- (See yesterday’s post for Part One of this series regarding Multi-Dog Households and integration.)
Once your dogs have been successful with outdoor introductions, they may be ready to begin introductions to the indoor environment together. Not all dogs will initially be playful together, so you know that you have been successful if the dogs display positive and relaxed body language. This varies between dogs, but most dogs will be calm, with a slow wag. Their bodies should not stiffen when in the presence of other dogs. Hard stares and drawn back ears are not good signals.
It is also important that while you work on indoor introductions, you are continuing the outdoor time spent together! For our dogs, this was a great way to burn energy as a group, and then the dogs weren’t entirely surprised to see the others in the house. It was fun and enjoyable to be outside on walks together, so why shouldn’t they assume that it would be the same indoors?
Finally, remember to continue positive reinforcement throughout all of these steps! Every dog is different, so find what works best for them… playing, toys, attention, or food. Just make sure that if one dog is being rewarded, the others are as well, so that jealousy issues do not develop.
- Our first step with indoor introductions, was to use a tethering, or tie-down, system. You can read more about it here, but you are essentially securing your pooches to an immovable object. Some big-time rescuers and foster families go so far as to drill holes and harnesses into their walls, but we haven’t gotten quite so fancy around these parts. We simply place the dogs’ leashes around the leg of each couch (Tonka and Gaige) and put Georgia’s around the leg of the kitchen table. The trick is to keep them a safe distance from one another (at least 6 feet apart, at the full distance of their leashes). You don’t want the distance to be close enough that they can taunt one another. Then each dog is hooked to their leash, and we bring a blanket or bed out for them to lay on. Once they have settled down and are displaying calm, positive behavior, we choose to give each of our dogs a high-value treat, such as a bully stick. This is rewarding their calm presence around the other dogs, making it a positive experience, and also shows them that the other dogs are not able to steal their bone or their special space. Start with short amounts of time, then work towards longer durations. We would do this while cooking dinner, and graduated to TV or movie time at night. This step can go on for days or even weeks… until all dogs are calm around one another, and basically willing to ignore the others! They should be bored with this step… that is your goal, before proceeding.
- The next step for our family, was to use baby gates in the house. We would begin with the dogs tethered, and then put up two baby gates, in two separate doorways. We would let them off of their tethers, but keep the baby gates in place. The gates were set up so that the dogs could see one another, but not touch, even when off-leash. This allowed the dogs to be loose in the house together, to see that the other dogs were loose, yet not be able to directly interact.
- The next step is where things can get ugly, if you aren’t careful. You will be releasing all dogs from their tethers, while keeping just one of the baby gates in place. Someone with authority over the dogs should be placed at the gate/doorway. The dogs will, inevitably, all rush to the gate. Again, lots of love and attention (simultaneously, if possible!) should be lavished on dogs with waggly tails and smiley faces. Any negative body language should be redirected. For us, this worked well by stepping in between the dogs in standard ‘Mom Pose’: arms crossed, feet apart, grumpy stare. This shows the dogs that you are in charge, and also protective. It would also help to have the dogs each interested in something in their own room (toy, bone, etc), so that they are not too concerned about the other dog. Eventually, you will notice them walking casually over to the gate to sniff one another. Place yourself nearby, in case you need to step in to redirect their attention, but if the dogs have all been successful through the previous steps, particularly off-leash interactions outdoors, and you have taken things very slowly, there is no reason you should have any issues by this step. I know I am getting repetitive here, but again, the dogs should be bored before you proceed to the next step.
- At some point, when dogs were calm, quiet, and happy around one another, we chose to work on simple obedience with dogs on either side of the gate. For example, we would ask all dogs to sit, regardless of which side they sat on, and give them treats for good behavior. It is important that your dogs not be too food-aggressive, and very responsive, for this step. Your dogs should have their “sit-stay” down, before you proceed. This is rewarding positive behavior, as well as obedience, and reminding them that time together is fun!
- Finally, your goal is obviously for the baby gates to come down! This step will need to be approached differently for each group of dogs. For example, with excitable dogs like Gaige and nonchalant dogs like Georgia, we let Georgia loose in the house, but kept Gaige leashed. This way, we could control/monitor Gaige’s behavior, and we knew Georgia would not approach her unless she wanted to be friendly. We also worked on group obedience, with sit-stay or down-stay, and giving treats. This allowed us to be in control of the dogs’ bodies, and make it a positive experience. Approach this step at your own discretion, and use your own good judgement. By this point in your experience, you should be experts at reading your own dogs’ body language, and so they will be your best advisors on how to proceed, and at what pace.
