Greeting Strange Dogs
Are two always better than one? It is often tempting to add a second dog to the family, whether for your own enjoyment or just to keep your current dog company. Two dogs will give you twice and fun and affection, but it will also give you twice the work and expenses. Should you add another dog to the household? Will the current dog like the new dog? Will they instantly become friends or will they end up fighting all the time? It is impossible to know the answers to these questions in advance, but taking proper precautions and doing a bit of homework can make the transition a lot smoother.
What things must you consider before bringing the new addition home? First, make sure you and your family is ready for a second dog. As wonderful as a new dog may seem, two dogs mean twice the work. It means twice the training, grooming, feeding, walking, veterinary care and boarding costs. Consider if you and your family members are strong enough to handle both dogs on a leash. Can your bank account handle the additional costs? Also, consider the potential behavioural problems that may arise if the two dogs do not get along.
Secondly, make sure you are not getting a second dog for the wrong reasons. For example, do not get a second dog to keep the first dog company because you do not have time for the first dog. If you currently do not have time for one, you surely will not have time for two. Another bad reason is to use the new dog to give the first one more exercise. A second dog is not a substitute for quality time spent exercising. Both dogs will require daily exercise to keep them healthy and happy. A second dog might make a great playmate, but this is not always the case. Like humans, just because they live in the same household, it does not mean that they will get along. In fact, a new puppy may not get along with the old dog because he/she is too rambunctious or rough. A new addition to the household might cause the current dog more stress than anything else.
It is important to consider whether or not your current dog is ready for a new addition. Take a look at his personality and behaviour. How does he/she act around other dogs? Does he/she like to play? Is he/she properly socialized? Is he/she accepting of other dogs in his/her own home? If the answers to these questions are yes, your dog might be ready for a new playmate. On the other hand, if your dog is very close to you, he/she may get jealous when your attention is split in half. A protective or fearful dog may become aggressive or miserable around the new dog. For example, an older dog which has been an ‘only dog’ his/her entire life might find the situation very upsetting and may have a difficult time adjusting. If your current dog has any behavioural problems, take the time to modify them before you bring in another dog. Adding a second dog will not solve behavioural problems. In fact, they may exacerbate them and your new puppy may actually learn bad behaviours from the other dog.
If you have determined that both you and your dog are ready for a new addition, the next step is choosing your second dog. The same considerations apply as when you chose your first dog. The dog you choose depends on how much time you have to devote to your pet, what his/her lifestyle is going to be like, what your breed preferences are and your own personality preferences. For example, will the dog be living in an apartment or on a spacious farm? Do you want an active dog that goes hunting with you or would you prefer one that is less energetic for the city life? You must then decide whether or not you want a puppy or an adult dog. Your resident dog might be more accepting of a puppy, but he/she might also be exhausted by it. Also consider that adding a puppy to the household is an enormous commitment of both time and money. An adult dog, on the other hand, may be more threatening to the resident dog. If you bring them together gradually and avert jealousy by paying a great deal of attention to the first dog, your transition should be smooth. While adult dogs often have the disadvantage of an unknown background, many seem so grateful that they now have a good home that they bond instantly and make wonderful pets.
Once you have decided to get another dog, have the two dogs meet before you bring the new dog home permanently. Introduce them to one another in a neutral location, such as a park, to reduce the chance for territorial aggression. Carefully observe their reactions to one another and reward good manners. As the dogs sniff and greet one another, praise lavishly and keep an upbeat tone of voice so your first dog understands that the newcomer is a good thing. Once the sniffs and explorations are over, you can walk home together. Do not try to force the two dogs together. They should be allowed to approach one another at their own pace and leave when they have had enough. Once you are at home, put the new dog in a crate. Allow your resident dog to come in and see or sniff the new dog. This assures the dog that the newcomer is not taking over the house. Crates are an essential tool to keep the dogs separated when necessary and to provide a safe haven for the dogs.Many people consider themselves to be dog lovers and just love looking at and petting every single dog they can. Dogs are indeed Man’s/Woman’s best friend and many domestic dogs are extremely friendly. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach a strange dog. This ‘best friend’ may only be the best friend of its owner and you want to avoid any situation that intimidates or threatens a dog. Dogs do indeed bite when they feel scared or threatened.
