As some of you know, on January 9 I did a webinar for ASPCApro on adopting a dog into a multi-dog home. It was geared toward shelter and rescue professionals and volunteers, covering everything from how to do the first introduction to managing the household as time goes on, and what to do if it’s simply not working. (Don’t worry if you missed it. You can still watch the recording of this one, and many others, for free on the ASPCApro website.) I also wrote a follow-up guest blog to summarize the most important points of the webinar. Here it is, re-posted for The Other End of the Leash followers:
From First Date to After the Honeymoon: Adopting a Dog Into a Multi-Dog Household
FIRST DATES: Some aspects of dog-dog introductions are universally agreed upon, such as giving the dogs as much freedom as is safe, and using a large, neutral area if at all possible. Outdoors is always better than indoors, unless the only outdoor option is a small, confined space. Just remember that the less pressure on the dogs the better, and that “pressure” can be applied by confining dogs to small spaces, looming owners or dogs unable to move freely. Most importantly, no matter what the setting, do all you can to keep the initial introductory sniffing brief. Let the dogs interact briefly, and then call them away. Move around the space yourself, encouraging the dogs to explore the environment together, perhaps providing themselves information about one another through scent marking. Avoid long, up-close-and-personal sniffing sessions that often lead to tension and bad beginnings. On-leash or off-leash depends on a variety of factors, but do what you can to avoid tight leashes that add tension.
MANDATORY INTRODUCTIONS? Some shelters and rescue groups mandate that potential adopters bring in the resident dogs for a “meet and greet” at the shelter itself. There are a host of costs and benefits to this practice. These include a chance for the host organization to evaluate the skills of the potential adopters and the condition of their current dog, as well as a chance for the first introduction to go badly because the dogs were forced upon one another. I would argue that resident dogs should only be brought for meetings if “best practices” can be followed, and the dogs’ first minutes together are structured in such a way as to encourage a good, long-term relationship. In addition, we need to guard against assuming that first meetings are always predictive of how the dogs will get along in the home. First greetings are often not predictive of how the dogs will get along in the home, and suggesting otherwise only compromises the credibility of the shelter or rescue group.
THE HONEYMOON: Most importantly, expectations should be realistic about how long it takes dogs to settle into a new environment. All new dogs are in a state of confusion about where they’ve been and where they are going. New owners need to help dogs get their paws on the ground as soon as they can, but without overwhelming a dog who is unsure of himself. Good management is often the key here: Give dogs lots of time by themselves at first, letting both the new and resident dogs have rest periods and special time by themselves with their new owners.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: Many problems between dogs can be prevented or managed by teaching dogs that they get what they want by being patient and polite. Rather than following the ancient (and sometimes destructive) advice about supporting the dog who they think should be alpha, owners should teach dogs that they get treats, toys and attention by being polite, not by being pushy.
MOST COMMON MISTAKES? One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen from owners of multi-dog households is unrealistic expectations. New dogs can’t settle into a new household in a week or so—it can take up to a year for a new dog to settle into a new routine. Expectations can also set owners up for a lot of soul searching and “buyer’s remorse.” Wondering “Oh no, what have I done!” is a common reaction to the slightest misbehavior of a new dog, even among experienced professionals. The more we can help all new owners by being there for them when they need someone to talk to, the more dogs will stay in homes and not be returned to shelters.
ALL THEY NEED IS LOVE? Regrettably, sometimes things just don’t work out. Perhaps the two dogs simply despise each other, and no amount of training or conditioning is going to change it. Sometimes one dog brings out the worst in another, and the combination is too much for even the most dedicated owner to handle. In that case, we need to let owners know that they have a backup plan available to them. Service providers must accept dogs back without causing adopters to feel guilty. “Satisfaction guaranteed” lets responsible adopters know that they can count on the shelter or rescue group to be there for them if they need help. People are more likely to adopt if they know that they are not going through this without support from professionals.
None of us can accurately predict how any group of dogs is going to get along, but we can do a lot to increase the odds of a successful transition from a “one-dog house” to “multi-dog household.” Shelter staff and rescue organizations can and do play a huge role in helping to integrate dogs together into a happy family—thank you for those efforts! Picture me wagging from the shoulders back…
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Actually, I’m on the way back to the farm, should be there by the time you get this. I got a crazy idea a few weeks ago and found cheap flights on Hotwire to the desert mountains in California. I love Wisconsin and my little farm, and I don’t mind most of winter all that much (it’s the summers that kill me, I’m such a Border Collie) but I found myself yearning to walk outside amongst something green. I’ll post photos from the weekend next week, but here are some shots I took right before we left of Willie and a pile of firewood in a new snow fall.
Here is Willie and one of his absolute favorite toys, a rubber “stick.” We play lots of “Find It” games in both summer and winter. Winter helps me out because it’s easier to hide. My translation of Wilie’s face by the way? “Would you put down that stupid black thing that you NEVER THROW and play with me some more?”
And here I’m trying to be arty. Our Contemplative Photography assignment is about space, and how the space defines an object within it. This is a pile of firewood covered in snow. I’m afraid I’d give the photo a C, I got the exposure wrong and you can barely tell that it is wood, for one thing. To me it looks somewhat weird and unearthly–as if some strange forest creature out of Lord of the Rings should emerge. I’ll let you know if that happens…