Introducing New Dogs Into Your Household

Check out our latest blog about Inter-dog Aggression and Ways to Introduce New Dogs into your Household.
Erika Zerebecki, LVT wrote this blog about her experiences with behavior challenges in her dogs. We are sure many multi-dog households can relate.
I have always lived in a multi-dog household. I held dog parties and had foster dogs in and out of my house, regularly. I never had any reservations about inter-dog aggression or thought for a second that the dogs I invited in to my home wouldn’t get along. Until I adopted Watson…
Watson came into my home at a time when I had 4 other dogs. I initially took him in as a foster and tried to introduce him into the house correctly. I started off with some rules and loose boundaries that I slowly let dissolve after I grew more comfortable with him in the house. After about 6 months he started displaying some signs of aggression towards other dogs in the house, and his displays escalated rapidly over a month. He started with food aggression, then aggression over toys or possessions, then territorial aggression as well as redirected aggression during times of excitement. He pretty much covered all of his bases.
When a dog in your home suddenly starts showing signs of aggressive behaviors, pet owners need to act quickly. Rapid progression of aggressive behaviors will force pet owners to make some difficult decisions. The three most common outcomes are: (1) The pet owner decides to live with the dog and manage the behaviors as long as he/she can provide a safe environment for all people and animals involved. (2) The pet owner decides to rehome the dog because he/she cannot provide a safe environment for all involved. (3) The pet owner may be forced to euthanize the dog because he/she cannot keep the dog safely in the home (or alternative placement cannot be found in a timely manner).
I was a happily ignorant dog owner and I can only now look back at all of the signs I missed and ways I may have set Watson up for failure. Dogs don’t naturally welcome strange dogs into their pack, so revolving animals in the house can be extremely stressful for them. Below is a compiled list of guidelines created with recommendations from behaviorists and trainers. These guidelines can be used preventatively when introducing a new dog into a home as well as a tool to work with dogs already showing signs of aggression.
If aggressive behaviors have already been observed:
1: The first step is to seek out professional help, the sooner the better. Rule out any health issues that may be contributing to the aggression. I sought out professional help immediately when I recognized how severe Watson’s reactions were. I took him to a board certified behaviorist first. In addition, a trainer came to the house and I consulted with another non-board certified behaviorist in an in-home consult.
2: Behavioral modification drugs may be recommended by the professionals and can be extremely helpful in managing (not fixing!) aggressive behaviors. Medication is only effective if used in combination with training and routine.
Tips for PREVENTING or working with AGGRESSION in the home:
1. Keep initial introductions short, positive, and conduct them in neutral territories. Dog should never first meet one another with face-to-face interactions.
2: Create rules and boundaries. Example: All dogs have to sit before coming into the house.
3: Learn to read body language and be vigilant with each interaction. Look for signs that either dog is uncomfortable or agitated. It took a long time to learn Watson’s body language. If I notice any warning signs, I separate the two dogs.
4: Create positive social interactions between dogs. Dogs can be trained together and walked together.
5: Toys are only allowed when the dogs are sharing. High value toys, such as bones, are only allowed in each dog’s designated area. Do not allow any opportunity to be possessive.
6: All dogs are fed separately, most in crates. All of the food bowls are pulled up after everybody is done eating to avoid confrontation over such a coveted resource.
I ended up making the decision to keep Watson and continue working with him. I rearranged my entire routine and environment to accommodate him. This was not a simple or inexpensive task. It is important to be realistic. Living with dogs that don’t get along is extremely difficult and unattainable for most people.
I was once at a crossroads where I was faced with the decision to euthanize or re-home Watson. These are the choices that most pet owners face in situations like Watson’s. Like any owner that is bonded with their dog, either decision is heartbreaking. I was lucky in that I was able to invest the time, money, and work needed to give Watson a good quality of life in my home, although separate from my other dogs.
Several years after being separated from the other dogs in my house, I made the careful decision to bring a puppy home to introduce to Watson. I followed all of the above guidelines and so far Watson’s relationship with the puppy has blossomed. My expectations have been exceeded with each interaction they have. He has lived separate from other dogs for several years and it melts my heart to see him have this second chance at bonding with another dog. Although he is still kept separate from the dogs he does not get along with, he now has the opportunity to have the company of another canine friend (something I never thought would be possible).
Erika Zerebecki, LVT