First off, it goes without saying that children in particular must not approach strange dogs without their parent or guardian in hand AND they must have the permission of the dog’s owner. Children have much too much energy for many dogs and regularly approach them in the wrong way. They often go right up to the dog in a jagged motion, flailing their arms in excitement. This has the potential to be disastrous, and is the wrong way to approach a dog. Parents must even be careful with their own family dog and their child, as it is common for children to get bitten by the family dog. Even the family dog can feel threatened by a child approaching in the wrong way. Children are very poor readers of a dog’s body language and it is for this reason that they should not be left unsupervised with the family dog, let alone a strange dog.
The correct way to approach a strange dog is to first off ask the owner for permission. If the owner is not there, it’s safest just to look at the dog and admire it from afar. If the owner is there and says ‘yes’ approach the dog from the side and do NOT make direct eye contact. Direct eye contact is often seen by dogs as a threatening gesture. This is a tough one as humans usually look into the eyes of those they communicate with. However just like with bears and tigers, direct eye contact can be interpreted by dogs as a threat. Similarly, approaching from the front can be a very threatening gesture, approach from the side. When talking to a strange dog, speak calmly and softly. When petting a strange dog, pet the dog on the side of its body NOT on the head which is another potentially threatening gesture. Finally do not shove your hand in a strange dog’s face for the dog to smell you to know you are “okay”. That dog has already smelled you from where you are as its nose is 1,000 times more sensitive than human noses. Putting your hand in front of a dog’s face can be seen as a threat.
Knowing a bit about a dog’s body language also helps let you know how comfortable the dog is with you. A broad wagging tail usually indicates friendliness. A still tail held vertically is a sign to back off. A dog staring you down, growling, showing its teeth, a dog tilting forward to make itself look larger, a dog with raised hair on its back are all clear signs (from the dog’s point of view) that say “back off you are making me feel uncomfortable”.
All of this may seem a bit strict and many people have never had a bad encounter with a dog so they may wonder what all the fuss is about. Individual dogs are very different. Sure many strange dogs you meet at a dog park will be well socialized and friendly and would never bite anyone. Many dogs are poorly socialized though, and in the right situation will attack when threatened. At the end of the day dogs are still animals and often react instinctively to strange people. If you are not respecting the dog’s body language, and are approaching a strange dog in a threatening way from the DOG’S point of view, you are taking a big risk.
Over the course of a few weeks, bring the dogs together slowly under supervision. They will have an entire lifetime to spend with one another, so there is no need to rush them. Remember to spend some one-on-one time with each dog as well to give them the individual attention that they cherish. Your first dog should retain his/her primary status. He/she needs frequent reassurance that he/she has not been replaced and that the relationship has not changed. Feed, greet, pet, and give treats to your primary dog first. This will help your dog from feeling displaced.
If the second dog emerges as the dominant type, do not try to change the natural hierarchy that develops. Some dogs will be content with being the passive one and can live in harmony with another more dominant dog. However, if one dog becomes aggressive, it is important to intervene before one gets hurt. Giving each dog a ‘time out’ period may help to prevent the aggression from escalating and acts as a distraction. Be careful not to put the dogs in a situation where they may be possessive over food or toys. For the first few days, you may need to keep a watchful eye on them while they are interacting with one another. If you cannot be around to observe them, put them into their crates.
Even with such precautions, you may encounter some new behavioural changes in the resident dog. For example, if the first dog is feeling ignored, he/she may soil on your bed to receive attention. It is not unusual to see even the most well-trained dog perform a bad behaviour in an attempt to grab your attention. Such jealousy is natural and should dissipate with time, but remember to give both dogs plenty of love and attention. Set aside some one-on-one time with your dogs each day and ensure that each dog has their own space.
Having two dogs can mean twice the problems, twice the expenses, twice the food and twice the poop to clean. But it can also mean twice the kisses, twice the belly rubs and twice the love given in return. It is a decision not to be taken lightly and not to be made without some serious consideration. By planning ahead, both you and your family can be well-prepared for an additional furry family member.
By Amy Cheung – Pets.ca writer