Dog Behavior 101

Introducing A New Dog To Your Resident Dog:

There is some controversy in the scientific community as to just when and how man began to incorporate canines into their everyday life.

There is some evidence to support the theory that approximately 10,000 years ago, give or take a couple of thousand, wolf like creatures began to scavenge from human encampments.  The more docile creatures that came closer and were not easily frightened away were rewarded with the choicest morsels and had an easier life. 

As man moved from place to place, these creatures moved along with him and became indispensible hunting partners. 

The process of domestication was a very slow one but over hundreds of years of living in close proximity we are now living in an age where the modern dog has been elevated to that of a family member.

Animals that live in groups have a social structure that serves to help maintain order, reduce conflict and also encourages cooperation within the group. We have all seen this dominance hierarchy at work in documentaries about wolf behavior.

Establishing territory is also a very important aspect of the canine world and most dogs will defend their territory against intruders or suspected rivals. 

These natural tendencies will affect your dog’s behavior when a new dog or pack member is introduced to the household.

When you have decided on a particular dog that you are interested in, let the shelter know that you would like to bring your resident dog to the establishment so that they can meet there.  The shelter staff will be happy to assist you in the selection of an appropriate companion for your resident dog.

Try to choose a neutral location for the meeting. This will ensure that your resident dog will not view the newcomer as a territorial threat. Each dog should be on leash and the leashes handled by separate people.  The location should be one that neither dog is familiar with.  If the meeting takes place at the shelter, try to find an area that the shelter dog is not exercised or visits regularly.

The meeting should be low key without a lot of activity and stimulus.  Too many people around may cause both dogs to become stressed.

Use positive reinforcement so that from the beginning both dogs will associate the presence of the other with “good things”

Make sure that the leash handlers use calm body language and an encouraging tone of voice.  Let the dogs sniff each other for a brief period of time.  Do not let them off of the leash at this time even if the greeting is going well.  

After the short initial greeting, get both dogs attention with a treat and give them simple command such as sit.  If you unable to get the dogs attention off of each other, move them farther away from each other until they respond to your signal.  

Gradually begin to move the dogs closer for a brief sniff and then farther apart with praise and upbeat talk.  Do not use a threatening tone of voice as this may cause the dogs to respond in an aggressive manner.

During each brief encounter, pay attention to the body language of each dog.

One clue that all is going well is the “play bow” One dog will crouch with outstretched front legs and the hind end will be in the air. This body posture is an invitation to play.  If you see the other dog respond in kind that is a good sign.

Watch carefully for body language that is stiff legged and upright or hair standing up on a dogs back which indicates a state of arousal.  
Remember to take things very slowly and interrupt any interaction that includes teeth baring, deep growls or a prolonged stare. 

If you see any of these postures, interrupt the dogs by calmly getting the dogs interested in something else.  Having both dogs respond to a command away from each other and rewarding with a treat is a good option, or try distracting them with a favorite toy. You can then try to let the dogs interact again but for a very brief time.  Too long of an encounter can lead to aggressive behavior so keep it short and sweet.

If the dogs are tolerating each other without aggressive behavior and accepting each other’s presence, you can take them home.  If you are taking them home in the same vehicle make sure that they are crated or in separate areas of the vehicle and cannot access each other.  

If you have more than one dog at home, it would be best to introduce the resident dogs to the new dog one at a time. There may be a tendency for the resident dogs to gang up on the new one. Take the steps very slowly with each dog and make sure you interrupt any aggressive behavior between the resident dog and the new dog before you put them together to play.

INTRODUCING A PUPPY TO ADULT DOGS

Puppies are full of energy and love to pester adult dogs.  Until they are about four months of age puppies may not recognize body postures from adult dogs that say they have had enough. Well socialized older dogs with stable temperaments will signal their desire to be left alone with a growl or snarl.

These behaviors are normal and ok to allow. If you have a dog in residence that is not well socialized or that has a history of aggression with other dogs, that dog may try to discipline the puppy with a bite that could do damage. Make sure that you supervise any interaction between a puppy and an adult dog until you are very sure the puppy is not in any danger.

Make sure that the older dog is given time away from the harassment of the puppy and some one on one attention from you to let him know that he is still an important member of your family.

If you are concerned and the introduction is not going smoothly contact help immediately as the situation can escalate into a fight very quickly.  The more severe the fighting and the longer it goes on will make the conflict more difficult to resolve.  Punishment will only make the situation worse so seek professional help as soon as possible if this happens

INTRODUCTION TO A HOME WITH A CAT IN RESIDENCE

When you bring your new dog home with an in residence cat, it is imperative that the cat be kept safe.

Dogs even in play can easily kill your cat especially a dog with a high energy and or prey drive.  Dogs find cats to be wonderful critters to chase which ultimately causes the cat to become aggressive in a defensive way.

If you follow the techniques laid out in the previous article regarding introduction of a new cat to a resident cat, you will then need to add some additional exercises to the introduction process when it involves a dog into a household with cat(s).

Obedience training will be your next step in assuring that all goes well with the dog to cat introduction period.

Teach your dog to “sit”, “down”, “come” and stay and work on them daily.,  Use special training treats to keep your dog focused on you and increase the level of distraction until your dog is reliable.

Now is the time to bring the dog and cat into close proximity behind a door.  Remember to observe when the dog and cat are comfortable with each other and there is no aggressive behavior around the doorway such as hissing (the cat) or growling (the dog)

Begin feeding the dog and cat in near the door as this will create a positive and calm experience for them while they become accustomed to each other’s scent and sound.

The next step will be a face to face introduction.

With the dog on a leash and armed with special yummy treats have your dog sit and stay. If your dog gets up put him back in place and try again. Reward each try your dog makes. This exercise may take several tries so don’t get too discouraged if things don’t go as smoothly as expected.

Next have a family member bring the cat into the room.  Do not restrain the cat but offer it some treats in order to keep the cat focused on you and not the dog.  Keep the animals separated in opposite ends of the room for now.

Keep the visits short and do them numerous times throughout the day. 

Now let the cat explore and investigate the dog that is on a leash.  If there is any aggressive behavior on the part of either animal, end the session quietly and try again later. Do this until the dog and cat can be in the same area without any signs of trouble. All interactions between the dog and cat must be supervised. Make sure the dog is on leash and the cat has an escape route to leave by if necessary.

Although it is very important to teach your dog that chasing the cat is not allowed, it is also important to reinforce his obedience training so that he can be rewarded for his good behavior, especially in the presence of the cat.  If every time the cat and dog are together, the dog is being reprimanded for bad behavior, it will set up a very negative association with the cat and can lead to aggressive behavior.

Dogs like to eat cat food…. and cat feces for that matter so make sure your dog cannot gain access to the cat food.  Store it in a closet or up high where the dog cannot reach it. Keep the litter box where your dog can’t get to it, for example behind a baby gate (high enough so that the cat can get to it but not the dog) or in a closet with the door anchored open just wide enough for the cat. 

KITTENS AND PUPPIES

Kittens are especially vulnerable to injury with young energetic dogs.  Do not let the kitten and puppy play together until the kitten is full grown and can defend herself better.  Teach your young dog obedience while very young so that he can be controlled.  If your cat is especially shy, you may need to keep her in a separate area of the house until the puppy has developed some self control

Whenever your introduction does not go smoothly, seek help from a professional.  Your shelter staff will be happy to assist you in finding the help you need.