So you’re ready to bring home a second dog!
You’ve imagined how amazing your life would be with two awesome dogs, envisioned what great pals they’d be, the incredible adventures you will go on. You can picture them now having a nap together in a pool of sunlight on your floor, or romping and frolicking together in the yard. But what if they don’t get along? What if they are so distracted by each other that they don’t listen to you at all? How do you prevent the two dogs from becoming possessive or aggressive with each other?
Here’s how to start off smoothly to set up for success.
Many people assume that to get dogs to become best buddies, all they need to do is to let them figure it out on their own. A great parent wouldn’t just leave their toddler in the playground and let another kid kick or bite them, expecting them to “figure it out”. Instead, we guide, advise and show our kids & dogs how to behave politely so everyone has fun and stays safe.
Begin away from home
On day one, rather than bringing the new dog straight into the house or yard, start off on neutral territory. Introduce the dogs by walking on-leash. Have someone walk one dog, while you walk the other. Begin farther apart at first, then gradually walk closer until you’re walking next to each other with the dogs on the outside. This allows the dogs to get to know each other in a very non-confrontational way without being pressured to interact. Migrating together as a pack helps to build the trust and respect so important to having a well behaved dog. Keep your energy calm, while you take your time and enjoy a nice long walk together.
Once at home, limit your new dog’s access to your space. Don’t overwhelm them with too much freedom that they haven’t earned yet. Keep the dog leashed (or tethered to you) as you show them around.
If your first dog can already reliably hold a Place command, have them stay on their Place (bed, cot, spot) with a tie-back, while you quietly and calmly show your new dog around. If they can’t reliably stay on Place, you can put your dog in their crate or have the other person take them elsewhere, to avoid interference while you introduce your new dog to their crate, water bowl, Place, and the other rooms they are allowed to enter.
You may choose to “crate and rotate” the dogs for the first few days (by putting one dog in their crate while the other is out). Use your best judgement here. If your original dog has fantastic obedience and a calm mindset, then you can trust them to stay calmly on their Place cot while the new dog is being trained, patted, brushed, etc. If not, put them in their crate. Then crate the new dog while you work with and give attention to your original dog. This way they get to know each other calmly without competition. It allows the dogs to build trust by letting them get to know each other from a safe distance, and builds trust in you as their wise protector and guardian.
When people begin socializing their dog with other dogs, the first thing that usually happens is an on-leash, face-to-face meeting, or an off-leash free-for-all. When dogs are forced to meet on leash they are restrained and feeling trapped can lead to lunging, whining, barking (defence tactics) to scare the other dog away. When let loose in a yard or field to figure it out on their own, one dog may be completely overwhelmed and without reliable recall, you’d have no way to intervene. Neither of these options is ideal if you want a well-socialized dog. In fact, these scenarios can cause both dogs to lose confidence in you as their guardian and protector and leave them without any guidance as to how to behave politely or learn to socialize appropriately.
Polite, trusting calmness is the best way to begin.
The safest and best way to teach dogs to behave well together and to build and maintain trust in you and in other dogs, is to teach them how to calmly co-exist near each other, without staring, touching or playing using the Place command. It’s the ‘off switch’ dogs need to prevent needless stressing. This is teaching them to have good manners and to learn that their best polite behaviour is rewarded by you. They learn to have a calm mindset in the presence of other dogs, while continuing to follow your leadership and commands. This is State of Mind training. This is Calm on Command. This is doggy meditation. Calm co-existence is the most important form of socializing that you can teach your dogs.
We don’t want to teach dogs to get insanely over-excited to meet every dog they see. Imagine if we were like that. “OMG there’s another human!”… then we race over to grab them and jump all over them. That’s crazy for us and it’s equally crazy for dogs. Instead we want to teach our dogs to hang out like relaxed people at a cafe. Calm, cool and easy in each other’s company, without needing to arm-wrestle over anything or prove anything to one another. All we want for now is for the dogs to mind their own business and behave themselves. Over time, they will likely become best friends, but to try to FORCE them to become besties is not the way to get there.
Advocate for both dogs
Once you decide to let the dogs interact, be sure to insist on polite socialization. Don’t let one dog pester, bully or push the other dog around. It’s your job to set firm boundaries about what kind of interaction is allowed. This builds your dog’s trust in you and doesn’t force them to get nasty with each other to stop inappropriate behaviour. The more the dogs see you keeping an eye out for them, the more sensible they will be. You will notice them looking to you for direction and guidance.
It’s best to set up for success by eliminating things to get possessive over right from the start. What your dogs feel possessive about may surprise you. When we brought home a rescue cat, our dog decided that he would drink ALL of his water to prevent the cat from getting any! Pay special attention to your dogs behaviour around toys, bones, beds, food, water, and access to your personal space. Feeding each dog in their own crate is the safest method. It also prevents one dog from getting fat while the other one goes hungry! Thoroughly teaching each dog (in one-on-one sessions) to DROP IT, LEAVE IT, or the OUT command (whichever you choose) is extremely helpful in keeping them safe around items they may become possessive about. On your word, each dog must relinquish the item to you, rather than fight over it themselves. This can be taught as a fun game, but the intent is serious to keep everyone safe.
Don’t allow one dog to crowd into your space and push or herd the other dog away. Remember that you must set the rules about your space and you decide when and how you interact with each dog. Being firm and clear about this prevents your dogs from becoming possessive over you. You are their teacher, leader, guardian – NOT their possession to fight over. Make the roles clear here to prevent any confusion for your dogs.
Treat your original dog as you normally would. Don’t overwhelm the new dog with too much talking, touching, or treats. Keep things calm to help both dogs adapt.
Take it slowly
Keep the first week or so as a calm, quiet time for your new dog to adjust to their new daily routine. Avoid overwhelming your dog with too many introductions to new people or places right away.
Many people mistakenly give new dogs too much freedom too soon and leave them unattended. You’ll be living with this dog for the rest of their life, so what’s the hurry? Take it slow and only increase your dog’s freedom incrementally when they have completely earned your trust after you have thoroughly taught him/her how to behave in your home and with your other dog. It’s not fair to correct a dog for making a mistake until you are sure they know what to do and what not to do.
Keep leashes on both dogs while supervising indoors so you have the ability to guide them when needed. Do this as long as you feel necessary. This is a super simple step that can make life a lot easier while showing your dogs how to live well together.
No Free Roaming
Help your dogs succeed by giving them a structured home life with clear rules to follow. If your new dog is either safely in their crate, on their Place cot while back tied, or leashed/tethered to your belt for the first 90 days, this gives the dog ample time to learn what behaviour is allowed so they don’t develop and practice bad habits that need to be corrected later on. It’s much easier to show your new dog repeatedly what they ARE allowed to do, and to catch their intention to do the wrong thing and guide them immediately to stop, than to correct unwanted behaviours that have become ingrained habits later on. By following this advice your dog will never have the ability to disappear behind your sofa to “have an accident”, will never develop the habit of chasing your cat, or eating your stuff, or stealing from your counter, etc.
Successful dog training is all about being a great observer of behaviour and teacher. That requires that you spend lots of time together. Whenever you don’t have that time, put your dogs in their crates to prevent them from practicing things that dogs will naturally do (barking, chewing, peeing, pooping). As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. You got a dog to spend quality time together and the time you spend now will pay off in having a great dog who makes great choices!