others how to stay alone quietly.
Rule No. 3: I never run puppies with rough-playing adult dogs. Young developing puppies can be easily injured, if not physically, mentally. And if a youngster associates pain with another dog it may lash out defensively, starting a pattern of behavior when any dog gets too close.
People who have been in dogs for years accept that there are dogs that just don't play well with others, so it's important to pick your battles. While my dogs have always co-existed peacefully in the house, there have been a few that I have known better than to run together.
Rule No. 4: Old dogs are set in their ways and have earned the right to peace and quiet without the fear of harassment. They should not be expected to tolerate being chewed on by a puppy or endure displays of dominance from an adolescent. I provide older dogs a secure place they can retreat to when puppies are not confined, and cocky young adults are quickly put in their place by me.
Rule No. 5: The only hard-and-fast rule in dogs is there is no hard-and-fast rule.
Males will fight with females, two females can fight worse than two males and just because a dog lives with another dog doesn't mean it is socialized with other dogs.
-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.