It was often difficult to take things so slowly, and put off integrating Georgia into our lives fully – she has the ‘poor weedle peeble’ face down, and it was hard to resist! However, the success we have seen in the slow intro method is undeniable. At no point in time did we feel like we were faced with a situation we couldn’t handle. Because each stage builds on the previous one, and we didn’t move on to the next step until we felt confident in the dogs’ security, it was a series of successful and positive interactions for both ourselves, and our pups!
In Case of Emergency
Throughout this process, you may experience some squabbles. That is okay! And probably normal, particularly with adult pups. Remember, a dog growling is not a bad thing, in and of itself. A growl should not necessarily be reprimanded, as this is a dog’s way of warning other dogs that they are reaching the limits of their personal boundaries. If a dog isn’t given permission to growl, they will often be pressured to snap or bite without warning. If your dog growls, evaluate the situation. Are they protecting a toy? Remember, toys should be put up when new dogs are interacting! Are they growling at a puppy that is climbing all over them, or playing too rough? You are the pack leader, and need to help teach younger dogs to respect the other pup’s body language, as well as showing the older dog that you will “protect” them from the unruly youngster! Use your dog’s growling as a signal to you that you need to work on being more observant, and prevent problems before they begin. Responsible dog owners need to become dedicated students of canine body language, and be diligent about preventing the types of triggers that can spark tensions. (Jonathan calls this my super power: my doggie mind-reading ability!) Otherwise, issues will escalate. Sometimes, the dog that is showing these signals may not intend for an argument to ensue, but those body signals could trigger negative consequences in the other animals. If things get out of hand, it works well to ‘discipline’ both dogs involved, by putting them in isolation, such as their kennel or room. They should not be harshly scolded, but the message you are intending to send is that the fun and social time ends when disagreements begin. Because the steps above build upon one another, it can work very well to return back to a previous step if you start noticing problems building with your pups.
- Body language: raised hackles, hard stares, stiffening of the body, low growls. Keep a close eye out for body language signs that can signal trouble. If you see any of these, call your dogs away to redirect their attention, or step in between their stares with the ‘mom-stance’. It is important to keep in mind that this body language may escalate to a bite, but it can also simply instigate a reaction on the part of another pup.
- Competition: Prized chew toys, food and even attention from you or company, can send arousal levels up and spark conflicts in some dogs. Don’t overlook the leftovers in the trash or the piece of hot dog that fell just out of reach under the counter.
- Excitement: Play sessions and tug games that get too exciting can cause problems. Charging to the door for a walk or chasing a squirrel in the yard can amp two dogs up to the point where they may clash and redirect on each other. If you see your dogs getting overly aroused, and especially, if they stop listening to you, it’s time to step in and make everybody settle down, using a verbal command or a time out in the crate or on tie-down.
Separate Dogs before Leaving the House
You have followed all of our
expert advice, and have found peace, tranquility, and happiness in a multi-dog household. Woo-hoo! Now, you might find yourself growing complacent with your dogs’ newfound companionship, and convincing yourself that they would be happiest to be left loose together while you are away from the home. This is one of the hardest things for new multi-pit owners to accept: Our dogs can be the best of friends BUT they may still find something, someday, that will cause an argument. When you’re home, a small spat can often be stopped fast with a loud shout. But if you’re not home, this same argument can escalate, drag on and cause injury. Avoid this terrible possibility by crating them when you are away, or at least placing them in separate rooms, behind closed doors. Remember to exercise the dogs before you confine them so they can rest and enjoy a chew toy while you’re away. By following this standard protocol employed by owners of many dog breeds, including and especially the terrier breeds, you can leave the house knowing that you’ve done everything possible to ensure the well being of your pets. Remember, crates also ensure that when your pups aren’t supervised, they are confined and out of mischief like going potty in the house or chewing on your brand new boots.
- Maintain a strong leadership role so the dogs respect your house rules.
- Especially while dogs are getting to know each other, separate before you leave the house.
- Know the most common fight triggers and work to prevent them.
- Understand that dog dynamics can and do shift along with life changes.
- Give your dogs individual attention to strengthen bonds.
- Take the steps slowly, as they build on one another. If you or the dogs seem stressed, go back to the previous step.
- Become a doggie mind-reader… or at least, educate yourself about canine body language! Use their cues to help you determine how quickly to proceed.
- Learn more about tie-downs from the BAD RAP website.
Thank you for following along with our two-part series! We hope it has been a little bit helpful to some of you. Is there anything that was particularly applicable to your situation, or that you plan to try? Do you have any pointers that you can add to ours? We’d love to hear from you! Have a great weekend, friends. 🙂