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Introducing a new dog to the pack

Last week I was writing about the language of social animals and that horse whispering was nothing new as it was only socialisation under another name. Knowing the right language can help solve so many problems very quickly and the following case is a good example.

This week a dog shelter telephoned me for help in what seemed to be an emergency. I was supposed to be returning to the UK the next day so eight in the evening I rushed off to see the new owners of one new shelter dog.

I am not actually familiar with this breed of bulldog but I work initially on the basis all dogs are the same and accept some have odd traits that I may not have seen before. This was the one case in question.

The new owners had a smaller but slightly similar breed and she was dominant. They also had a much older dog with back end problems along with some parrots.

When I arrived, I left Winston in the car carrying only my bag of collars etc. I had a new can of compressed air ready and prepared for hearing all about the problem.

This was that the smaller bitch whilst the owners had walked the two dogs together off her normal territory and they had travelled well together once she was back home she became highly aggressive to the new and much larger male. She was so aggressive that he too was becoming aggressive and the owners feared that the new dog may end up fighting and where the much smaller bitch could be hurt. One other problem was the older dog kept growling at the Bulldog and this could maybe create a situation where the new dog could again retaliate towards him.

This was the problem. My first thoughts after hearing this was I asked they leave the new dog in the house and for me to bring in Winston with the other two and see how the bitch would react to him. Normally I would have made the introduction outside of their property but I did not want socialisation only to know how she reacts to new dogs on her territory.

Winston was growling a little at the attention of the two dogs and at one point, she appeared to attack him but met compressed air instead. This quietened her down considerably and all three dogs were better behaved.

Winston had a look at the parrots and things seemed peaceful. From inside the house the male owner was having trouble with the new dog in his sexual need for a chair cushion. Enter one blast of compressed air. Immediately I fired the compressed air, the dog shot at me as if it was going to attack me but it attacked the gas trying to bite it. Not the usual response I get but at least it did distract the dog. My suggestion was that for anything he was doing wrong they should fire the gas from behind their backs so he would stop what he was doing and start looking for the gas.

Whilst we sat in the lounge all was reasonably peaceful except I had to growl at the older dog a few times to stop him growling at the new dog as I felt he would be taking on more than he could manage.

This growling of his was to warn the new dog not to try to attack him because he is infirm and such animals are usually the ones preditors go for first when hunting. The dog was saying I could still defend myself if you try anything.

The new dog was not all that bothered at this but when the owner did try to stop him doing things like sex with the cushion, he would growl at them. For me this was a little worrying. Most owners would have backed away and the dog would have learned he could have his way by showing aggression or worse he could learn he could bite to achieve the same result.

When he first entered the house, he was about to urinate on the furniture to say all this territory is mine. As soon as the lady owner took hold of his collar he started growling at her but he grudgingly accepted and went outside.

The next item on the take over agenda was to try to evict the other dogs out of the house. It is important to understand this interest in hierarchy in some dogs and when you have a pack, we should not try to interfere and show too much attention to the wrong dog as fights can result.

All of this use of dominancy signs was to try to take over his new territory. I did feel that as he had now found a new home and thinking he was the most dominant of beings in the house, he would just take charge. Almost all the time he was testing to see if the owners would resign their position of dominancy. Even in the face of this growling they did not back down. Only the fact that he still saw the owners as leaders was for me some comfort.

We knew compressed air would distract him so long as he could not see the owner holding the can. He would just go looking for the gas. To test this and before I left, I sat on the settee holding it in front of me and in full view of the dog, I fired the compressed air. I did not flinch as the dog shot towards my hands but only trying to eat the gas; there was no attack towards me. This did make me feel more confident it was the gas not me that he attacked or now was he playing with it.

After watching all of the interaction, I then suggested we take Winston for a walk with these two dogs leaving the old dog at home. The only problem was the bitch did not like Winston off the lead and able to walk ahead of us. She felt she should walk first. The bulldog did not seem bothered one way or the other. I eventually put Winston onto his lead and she gave him a good telling off and barred him from walking ahead. This is so typical of dominancy.

Returning to the house, I put Winston back in the car and we sat down and discussed solutions. The main problems here were two dominant dogs. The bitch would have to become second even if still the Alpha female but the new bulldog would have to be leader and be the Alpha male. I said I would expect the older dog to eventually calm down once he became use to the new dogs presents.

My next suggestion was that they feed them now while I was there just in case of problems. They fed the bulldog along with the old one out in the hall and the bitch fed in the lounge. Unfortunately the bitch likes to see what the others were eating so the bulldog dived into the lounge and devoured her meal as if there were no tomorrow and in an aggressive manner.

I asked the owners if they would purchase Jan Fennell’s book The Dog Listener. In it, she describes very well dominancy correctional training. Things like preparing the dogs food then putting it away in a high cupboard and walking away. Later on, when all is quiet, taking the food down and feeding them, so they learn that the owners (the real leaders) control the food.

Another thing for the owners to do was to move all the dogs to outside the house so no one other than humans has control over this area. This one had a great influence on the new dog. He ended up whimpering apologetically to return inside the house. There was one tussle when the male owner tried to enter the house and the Bulldog tried to force his way past him and enter as well. This might have created a dangerous incident but the dog backed down.

A further suggestion was to ignore all the dogs when they were together and only when a dog was alone should the owners show any praise. This would stop any possible jealousy that could lead to a fight.

I telephoned the next day to see if they had had a peaceful night and they had woken to friendly dogs, and immediately patted them for being good dogs. This is actually wrong. Dogs do not understand this patting other than it is the acceptance of the usual returning greeting of the leaders. I suggested it would be better not to acknowledge the morning greeting until the humans were ready to do so, not when the dogs requested it. You do not have to do this forever only until the hierarchy is set.

One interesting note about dominant dogs is now having both a dominant bitch and dog both sat on the highest step leading into the property. This is a status position. Neither dog would look at the other so for them the other did not exist.

The first morning the Bulldog did try to jump up at the parrot’s cage and the lady owner fired the compressed air, which did distract him, but he just wanted to jump up at the gas. Another incident the lady owner sprayed deodorant on herself and again he jumped up at her.

Once we have a quiet position the owners can then desensitise the bulldog to compressed air by using two cans in different parts of the house. When fired alternately he will give up chasing it as a bad idea. Opening coke cans that go Pisst will do the same providing they do not acknowledge the dog’s rush towards them, which could be a little intimidating, but as I found he is quite harmless and only part of some game for him.

One other thing the Bulldog thinks the bidet is the dog's water bowl. That piece of porcelain does have a good use after all.

Even though I felt the dog was not attacking the owners or me I did express my concerns about the growling he uses when pulled off doing something that he did not like. I did not wish the owners to come to any harm. They told me they know about this breed, he is only talking, and this breed is not normally aggressive so they were use to it and why they were not worried when they had to stop him. Had they not know of this trait and shown signs of fear then things could have worked out very differently.

Now all the dogs seem settled but for one of the parrot’s it can now bark back at the bulldog as well as he can bark at him.

It would now seem that peace reigns. The owners telephoned me today to say that the dog is much more relaxed now and even looks a different dog. He no longer looks like he was in a desperate effort to stamp his authority over all members of the family.

This could have gone all wrong if it were not the owner’s ability to read the dogs language and understand the hierarchal needs of all their dogs. It is so important to know how to manipulate them so that in two days everyone now has their rightful place in the family.

Bringing any new dog into an existing pack can often course hierarchal problems. Do allow the dogs to set their own pecking order. Some will settle in very quickly without doing anything whilst others seem to be very dominating as if their survival depends on it. Get the language right and it will work.


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