We are absolutely delighted to have Pin Oaks as the sponsor who is helping us to take these courses throughout SA. They share the same passion for dogs as we do, and this shows in all their services and products which are beyond compare. Do have a look at their website and support them for supporting the dogs in the shelters, and helping to improve both their quality of life and make them more adoptable - your dogs will also benefit! www.pinoakskennels.co.za Thank You to Michael, Doreen and the Team!
Introducing a Shelter/Rescue Dog to Existing Dogs
(includes points on before adopting to consider)
By Scotty Valadao – Canine Behaviour Consultant (ABC of SA) : TTouch Practitioner
Giving a home to a dog that has ended up without one, is, in my own opinion, one of the most wonderful things any human being can do. However, it does not always end up the way we expected as the dogs may just not get along!
Here, we are not going to go into any of the possible behaviour concerns that can arise (and on average are easily sorted), we are going to look specifically at making the integration of the new dog into the home that has existing dogs, as smooth and trouble free as possible.
What to think about first
It is all very well to open your heart and home to a shelter dog, but in order to be as successful as possible, you should consider several factors:-
- If your existing dog/s is not well socialized and does not get on well with other dogs, please don’t go ahead! Rather bring in a canine behaviourist who can help you ascertain whether or not this will be feasible by observing your existing dog’s interactions with other dogs. If your existing dog is aggressive to other dogs, rather donate some food, pay for the upkeep of a dog for a period of time instead of going through the heartbreak and stress, to the family, the new addition and your existing group of dogs. www.animal-behaviour.org.za for the name of an accredited behaviour consultant.
- Consider a dog of the opposite sex to your existing dog. Male dogs, in general, tend to fight less and the fights are less serious if they do occur. A female, on the other hand that does not accept the new addition into the existing pack, very often will continue to be aggressive and not ‘get over it’ as the saying goes.
- Find out first of all if the breeds are compatible. If you are not sure, do have a look at the Compatibility Match section.
- Don’t adopt two dogs at once, even if they are pups and especially if they are siblings. These dogs will tend to bond more with one another rather than with the family and the existing dogs. If you are determined to get another dog, rather wait for a minimum of 6-months before doing so as this will allow the latest addition to settle down and find their own position in the group. The exception to this is where two adult dogs that previously lived together are up for adoption.
- If you have an existing dog that is exhibiting any behaviour problems (destructive behaviour, separation anxiety, overly dependent, over the top, etc), a second dog will not solve the behaviour concern – you will end up with two dogs, not just one, with the same problems! Rather ask for help to solve the behaviour concern the dog has. You can get this help via the Ask the Behaviourist on our free website for all dog owners at the website www.friendsofthedog.co.za.
- Consider the age of the new addition and the existing group of dogs. If you already have a dog that is in the adolescent period, rather get a younger dog. During the adolescent period hierarchy becomes very important to a dog and you don’t want to aggravate circumstance by bringing in a possible contender to the throne!
- If you have a dog in its senior years are you sure it is the right thing to bring in a young dog now? Just as we undergo the aging process ourselves, so too do our dogs, and your golden oldie may have physical concerns and may not enjoy having a younger dog around to pester it and possibly jump on it. Many older dogs appear to have a new lease on life when a young dog or pup is introduced, but this is very dependent on the older dog’s physical condition.
- The majority of shelters nowadays will go to great lengths to ensure that your new addition is as good a match for your family as possible, but if you have any doubts regarding breed, age, exercise requirements etc, rather wait a bit before completing the adoption papers and ask an expert for help. Again, you are welcome to make use of our free website for this.
- I personally believe that the existing dogs should be under control and reasonably well behaved before a new addition is brought in. To ensure this, you can bring in simple House Rules, which are contained in the article mentioned above. Once these are in place, you will have a greater chance of success.
