Even the most mild mannered mongrel can turn feral when a new dog or cat enters the picture. Warren Eckstein says there are some things you can do to help.
ONE OF WARREN’S most frequently asked questions is what to do about fighting between pets who live in the same household. Problems range from mild-mannered mongrels who turn into furious fireballs of nastiness when another dog enters the picture to dogs who tolerate each other but periodically have serious know-down-drag-out fights. There are also the James Dean-type doggies who seem to be okay on the surface, but on a deeper level you can tell there’s something brewing. It’s just a matter of time before there’s a blowup.
Visions of two or more dogs living happily ever after are often shattered when pets take an instant dislike to each other. In the extreme case, owners may even have to make the awful choice as to who stays and who goes.
When properly introduced, dogs living together under one roof can learn to be best friends, and so can dogs and cats, dogs and birds, dogs and fish, even dogs and mice. It’s simply a matter of negotiating their differences and desensitizing the offending pet to its housemate.
THE BIGGEST BOO BOO
Pet owners make their biggest mistake by just plunking down the new pet into Fido’s space. In fact, any instant addition to the family, whether animal or human, may be enough to upset the balance in a dog’s life.
To understand how they’re feeling, think about how you would feel if someone suddenly and unexpectedly moved into your home on a long term basis. Life would become abruptly different: Schedules would change, food tastes would change, and privacy wouldn’t be what it was. Presumably, humans are mature who are capable of rationalizing those differences… but even then, things don’t necessarily go well for the most down-to-earth adult. Why should we assume that things would be smoother for dogs? Think about it this way: Any two or more animals, whether human, canine, feline or whatever, spending any great amount of time together are bound to run into problems and differences in opinion. The final result depends on the way things are approached.
Picture this: A perfectly happy, well-adjusted dog (Fido) living comfortably in his perfectly normal home and WHAM… someone comes home with a new puppy. With no preparation at all, this perfectly happy, well-adjusted dog has the rug pulled out from underneath him. Of course, he’s going to protect “his” territory and “his” owners, starting off his relationship with the new dog on the wrong foot. Surprising Fido with a new dog by suddenly coming home with it is an AMAZINGLY common mistake.
You can substantially reduce the risk of trouble if you introduce your dogs to each other on neutral turf. If possible, arrange to bring Fido to a friend’s home to meet his future housemate. Let them check each other out for a few minutes, and then take Fido back home – alone. Follow up with several more play sessions on neutral territory, always taking Fido home alone. When the dogs seem to be really enjoying each other’s company, bring home the new dog! It’ll be like Fido’s best friend is moving in… and voila! everyone’s there and happy.
Yea, it’s not easy, and it takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s better than dealing with an aggression problem later on.
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL TIME:
It’s only natural that family members and visitors will want to coo over the new dog (especially if it’s a puppy.) But try not to do that in front of your other dog. Save such special attention for private times, setting aside a few five-minute sessions alone with each pet. Prevent jealousy by having someone else play with the other pet, or putting him alone in a large closed-off room with tons of extraordinary special treats and goodies to help occupy him. (Be sure to turn on the TV or radio to help drown out your cooing over the new pet.) Then… switch places and spend 5 minutes the other way around, too!
IT’S PARTY TIME:
Make it seem that wonderful things happen to Fido whenever dog number 2 is on the scene. Exaggerate everything so that his new lifestyle, including his new housemate, seems to be the best thing that’s ever happened to Fido. Every time Fido is around dog #2, make a fuss that he thinks it’s a party just for him! If he loves roast beef, give him some when the other dog is around. This is called ‘party-time association.’ Dogs learn by association, and if Fido associates his new housemate with such fabulous fringe benefits, it will help them remember what fun life is when dog #2 is around.
Be sure there are plenty of toys to go around, too. Have plenty of toys scattered all over the house, and change them frequently. This can distract them from destructive thoughts and can prevent territory fights if there are too few toys to go around. After all, an occupied dog is an undestructive dog.
FOR ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT ONES:
If Fido simply doesn’t seem to want to accept a new housemate, there are several slower, more deliberate steps you can take. First, find a tape recording (or make one) of dog sounds, and play it in the background. This will help desensitize Fido to sounds of another dog in the house. Play it at a soft volume and gradually increase the volume over a few days until he has no reaction to it any more.
Next, bring home a few items that carry the new odor of the new dog. Towels or pet bedding or ideal. Leave them around the house for Fido to find and replace them every few days with new items that have a stronger, fresher scent. During this process, make sure you’re also rewarding him with the “party time” advice above.
Just before you bring the new pet home, install a very tall pet gate (or place one on top of the other) – high enough so that neither dog can jump over it. Let them live on opposite sides of the gate for a while – this will allow them to see and sniff each other without opening up an opportunity to fight outright. Don’t worry if at first they snarl, growl and compete for your attention. Gradually, and it might be very slowly, the game will get old and they’ll start to ignore each other.
When things seem safe, and behavior around the gate has been calm for a few weeks, take it down for a little while each day. Be sure each dog is securely restrained by a collar and leash. The good news – this simulates a more normal home environment. The bad news – they may backslide into the snarling and growling that ended a few weeks ago. But don’t get discouraged. Know that this too, will run it’s course, and as with any serious dog problem, you’re going to experience setbacks. Eventually, they’ll chill out in this scenario, too.
DON’T JUMP IN TOO FAST:
When pets are learning to adjust to each other, it can seem like a nuclear explosion. When this happens, owners need to be careful not to interfere too quickly. The sounds of a confrontation can be horrendous, but often looks and sounds so serious is simply your pets getting to know each other. Also, if you jump in too early, you may actually make the situation worse. But try to understand that dogs are like kids, and sometimes a quick tussle is more show than anything else, and may resolve itself more quickly than you think. (That said, it’s better to jump in too early and break things up than to risk a serious fight, so if you think that the dogs are getting too aggressive, break them up and give them each some private space to cool down.)
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE:
Don’t expect these major adjustments to happen quickly. While some dogs are more flexible than others, and some have more accepting temperaments, some are also more stubborn or fixed in their ways than others. These sorts of changes can take weeks or even months before your pets even tolerate each other without a growl. Aggressive, nasty behavior may take the longest of any problem to rectify. Keep at it and you’ll more than likely be pleased with the results. You’ll have good days, bad days, and days you want to get in the car and drive to Alaska… but remember, as with any training regimen, consistency and patience are the keys to success. And one day, don’t be surprised if you walk in and catch your pets snoozing together, nose-to-nose, like best buddies.