Adding A New Dog Into Your Home

Are you considering getting another dog? What do you need to do to have the highest chance of success? And what if your current dogs are fighting?

The first consideration should be whether your current dogs have a culture that would be good for another dog. Groups are self-teaching. That can be good or bad. A well socialized and mannered group will make things easier. We should be handling, socializing and training puppies from 2 weeks on, and throughout the life of the dogs. We could head off most of these problems, and keep most dogs out of the shelter system, if every dog breeder, owner and shelter did this with their dogs. It is a serious mistake to not socialize your puppies until after they get all their vaccinations. You are setting them up for failure if you wait. You have a puppy? Let’s start that right now, not later. Because, if you create, or have, dogs with serious socialization deficits or behavioral disturbances, then it might not work out well to add another dog. Instead of rescuing a dog that you can’t handle, why not instead give a donation to that rescue group for that dog so it can find a better home?

The culture of the existing group will exert a powerful influence on how the new dog is going to be greeted and treated, and whatever culture the new dog came from will exert a powerful influence on how the new dog will treat your dogs. I remember doing group classes at a doggie daycare in Scottsdale years ago. There were a handful of dogs there that were perfect for introducing new dogs to the group, and they would get the orderliness going properly. They were indispensable. Not every dog can do that role. There was a bonded pair of brothers, 2 large male Dachshund/ Bassett mixes, who were amazing. They never fought with any dog, but they were the anchors for all good behavior and would confront other dogs if they were unfairly playing or interacting. They were there for an extended time because the owner’s wife was stuck in a hospital in another state because of a difficult pregnancy. There was also a young male, happy go lucky, who could be in with any dogs, was faster than the rest, and was the best dog for a new dog to meet before being put in with the other dogs. He was about 50 lbs., and he made friends easily and smoothed the introduction into the group.

Dog groups (I don’t think the term, “pack”, applies to dogs) will form relationships, friendships, a social hierarchy, and culture. Males tend to have a more rigid hierarchical structure than females. Adult males tend to be at the top of the hierarchy without using force and can claim resources as they wish. Adult males also tend to be at the bottom of the hierarchy, and the belief is that the lowest ones are those that do a lot in teaching young puppy manners. In the middle are females and intermediate males. Adults are higher in the hierarchy over the pups until the adolescents integrate into the adult group, and then they will sort themselves out as a group. Most of the conflict is in the middle of the hierarchy where roles can or can’t switch over time. Dogs tend to make friends. Puppies are given a “get out of jail free card” up to around 2 months of age, then the adult males begin to push them around and the adult females join in starting around 6 months of age. The older dogs teach manners and bite inhibition. Thus, the age of the dog you bring into the group will be treated differently depending upon whether it is a male or female, puppy or adolescent or adult.

Young puppies fight all the time, with the larger pups tending to become higher in the hierarchy over the smaller pups, but there are exceptions to this rule: the runt sometimes learns to punch above its weight class. This is why you want to not adopt puppies that are under 7 weeks of age since they need those squabbles to learn proper dog interaction skills.

When status in the group is upset, such as when a new dog enters the home, then the potential for conflict arises. It doesn’t take much for a first fight. It could be over a toy, or food bowl, favorite person, passageway, place, or relationship between one or more dogs. An adolescent dog can just bump into the other, going through a dog door, and a fight starts. The younger one might have even grown up in the group as a puppy but is now a young adult and is of a status challenging age. That challenge can be active, meaning the younger dogs is challenging the older dog for resources. Or it can be that the age and maturity of the younger dog comes across as challenging to the older dog. The older dog and this younger dog can become conflict rivals. That is a danger to the dogs and the people.

This reminds me of my experience in Jiu Jitsu many years ago. In the dojo, we were all friends, the environment was naturally somewhat competitive when sparring, and the members were mostly male. But there was a guy, around 20 years old (I was twice his age at that time) who just irritated me. It wasn’t directed at me. He never did anything intentionally. But his mannerisms just annoyed me. I didn’t take it out on him, and we had no conflicts. But I didn’t like being around him. I didn’t like his humor, the look on his face, the way he talked, or the way he sparred. I can’t point to any incident that he did which got on my nerves. At least I recognized how his presence made me feel and I went out of my way to not let it influence how we were when together. It wasn’t his fault. I don’t think he even noticed that he was that way. I think I was experiencing the same thing that happens when adolescent dogs start becoming adults and they rub the adults the wrong way. There is just some intangible thing that develops.

This is where vets tell dog owners that the solution is to spay or neuter the dogs, typically targeting the perceived one causing the fights. This is unlikely to work, and some dogs become more unstable after being fixed. Look at the UC Davis study on early spay and neuter.

With some dogs, time and some training can sort these things out. I remember working with two fighting Weimaraners in Mesa, AZ several years ago. One banged into the other going out a dog door and the fight was full on for 20 minutes. They really tore into one another. The owners were out of town, the dogs were being watched by some friends. The friends couldn’t get these 120 lb. dogs apart until the dogs stopped fighting on their own. When I first met the dogs, they looked like baseballs, with stitching all over their bodies. Eventually, after sorting out some things and with special training and time they eventually got along, and the problem resolved. In the short run, however we couldn’t let them just hang out because of the risk of serious injuries. All interactions had to be tightly supervised.

But sometimes separation, training and time isn’t enough. Sometimes the fighting never stops and becomes increasingly dangerous. Females tend to fight over places, males tend to fight over status challenges. Fighting is more likely with same sex siblings from the same litter.