- If you are not experienced with dogs or are nervous about introducing them, get help! Rather call in a behaviourist that can handle the situation, understands dogs, can recognize early signs of stress and possible reactive behaviour and take steps to avoid anything bad happening. It is essential that the introduction is conducted in a calm and relaxed manner. The names of a behaviourist in your area can be obtained from us at www.friendsofthedog.co.za or from the www.animal-behaviour.org.za
At the shelter
Once you have completed the adoption procedure forms and determined what kind of dog will be most suitable to your family, the exciting part comes – choosing the dog! Here are a few things for you to bear in mind:-
a. Remember to keep in mind your criteria – age, breed, sex, exercise requirements, suitability to your home environment etc and not get carried away with a dog that is just so cute you have to have it!
b. After choosing your new dog, ask the shelter if you can bring your existing dog/s along to meet the new addition. Ideally you want to introduce each dog individually so if you have more than one dog at home you may need to make a few trips to the shelter or leave the other dogs in the car so you do not overwhelm the rescue dog. Shelters normally have exercise area’s where this can be carried out and an added bonus is that there is help on hand if the situation does not go well.
c. The shelter will help you to introduce the dogs to one another, but remember to keep the interactions short and sweet and ensure that both dogs are on lead. Allow them to sniff one another for a few seconds, and then walk the dogs away in opposite directions to give them the chance to absorb what is occurring. Do this several times to ensure that there will be no reactive behaviour. If the dogs are fine up to this point, try to walk them around together for a while. This will give the dogs a chance to sniff and investigate the surroundings together without stress. Dogs that walk together very often bond well.
d. If the meeting goes well, make arrangements with the shelter to leave a blanket that the dog can sleep on for the few days until the home check has been done, and at the same time, supply your existing dog / s with a new blanket to sleep on. After about two nights of sleeping on these, it will have absorbed each dogs scent. Then simply swap them all over. This will allow the dogs to get a dog scent of one another in advance.
e. Check with the shelter what food the dog is currently on and what times of day it is fed. This will allow you to have everything ready for the new addition when it does come home.
f. If your chosen dog is not wearing a collar, ask the shelter to put one on so that the dog can get used to it before he comes home.
First few days at home
As excited as you are about bringing this new dog into your family, remember that it has been in a stressful situation and that more often than not, we don’t even know what kind of home the dog has come from, so take it slowly!
When the dog leaves the shelter the odds are that it will be wearing a collar, keep this on and ensure that the other dog/s in the family are also wearing collars. If, at any stage an altercation does develop, you will be able to hold the collar to separate the dogs.
Don’t introduce the new dog to rest of the family and the other dogs initially. Rather set aside a place for it to sniff and smell around. Supply a crate or bed and water and food in an area where the dog will feel safe. Don’t make a fuss of the dog – there is a lot to absorb at this time and it really is better to go at the pace the dog is comfortable with and if you start petting and fussing, the dog will become more concerned as you are not acting like the leader. It would be a good idea to start Toilet Training again right from the beginning as the dog may have been in the shelter for some time and you have no way of knowing if inappropriate elimination was a concern in the last home.
A leader is someone who is confident, calm and resourceful and when you act in this manner it will help the new addition to feel more secure. Think about this in human terms – you are starting a new job and need to make yourself familiar with the computer, routines, how things work etc – would you feel better taking a bit of time to read through and investigate everything yourself before you asked questions, or would you feel more comfortable with the boss leaning over your shoulder watching your every move, patting you reassuringly on your should and perhaps making you more nervous?? Our natural instinct as humans is to comfort, but to dogs this means the opposite – the dog thinks that you are insecure and the stress levels increase.
Do not be concerned if the dog seems hesitant about eating. One of the first signs that a dog is stressed is that it will refuse food. Additionally many shelter dogs are hesitant in eating in front of people, so give the dog space. Remember that you should be feeding the same food as used in the shelter and to encourage the dog to eat, there is no harm putting in a few treats into the food.
Put the thought out of your mind that this is a ‘poor shelter dog that has had bad experiences’. We as humans have the tendency to ‘label’ things, and the last thing your new addition needs is the label of ‘poor dog’ around its neck. The past is just that, the past, and this new addition is one very lucky dog in that he has ended up in your home. It is a new beginning for this dog with your family.
Not all dogs are the same, and one dog may be running around the house as if it has lived there its whole life, while another may take a day of two to settle down.
Introducing the dogs
If you have any doubts about the outcome or are nervous, it is always a good idea to have a professional present at both this stage and when dogs are finally allowed off lead together. If you decide to go this route, ask the shelter to recommend somebody, or ask us and we will put you in touch with a qualified professional in your area. Prevention, as is said, is much better than cure and a behaviourist is qualified and experienced enough to detect any changes in the dog’s body language that could signal any possible reactive behaviour and put a stop to it before it starts and also show you the signs that could indicate a problem.
