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Q: Any tips for helping a dog adjust to a second dog? A friend needs to give her dog up and we want to take him in but are worried our dog won’t like it.
Dr. Chris Miller, AtlasVet DC: Making friends is hard. Especially if you are a dog that lives alone and all of the sudden, an intruder arrives. Introducing dogs that have never met can be nerve racking, especially if you know one of the two dogs is fearful or aggressive. It is for this reason that I reached out to my friend Heather Morris, a certified professional dog trainer from Spot On Training, to share six tips for introducing dogs. Here is what she came up with:
- Do the first meeting on neutral territory. Dogs are very territorial and possessive by nature, so any stimuli or variables that may contribute to anxiety should be eliminated. Choose a meeting place such as the Arboretum.
- Monitor closely for signs of stress. You know your dog better than anybody so keep an eye out for changes in body language, barking, growling, lunging, or if a dog’s hackles are up. More subtle signs like avoidance (eye or head turns), lip licking, panting (when it is otherwise not hot), urine marking, yawning, and excessive grooming could mean things are getting a little too stressful.
- When the time does come to let the dogs interact, the owners have a direct impact on whether the greeting will go well or not. Leashes should be held loosely so that neither dog feels trapped. Humans should do a maypole-type dance as dogs move around to greet each other. When dogs are conflicted, they typically respond by either fight or flight. When the leash is tight, the owner has eliminated flight as a choice. Also, in the beginning, keep interactions and greetings brief at only a couple of seconds. Then redirect the dogs to help take some of the social pressure off.
- Don’t rush into allowing the dogs to greet nose to nose. Take it slow like a courtship. Try these steps:
- Parallel walking at a distance – Dogs (on leashes) should notice each other but not be able to get to each other.
- Follow the leader walking – Have one dog walk in front of the other then switch. Allow them to sniff each other’s rears, since this is much less confrontational to than head-on sniffing.
- Try parallel walking again, but this time, do it with both dogs on the same sidewalk.
5. If all goes well, take it to the owner’s yard and then inside the house. At this point, you don’t need to hold the leashes, however keep them on and let each dog drag the leash so you can easily intervene if need be.
6. Even if greetings go well, it is not recommended to leave dogs alone unsupervised for quite some time. Always pay close attention during feeding time and make sure that resources like beds, food bowls, and toys are not a source of tension.