Some dogs and dog breeds, including fighting breeds, obtain psychological reward from fighting and learn strategies of how to get into more fights. Precursor clues to a fight include when dogs make sustained eye contact, use strutting body language, tend to show “glee” and excited tail wag, seek out, confront, and pick fights with other dogs without any previous threat. Another clue is dogs that tend to mark with urine, feces, and deep forceful ground scratching. Fighting breeds tend to fight more ferociously when stimulated by pain, anxiety, stress, hunger, or competition over resources. I’ve worked with fighting dogs that stopped fighting when we removed the triggers and treated the other dogs as if there never was a dispute. I’ve seen others who were not safe to be with other dogs, but were good with people, and needed to be rehomed as the only dog.

Sometimes dog fighting stops if dogs can fight it out, but that is obviously a last resort and isn’t a guaranteed answer. Many dogs will squabble with one another for a few seconds, but the result is only some loud noise, slobber, and no resentment afterwards. That kind of “fight” is normal stuff. Even people squabble from time to time, and it doesn’t mean a thing. With squabbling dogs, you can usually tell them to knock it off, one way or another, and peace results. No dog is hurt, and no rivalry exists that matters. Thus, letting two 7-week-old puppies sort things out in a litter or a couple of small dogs making noise and slobber over a toy, is not the same as letting two adult poorly trained and socialized dogs who are rivals fight it out. I don’t condone dog fighting! Don’t set up adult dog fights thinking that will make things better. Know this, however, if the dogs can’t stop being rivals then the fighting will most likely never end. A full-blown adult dog fight lasting minutes which results in a death grip or material injuries should never be condoned or set up.

Humans are not part of your dog group culture. You can’t make dogs get along. You can’t make them defer to the other. You can’t side with the one versus another and think that will make things better. You can’t spay or neuter the dogs and think that will solve the problem, because the odds are highly unlikely to work. Yes, you can help manage your dogs, and there are some limited ways you can limit the bad attitudes. But ultimately, the culture the group forms will dictate how it all turns out. You can’t make dogs not be dogs. What you can do is choose which dogs you choose to be part of your home and to decide when you should or shouldn’t add another dog. How do you get dogs to stop fighting in the home? The first and best option is mixing and matching dogs that will best get along with your existing dog. The even better option is to socialize all dogs from the very beginning of life and throughout their lives.

A bad option is to thoroughly squash the dogs through harsh training. This type of training is just as bad for the dogs as letting them fight it out and get seriously injured. Harsh training doesn’t guarantee there won’t be a fight in the future. Now, your dogs will be injured, but instead of by the other dogs, they are injured emotionally (and possibly physically) by the humans. Neither of these are good options. Anyone who promises they can get any dog to get along with any other dog is not someone you should hire to work with your dogs. No one can make all dogs, or all people, get along. There is a reason why some dogs end up in shelters or the vet’s office, and a similar reason why not all marriages work out.

Furthermore, do you think that every zoo animal introduction works out? Nope. Look it up. Do you think that every animal introduction into the wild works out? Nope. Look it up, it isn’t a pretty picture. There are ways that zoos introduce animals, but there isn’t a guaranteed formula. The same is true for ranchers or farmers when introducing new animals to their herds, flocks, or droves. Not all those introductions turn out peaceably or without injury or death. Or consider when the forest service relocates a male grizzly to a distant forest because he’s been attacking and killing younger males, adult females, or cubs. First, that grizzly is now possibly in the territory of another grizzly, and so there might be a serious fight. Or he navigates his way back to where he started, and he keeps killing. The humans in these circumstances are experts regarding their specialty species, and they can’t make it always work out. What makes you think that every dog introduction or group can always get along? There are no error free methods. What would be ideal is to teach these socialization lessons long before these dogs need to find a home or a new home.

My recommendation is to first get your own house in order. Enroll your dog in some doggie daycare and see how that works out, getting feedback from the staff. If your dogs can’t fit in there, then I don’t think you should get a new dog. Don’t do this test by taking your dogs to an off-leash park to see what happens, that is a formula for an expensive disaster. Let’s get your existing dogs evaluated and trained and see how they do around each other and strange dogs and get vet checkups to ensure there are no medical issues. Then, test and pick a new dog that has a high probability of fitting in, usually a puppy. If not a puppy, look for a dog that is known to be good with other dogs and people that isn’t insecure or quick to anger and hasn’t known health issues. If possible, see how the potential new dog candidate interacts in other dog groups and determine if the culture it grew up in fits with your existing dog culture. Unfortunately, many animal shelters have eliminated volunteer or employee-run dog modification groups, new dog introductions, and daily play groups. They are also “manufacturing” dangerous dogs by undoing whatever socialization these dogs had, not providing new and good learning opportunities for humans and dogs, and housing dogs in ways that are so harmful that the dogs can’t integrate easily into a new home culture. They are causing more harm than good and they need to be educated by the rescue community about the harm they are doing… assuming they will listen at all. If you already have dogs fighting in the home, it is not time to add another dog. Whatever your current dogs are doing will spill over onto the new dog and the new dog doesn’t deserve to be your old dogs punching bag. You must work with your current dogs first to give every dog the best chance of success.

Have I successfully helped people integrate a new dog into the home or stopped the dogs in the home from fighting? Yes. Am I able to integrate any new dog into any group of dogs or stop all dogs from fighting? No. There are some steps that can be taken to attempt success, but there is no guaranteed formula or perfectly successful way of making these situations work every time.

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