K9 Corner: How to introduce new shelter dog to resident dog

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, September 26, 2017

 A reader called asking how she should introduce her new shelter pet to her resident dog. She was most concerned because she had tried this before and had to find a home for the new dog because of instant dislike between the two animals.

This time she took her resident dog to the shelter and the two dogs met on neutral territory.  She feared that the prospective new addition wouldn’t work out because it backed away and growled quietly at her dog.

I told her that we do not know the background of the shelter dog and that the body language and growl probably were defensive if the ears, tail set and hackles were normal.

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I suggested she keep them separated with baby gates for a week or so, paying more attention to the resident dog to avoid jealousy. When exercising them, do so separately during the introduction period.

When she feels there is less tension on both sides of the gate, she should get a family member (or a friend) to take the shelter dog out to a large, fenced-in area that neither dog has seen before, while she takes the resident dog and turn them loose. The dogs will not feel trapped and will investigate each other before starting a rowdy game of tag or maybe just wander off and ignore each other.

The two humans should not stand together while they supervise this play. By standing 30 or 40 feet apart, they will be able to break up any potentially aggressive moves or vocalizations by the owner cheerfully calling the resident dog while the other person calls the shelter dog. Be sure to praise and reward the animals for coming when called.

Go easy on this segment of introduction. A short play period is best at first and both dogs should be rewarded at the end so the whole experience will be a pleasant memory. Each outing afterwards can be a few minutes longer.

Now I need to mention growling during play. Not all growling is aggressive. My schnauzers all sounded like they wanted to kill and eat the playmate, which intimidated some new playmates but was accepted by most. The handlers need to know what vocalization is normal play. So if the resident dog and shelter dog growl when they start playing, look for the “play-bow” (down in front, up in rear).  Check the tails are they horizontal or slightly elevated and wagging? Watch for a dominant stare, if either dog is staring directly at the other, call them to you immediately (and praise for coming). You might even call “Do you want a treat?”  Both dogs need to be called at the same time.

If the dogs are looking at each other from the corner of their eye with heads slightly averted, that means playtime. Let them have their fun.

Obedience training both dogs and asserting your leadership will make for a harmonious household.