All dogs are different. Dogs can love you but not respect you – there is a difference.
Dogs are pack animals. Adding a dog into a house with even one other dog creates a dog pack mentality. It is our job, as the human, to establish pack leadership. If this is not done from minute one, the dogs will attempt to step into this role. The dogs instinctively know their role in the pack and will look for the leader for structure and rules; basically they are looking for who is the “boss”. If they don’t feel they have this from a strong human leader, one of the dogs will step in line and attempt to become leader. When dogs figure this out in the wild, they fight. Our job as humans is to redirect this energy by immediately establishing leadership. Do not assume just because you have a loving and wonderful resident pet that issues will still not arise. The dogs need to be EQUAL and the human is the boss. That means nothing happens, begins, or ends until you say so. The new dog needs to have a relationship developed so it gains confidence. This comes from PLAY, OBEDIENCE TRAINING, and EXERCISE. This all may seem like hard work but it’s worth it when avoiding a fight that can traumatize you, your dog, and the foster.
Leadership happens by literally controlling every aspect of a dog’s life.
1) Pay attention!! Assume the worst. Expect the best. Pay attention to the rest.
2) Crate or separate a new addition. You have to assume that dogs coming into a new environment are stressed and scared, especially rescued animals. Crating or kenneling is not cruel, for most dogs it gives a sense of calm and ownership of space. Do not use the kennel as a punishment for “bad” behavior, but as a place for the dog to feel safe while learning about how the home functions and to learn with their senses (sight, smell, sound, and hearing) about the other members of the pack (home). It is a good idea to keep the new dog kenneled or separated for as long as a time that is needed, depending on the dog. Pay attention. Nervous or anxious dogs are not always easy to spot…quiet does not mean calm. Separate the new addition so he/she is still within range of the rest of the members – they should be able to be in the room without being IN the room. For dogs that are not obviously aggressive, this can be done with a baby gate. In order to create a fair environment, the dogs should be switched out regularly. This means that the resident dog(s) must be separated so that they can learn that they hold no rank either. Again, the rule is everything is neutral, only the human gets to do whatever they want. When the dogs are ignoring each other, you are making progress.
3) Leash. Whenever the new dog is out of the kennel, he/she should be leashed, ideally with a corrective collar or training lead. This way, you can correct any low head, stare, growl, or catch a rapid movement BEFORE anything happens. Keep your dog on a leash tethered to you when doing any activity in the beginning, including pottying, until you are absolutely positive you have established leadership and the dogs are calm and submissive. Correct anything that looks like „thinking about it‟ or „fear‟. Dogs respond when they are directed and given guidance on how to act, think, behave, do, and be.
4) Walks. A good way to continue introduction of dogs is through a walk. Have someone NOT part of the pack walk the resident dog. YOU walk the new dog. Take a route that is not familiar to your resident dog as he/she may be territorial. If there is a lot of anxiety between them, walk on opposite sides of the street. Keep the new dog next to you and do not let them lead. Expect the same of your resident dog. You can slowly start to come closer and closer to the other walker. If there is no reaction from the other dogs, you are in good shape. When both dogs are on leashes and the leash holders have control, you can try to let them do what dogs do: butt sniff, walk around one another, mark, etc. Pay attention! Any negative change in energy should be corrected!
5) A scuffle is not a fight. Dogs will be dogs. There will, if there is an unbalance of energy, be a “discussion” about this. Scuffles, loud noises, quick corrections, small squeals between dogs are not fights. Even these events can be scary. Hang in there and re-establish leadership immediately. Kennel and separate the dogs for a brief time but get them together, leashed, as soon as the moment and tension is over. Dogs do not hold any memories of a grudge.
6) Toys/bones. A good suggestion for the beginning of new dog introduction is to make all areas neutral and to remove all „high priority‟ items, such as toys and bones. These items can make a well functioning pack react in a negative way. Behaviorists call this “resource guarding” and this can happen over beds, bones, toys, and even you! Again, keep everything neutral and equal. If you are going to introduce a toy or bone, make it equal and watch. Even the best behaved dog can have a negative response when his/her toy or bone is challenged.
7) Don’t be afraid to be ‘alpha’. You are not being „mean‟. You are establishing pack leadership. Rescuing neglected and abused dogs and rehabilitating them is a wonderful and rewarding experience. Our instinct is to smother them with love and baby them. Of course, love and affection is necessary, however this is not the only thing that needs to exist. Dogs appreciate a strong leader. They need you to establish the alpha position so they don’t have to and they can spend their energy and time getting healthy, gaining weight, learning how to socialize, and play! Let them be a happy dog!! You can do this by taking the place as alpha in your home and in the pack. Reminder: ALL HUMANS need to have alpha leadership, this includes children!!
8) Food. Food is a resource. This means that some dogs will have issues with it. Maybe they had to fight for their share, or maybe they never had enough. When feeding dogs, make them sit and wait for their food. If they go to it without your permission, practice the “leave it” command and make them wait until you say “okay” or “go” and then ALLOW them to eat. Feed dogs at the same time and for new dogs, stay in the room and supervise. Food, like toys and other resources, can be a trigger for aggression.
9) AVOID FIGHTS. Quiet does not mean calm. Tail wiggles are a good sign; still tails and stiff bodies are an indication of tension. So are lowered heads or bared teeth. If you see a shift in energy that may result in a fight, distract and redirect them! Call them over. Give a loud “hey!!” Make a correction on the leash or lead. Tell them to “wiggle‟ and raise your voice pitch. They may end up kissing! Remove the resource they are guarding. Change locations.
When your dog gets into a dog fight
- Keep control! It usually sounds worse than it is!!
- Do NOT put your hands near the source of the fight (mouths)
- Make a loud noise to get their attention. Yell “Hey” or bang pots or cookie sheets
- Throw a pot of cold water on them
- Throw a blanket over them
- If you have to grab something, grab legs and don’t pull…pulling can cause more damage.
The dogs do not want to fight; they are fighting because they are scared, sick, feel weak or vulnerable, or challenging pack leadership. Do not put yourself or your home at risk when dealing with a severe dog fight. Dogs are extremely resilient and will bounce back quickly.
If you have any other questions or issues, please contact your foster coordinator.
MNBR has many resources and experienced dog owners that can assist you and provide support and guidance.
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