“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This maxim holds true when introducing your new dog to your current two and four-legged family members – the better you are able to manage the initial introductions so that they are positive experiences for all involved parties, the more rapidly your new dog will be ameliorated into your home.
INTRODUCING YOUR NEW DOG OR PUPPY TO A RESIDENT DOG
If your current dog(s) have issues with reactivity toward other dogs or tend to resource guard you or treats from other dogs, coordinating introductions can be a tricky art. Hire a qualified, experienced behavior professional in your area to coordinate and facilitate introductions.
You can begin establishing the groundwork of a successful introduction before the pets are even in the same environment. Allow your new dog to smell grooming tools or bedding which smells like your existing pets so he can get information about them before the initial introduction. Likewise, you can rub your new puppy or dog with a towel or engage him in play with a toy and allow your resident pets to sniff it, getting sensory information about him. These “smelling sessions” can let your pets gather such critical information as age, sex, and reproductive status of other pets before the initial greeting.
If your current dog(s) are friendly to other dogs, there are a few things you can do to facilitate friendly introductions:
- Introductions should take place in a neutral location.
- You will need a handler for each dog. Start at a distance, clicking and treating for focus, friendly interest in the other dog, and distance-decreasing signals like a play bow or relaxed body posture. If either dog begins lunging, barking, or displaying distance-increasing behaviors, respond appropriately – creating distance, calming the dog down, and proceeding more slowly the next session.
- Introductions should initially be very brief, punctuated by frequent positive separations, training, and rest periods.
- If you have multiple dogs, introduce your new dog to each individual dog in your home separately first. Rank your current dogs from “most mellow/tolerant” to “most excitable.” Introduce your new dog or puppy to your most mellow, stable current dog first.
- When you are ready to introduce your dog or puppy to multiple resident dogs, start out with your new dog and the resident dog she responded best to. Add one dog at a time. Briefly separate the dogs if any get overwhelmed. Avoid responding emotionally with yelling or corrections, as this only adds stress to the social situation and teaches your dogs that you are reactive as well. Be strong, confident, fair, and set an example for good dog behavior by keeping yourself under control.
- Reinforce prosocial interactions – you can click your current dog for sitting or standing still while the new dog gathers information through sniffing, provided your current dog does not resource guard food when dogs approach as he is eating. You can also play Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at That” game, clicking and treating dogs for looking at each other.
- Remember that some behaviors, like mounting, can be a reflection of stress and insecurity. Punishing a dog for mounting can add to the stress and insecurity and thus increase the frequency of the mounting behavior. Use high value treats to redirect if one dog mounts another and the dog that is being mounted seems uncomfortable with the situation. If the dog that is being mounted will tolerate the mounting behavior, reinforce his patience with the awkward newcomer. Also remember to click the “humpee” for any approaches or “non-R-rated” greetings.
INTRODUCING THE NEW DOG TO OTHER PETS
- Manage to create a successful learning environment – use leashes, gates, and crates as necessary. Cat doors are also helpful in providing dog-free sanctuaries within the household. Do not force interactions if either animal is afraid and displaying avoidance behaviors (trying to escape the interaction). If either animal displays avoidance behaviors, end the session and revise your training plan so you can be successful next time. (More distance? Higher value reinforcement? Higher rate of reinforcement?)
- Reward both the dog and the other animal for any calm, prosocial behavior (polite interactions). Observing carefully for desirable behaviors prepares you to provide ample reinforcement for the correct behavior.
- Play Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at That” (from her fantastic book, Control Unleashed) with both animals.
- Keep sessions brief and positive.
- When you are not able to supervise interactions, keep pets separated.
- Train your new dog in impulse control behaviors (solid recall, leave it, backing away, and focus at a minimum).
- If your dog has a high chase drive, provide plenty of legal chasing opportunities through fetch games or lure coursing.
- Be patient.