Owning more than one dog can be quite an adventure. Let’s look at it from the dogs’ point of view.
Most dogs spend the first weeks of life with littermates where they will learn the skills needed in a pack. Their social life revolves around the dogs present. When a puppy is brought into its new home, it wants this social interaction to continue. If another dog is not present, the puppy will learn how to interact with the human family. However, if another dog is present, the puppy will choose to interact with the dog. People can become no more interesting than a piece of furniture. An analogy for this is to imagine that you have been transported against your will to a foreign country. No one looks acts or talks so that you understand what is going on. In order to survive, you will learn how to interact with this foreign society. However, if you find someone else from your hometown, you will cling to that person as much as possible.
Here are two simple tests to see whether your dog prefers you over another dog.
1) Take dog #1 out for a walk and leave dog #2 at home. When you arrive home, see who Dog #2 greets first. Is it you (pass) or Dog #1(fail)? Now repeat the test only take dog #2 and leave dog #1. If the dog greets the other dog first, guess what … you’re not very socially important.
2) When the dogs are playing together, can you easily get either dogs’ attention? Try calling one of the dogs while they are playing or interrupt the game with a toy. (The game must end without lashing out by one dog at the other dog. If that happens, then things are out of control.) Did the dog come willingly (pass) or were you ignored (fail)? If your dogs can pass these two tests, congratulations…you will not have a problem with training. Didn’t pass? It’s time to build a relationship and change the dog’s behavior.
First, separate the dogs. A fence is fine. No fence? Then it’s harder but it can be done. Now, lots of control work with both dogs. We’re talking about basic obedience work. Each dog will have a chance to learn that you are the source of what is important … food, grooming, and games. Their social interactions will now come from you so you must be more interesting than any dog could ever be!
This is a slow process. It can take six months but the benefits will far outweigh the time it takes. You will have dogs that respond to you, that don’t howl and cry when left alone, and are not a problem around other dogs (there is nothing cute about a Newfoundland frantic to “play” with a Min. Poodle!)
Yes, the dogs can eventually be back together. This is not a permanent situation. If you see problems developing later, you can intervene with the program again but with much faster results.
PREVENTION: When bringing a puppy home, do not allow unlimited access to the other dogs. If the puppy wants to play with another dog, take the puppy somewhere else and play games with a toy, do some training…anything exciting and enjoyable so that the puppy gets a bit tired. Now let the puppy play for a while with the other dog. The puppy should have times of isolation so that it will learn the self confidence of being by itself.
When the puppy has spent about 2 months bonding to the family, it can be introduced to more unsupervised time with the other dogs. Watch for inappropriate play (growling, attacking, lashing out behaviors). If it occurs, do more control work. Be sure you are following the basic rules of feeding, sleeping, toys, territory and grooming. [see handout “How to Have a Happy Dog …”]
These same procedures apply when bringing a new dog (rehoming) into the household. Develop the relationship with the new dog as well as establishing the priorities in the pack.