Editor’s note: To celebrate National Train Your Dog Month, we got together with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to run a series of posts through January. Read others in the series: “Dog Training Is Important,” “5 Time-Saving Tips for Training Your Dog,” “How to Find the Perfect Dog Trainer,” “Train Your Dog in Nose Work,” “I Got a Puppy I Didn’t Want — But Training Her Helped Me Grieve the Dog I’d Lost,” and “What to Expect from Your Dog’s Training.”
If you are like 40 percent of U.S. pet owners, you have (or would like to have!) more than one dog. Before bringing a new dog home, there are a few things to think about.
It is a common misconception that you will be fine as long as you get a dog that is the opposite sex of your dog. While this is often a factor, it’s not the only one — and is certainly not the most important.
How to find a good match
The most important thing is personality. If your dog tends to be confident, assertive, controlling, or pushy around other dogs, look for a laid-back companion. Also, try to match energy level. If your dog is energetic, rambunctious, and playful, avoid fearful or shy dogs –- and vice versa.
It’s common to want to get a puppy for an older dog to “help him feel young again.” This is code for “I want my dog to be young again,” and should be avoided! Would you gift your grandparent with a toddler? Probably not. Senior dogs rarely want (or enjoy) puppies or adolescents. If you absolutely must get a new dog for your senior, consider an adult, laid-back dog (or another senior!) who will be company without being a pain.
Afteryou’ve identified what your dog would like, you can take the time to think about what you would like.
Where to find your dog’s new best friend
When looking for a new dog, always stick to local shelters, rescues, or reputable breeders. Never get a pet online who you cannot meet first. On your first trip to see the dog, consider leaving your resident dog at home. If the weather is appropriate and your resident dog enjoys spending time in the car, you may be able to bring them along just in case.
As you look, focus on dogs who fit the criteria you already identified. Ask to spend time with them in a quiet area or outside , and spend at least half an hour getting to know each other.
Don’t let barking or jumping deter you if you are looking for a shelter dog. When you meet a shelter dog, you may be seeing the worst-case scenario in terms of energy! Let them get their ya-yas out, and then really get to know them.
Once you think you have found a candidate or two, the final decision is always up to your pooch, whether you like it or not. Make an appointment to come back with your dog, or go grab them out of the car. If your dog is stressed out by the area, you won’t get an accurate reading of how she feels about the potential new pup. You may even have to come back multiple times before your dog gets used to the location.
Alternatively, some shelters are willing to meet you in a place where your dog is comfortable. Still other shelters will let you take the pet home for the meeting.
Tips for the first meeting
Regardless of where the first meeting takes place, here are a few simple things to try:
- Make sure both dogs have had a chance to relieve themselves, investigate the meeting area, and burn off some steam.
- Walk them into within sight of each other. Whoever is with each dog should praise and treat their dog.
- Bring them closer, but keep them far enough apart that they can’t reach or sniff each other. Walk alongside each other for as long as it takes for both dogs to want to meet each other. If either dog is avoidant or pulling to get away, do not proceed. If either dog is lunging at, fixated on, or staring at the other, do not proceed. You may wish to try again another day, but unless the issues change, this is likely not the match.
- Once you can walk both dogs alongside each other without incident, allow the occasional sniff. I call this “drive-by sniffing.” Oh, and don’t get upset about genital sniffing! They are dogs, not humans, and in their world this is important. Do interrupt prolonged sniffing (to any part!) by continuing on the walk. If either dog freezes, get both dogs moving. Never punish or scold either dog for anything they do during the initial meeting, to avoid associating bad things with the other dog.
- Continue the pause, sniff, and walk routine until both dogs engage in play or both dogs have sniffed each other to their hearts’ content and are happy to walk along next to each other.
- Now go home! Allow both dogs to come in, but prevent bunching up in the doorway, as this is a common spot for altercations. It doesn’t really matter who enters first, but if one wants to go first, let him.
- Keep both dogs on leash as you walk them around the house. If things seem to be going well, you can let the leashes drag until the dogs have been fed near each other, been on the furniture together, and played with each other’s toys. This may take minutes, hours, or days. Let the dogs interact at their pace.
- Over the next few days, monitor all interactions. If you can’t be there, confine the dog who appears to be the most laid-back and non-controlling.
- Expect a skirmish or two as the dogs get to know each other. The vast majority of issues will be resolved quickly with a noisy and exaggerated display. Never scold or baby either dog. Just ignore them both. If, however, you encounter anything concerning along the way, APDT’s Trainer Search is the perfect resource to find a trainer.
About the Author: Katenna Jones is the director of educational programs for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and volunteers as a responder for Red Star Animal Emergency Services. She is the author of Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer: Getting the Best for You and Your Dog and received the Animals as Other Nations Award (2012), from the International Animal Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.