Adding a new dog to your existing pack? Whether you have one mellow oldster or three trouble-seeking missiles, bringing a new dog into your fold should be done with care and patience.
Just before Christmas, I worked with a sharp lady, career-savvy and independent. The kind of fun lady you like to include in your ‘wine nights’. She recently opened her home to a neglected and thin female Beauceron (french shepherd; a herding dog). Assured by the former owner that the dog was friendly with other pups, she still took the precaution of having her two established dogs meet the new one on leash and on neutral territory, per my advice and research she had done on her own. The Beauceron did not read my emails, however, and growled fiercely when approached by her other two mixed breed dogs.
Undaunted, this lady sought help and we began a counter-conditioning and redirecting process. This is a wordy way of saying we would attempt to change the new dog’s mind about how to react to the other dogs.
The Beauceron’s obedience was decent, despite seven years spent outdoors with a doghouse and a dominant Doberman for company. In order to have influence over her behavior toward the other dogs, we had to convince the new dog (and the established dogs) to let the humans lead, and canines should follow. (Often people will think it’s best to ‘let the dogs work it out’. Not so, unless you like expensive vet bills.) We trained the Beauceron low-tech; a tennis ball and basic commands to establish leadership and reduce her energy level. Next: back inside to set up our ‘can’t we all just get along?’ area. This consisted of a baby gate in a doorway with her two established dogs on one side, and the Beauceron on the other. With tasty treats in hand, we now had a means of getting the dogs in close proximity safely, but attentive to us. We wanted the dogs to briefly acknowledge one another and then look away, and receive a reward for that.
At first, we used the ‘watch’ command to ask for canine-human eye contact, followed by treats for compliance. Then, we did nothing for a moment. Without specific direction, the dogs would glance at each other, maybe sneak a quick sniff through the gate, then they would turn away and look back at us, the folks holding the treats. We watched the canine body language carefully. Mouth open, slight pant, face angled looked good to us. Mouth shut tight, eyes riveted and ears pricked, not so good. When the Beauceron growled, we just used the ‘come’ command or ‘watch’ to get her to turn away and look back at us, effectively redirecting her energy and changing her mind about what her reaction to the others should be. We were counter-conditioning; changing the dog’s response to a stimulus.
Wisely, the lady suggested she would keep them separate and continue this exercise, and only take leash walks with all three when she had the extra hands to do so.
Visitors arrived at her house over the holidays, and mistakes happened when doors were left open and the dogs got together. As dogs will do, they surprised everyone with friendly greetings and face licking, and then turned their attention to the humans. As good as this was, the lady knew that she still had to manage them, a lot, before they could all sleep in a pile together. Setbacks were bound to occur, but now she had the tools to improve their relationship with each other, and with her.
So, what’s the rush? Take time to do your homework and the tension level in your home will decrease dramatically. The dogs will respect your ‘take charge’ attitude and begin to do what dogs
do best: follow the leader.