Bringing in a new family member
Bringing a new dog into your home with your already existing pets can be stressful, for the new addition and the existing family members, both furry and human. It takes a lot of time, patience, prevention, management, and training in order to help the household transition through this change. For some dogs, integration takes only a couple of weeks, whereas dogs with behavior problems may require significantly more time to adjust.
Common problems in multi-dog households include guarding toys or food, guarding space and access to space, and becoming annoyed at an overly playful housemate. Dogs will often lash out when their tolerance has been met in order to increase space between themselves and the perceived nuisance or threat.
Here’s a simple protocol that helps with introducing your new four legged friend to the rest of your furry family members.
Habituation means helping the dogs get used to one another without any hostility, frustration, or aggravation. In order for this to happen, all animals must feel safe within the household environment. Going slow and reading your dog’s body language is key in assessing stress, frustration, fear, and overstimulation.
Approach: Place two barriers, such as baby gates, between the newcomer and other dogs in the household to create a buffer with a room in between, so they are not in direct contact. Both sides are welcome to have chew toys and food dispensing toys present, to help condition positive associations and minimize antagonistic behavior. This is how the dogs should be maintained initially, unless they are crated or being exercised.
Basic Obedience Skills
Once both sides have habituated to the new living arrangement, begin introducing basic skills to reinforce good behavior and impulse control. Slowly let the dogs train together so they have a solid foundation of focus and compliance when together.
Approach: Try practicing name recognition for eye contact, touch, sit, and stay commands. Allow the dogs to observe you working with the others. Depending on your situation, you may want to introduce training exercises with one or two barriers in place to prevent crowding and competition for rewards.
Start walking the dogs parallel to one another to minimize frustration and tension. Walking one ahead or directly side by side may cause crowding. Allow the dogs to ignore one another before introducing short interactions. Daily walks should be about 20-30 minutes at a time. If you have a lot of dogs, it may be a good idea to bring another handler; it is important that should there be an escalation or argument among the dogs that they can be quickly separated.
Approach: Praise and reward each dog for loose leash walking, and be sure to encourage curious and confident behavior whenever the dogs look at one another. Allow dogs brief interactions of sniffing (2-3 seconds) before calling “this way” and rewarding each dog for disengaging and following the handler. Short interactions like this will allow the dogs to greet while practicing polite social skills.
Gradually Removing Barriers
To start, take down one of the interior barriers so the dogs have more direct contact. While you are nearby, you can remove all gates or pens and allow supervised play and interactions.
Approach: Introduce more obedience and manners skills. Teach an “everybody” command to help all dogs focus on the owner at the same time. Capture and reward for any positive offered behavior.
After a week of supervised free range of the house, allow dogs to co-exist without limitations. If specific issues occur, consider using the baby gates or crates to manage the behavior or situation while working on behavior modification. If there is tension in the house, keep dogs under supervision or confined when necessary.
Rescue dogs often require an 8-12 week adjustment period before the dog’s full disposition and behavior traits are revealed. Interactions will change as the dog becomes more comfortable with their new surroundings. Do not take good behavior for granted, and reward and reinforce good choices as much as possible. Ensure to take your time and give the newcomer lots of space to feel safe, since transitioning too quickly can create tension and sibling rivalry in the household.
Adding a new dog to the home will exponentially increase the amount of time and work required. Take into account that existing behavior problems and bad habits of your current dogs may be learned by the newcomer, unless addressed in the other household dogs. What may be manageable with one or two dogs may become unbearable with multiples. Think of common issues such as counter surfing, barking, and pulling, and make sure to work on them with all your dogs.