Before doing this, it really would be beneficial to do at least a little bit of TTouch. This wonderful modality, TTouch works on the whole of the nervous system and is ideal way to help settle dogs down. When we are stressed, even though the two TTouches are the absolute basics, they will help to calm the dogs. When stressed it is virtually impossible to learn anything new and just this little bit of TTouch will go a long way to helping the dogs relax. Have a look at the article De-stressing, Mental & Physical Stimulation for a few TTouches you can do.
When you feel the dog is more settled, arrange for another family member to take your own dog out for a walk and while it is out, get ready to take the new addition for a walk at the same time. It is always easier and less stressful for dogs to meet on neutral territory, so choose a park or open area nearby. They have already met at the shelter and the introduction was good, but as the new dog is now on the existing dog’s turf, the existing dog may react differently, so going back to neutral territory to re-introduce, is always a good starting point.
Don’t walk the dogs up to each other immediately. Keep a good distance away and walk parallel to one another for a period of time. Remember to reward both dogs with the behaviour you do want – quiet, settled – not lunging at the other dog. The reason we are going to walk initially with them being parallel is that direct eye contact to a dog is not just rude, but threatening behaviour. By having them walking parallel to one another you totally avoid this happening.
If one of the dogs eliminates (and it probably will), ask the person who is walking this particular dog to walk away a bit and take the other dog over to sniff and investigate. As the dogs settle down and become more relaxed, start walking a bit closer to one another and see what reaction you get. Don’t go too quickly, work at a pace the dogs are comfortable with and every so often walk them away from one another.
If everything is going well, you can now take the dog’s home, but before you go into the driveway, allow the dogs to meet casually on the opposite side of the road and do some sniffing and smelling to relax them and then walk them together into the property. Allow them to sniff and smell in the garden area and then lead them into the home.
Make sure that in the home, anything that the dogs could regard as 'important' has been removed. Examples are food bowls, all toys and chew toys, beds etc. This will prevent problems occurring.
Initially, I would suggest keeping both dogs on lead and observe their interactions. Be aware that if problems do occur, it is normally near food bowls, toys, bones, one dog on furniture and the other on the floor as well as at doorways, so make sure all the above has been put out of the way and avoid any problems at doorways and furniture.
You now have various options as to how you proceed and this will depend on the interaction to date:-
- You can either keep the above in place for a few days, keeping the dogs separate while outside and walking them together daily and allowing them to interact in the house.
- If one dog seems a bit unsure, then rather keep this dog on lead for a while longer in the home and allow the other dog off lead. Make sure here that you have a person close by that can intervene if necessary. A very simple way of keeping a dog on lead is what is termed ‘lead attachment’. You can use a long-lead and attach one end to the collar and the other end is put around your waist similar to a belt, or you can put a belt on and loop the handle of the lead through it. I personally prefer the long lead as it can easily and quickly be undone if need be.
During the time the dog is attached to you, the dog is totally ignored – you are acting like the leader and the dog follows where you go. If at any stage the dog starts to react to the other dog by staring, lunging, snarling, growling etc, a very quick jerk is given on the lead at the same time as a loud ‘uhuh’ in a firm voice. As the dog stops the behaviour, you immediately praise the dog – you are indicating to the dog the behaviour you will, and will not accept.
- Both dogs can be kept initially on lead attachment as above.
- Another alternative is to desensitize the dog that appears to be a bit reactive to a muzzle and keep the muzzle on during the interactions. Not only will this prevent any damage being done, it will lower your own stress levels which will also impact on the dog.
Depending on how the above goes will determine whether or not you allow the dogs to interact further. If you do allow them off lead, keep control of the situation by not letting them get overly excited and keep on calling them back and asking for a sit and settle for short periods of time.
Although this method does take longer than just letting the dogs off lead to ‘get on with it’ as the saying goes, you can be assured that you are keeping the possibility of reactive behaviour down to an absolute minimum and are controlling the situation.
- If, at any stage you are in doubt, please call in a professional to assist you and until you are absolutely certain that the dogs have bonded, please supervise all interactions.
Dogs don't talk English or French, they use their bodies to communicate. If we can understand even the basics then we can help our dogs cope in stressful situations and build our bond further.
When we adopt a dog, what we expect is for them to be happy. We like to think that they get what’s happening and that it’s all blooming marvellous. We tell ourselves that they know what’s going on and that they’re going to love it. This is not always the case and often we are the reason they may fail.
This is a time period of approximately 3 weeks wherein the dog seems to settle well, is reasonably well behaved and the behaviours that possibly caused it ending up in a shelter seem to either be put ‘on hold’ or have disappeared altogether.