Having multiple dogs is a delightful experience if your pets get along well with each other. Owning dogs that frequently bicker or are unreservedly hostile, on the other hand, can cause you a lot of stress and negatively impact the peaceful atmosphere that you’ve built in your home.
Unfortunately, some dogs do have a hard time coexisting peacefully As a last resort, some pet owners have made the heartbreaking decision to rehome or surrender their furred companions to ensure that the dogs will live happy lives away from each other. However, before you decide to part with one or more of your dogs for their own good, there are other options that you can explore first. Here’s a guide on how to foster a friendly relationship between your multiple dogs and what you should do if dog fights frequently break out between your furred companions:
Starting on the Right Foot: Introducing Dogs to Each Other
A harmonious relationship between multiple dogs often begins with a good introduction. If you have an existing dog in your home and you’re planning to adopt or foster one or more, it’s important to plan how you’re going to introduce the new or temporary member of your family to your current family members—both humans and dogs.
There are a few factors that can affect how your dogs’ first interaction will play out. Of course, you’re familiar with your current dog’s character, and as a responsible owner, it’s only natural to get to know the temperament of the dog that you plan on adopting or fostering. If both dogs are quite social and welcoming to others, then it’s likely that the introduction will go well and they’ll easily find a friend or a sibling in each other. If they’re a little reserved, then you need to approach their introduction meeting with a bit more care and allow them to get to know each other at their own pace.
Here’s how a dog introduction is ideally done:
Find a Neutral Space
Dogs place a lot of value in their territory, and putting a newcomer in your dog’s existing territory may not be a good idea for a first meeting. The introduction should be done in a neutral space, perhaps a more public place or a closed-off area where the dogs can approach each other. It’s a good idea to walk with the dogs to the meeting place separately and use up their excess energy, especially if they’re the type to get a little too excited. This way, they can approach the other dog calmly or less aggressively.
Keep the Dogs Leashed
Consider the fact that the dog’s first meeting may go either way, and you need enough space to let them get to know each other and to separate them in case they don’t take to the other dog particularly well. Take the necessary precautions by making sure that the dogs have their custom dog collars and leashes securely in place and that they won’t be able to escape even if they suddenly become aggressive towards the other dog.
The handlers should be calm and collected as well so as not to spook or alarm the dogs, as pets can easily mirror their handlers’ emotions. Hold the lead loosely, but be prepared to hold back if there are signs of aggression. With the leash on, let the dogs approach each other at their own pace. It’s not a good idea to force them to go near the other dog if they’re not yet ready to do so. You can try walking the dogs in the same direction while maintaining a bit of distance between the two.
Next, you can try crossing each other’s paths and allowing the dogs to smell the path the other dog has taken. If they seem to tolerate each other well enough or if they look playful, relaxed, or happy, then it’s a good time to encourage them to interact more closely and maybe even play more freely. For example, dogs may invite other dogs to play by pawing or play-bowing and stretching their legs in front of them. This is a good sign. Bring treats to encourage this type of positive interaction.
Track Their Body Language
Throughout the process of introducing the dogs, be mindful of how they approach the other dog and take note of any signs of aggression and stress. These include growling, snapping, crouching, lip licking, staring, baring of teeth, nose-to-nose meeting, rushing to meet each other, and lunging. Assuming a submissive posture or tucking one’s tail may also be indicative that the meeting is not going too well. If you observe any of these, try to put distance between the dogs and distract them with treats, training, or playful interaction with their handlers. Once things have calmed down, try again but proceed more slowly.
Let Them Take Their Time
As much as you want your old and prospective pets to get along or develop a fast friendship at first sight, it probably won’t happen in a snap. Just like human friendships, building a happy and relaxed relationship between dogs can take a bit of time and effort, and some dogs may also never ‘click’ with each other. If the dogs seem to get along, then it’s a good time to take both dogs home, but keep them separated while you observe how they’ll treat each other in their new environment. Over time, they’ll be able to get to know each other better, and this can strengthen their connection further.
Keep the Dogs Separated at First
Before you take both dogs home with you, make sure that you’re ready to welcome them. Part of this preparation is allotting a separate space for the old dogs and the newcomer. Install a barrier between the dogs and observe how they interact with a baby gate between them, for example. Whenever they interact positively, give them a treat or praise them to let them know that you approve and encourage this type of behavior.
During this time, take care not to leave accessible treats and toys that the dogs might fight over, and be wary of activities that can send the dogs in an excited frenzy. Once you’re more certain that the dogs are comfortable with each other’s presence, perhaps you can give them more engaging activities.
Staging an Intervention: Breaking Up a Dog Fight Safely
It’s possible to carry out proper introductions and still end up with dogs that don’t take well to the other’s presence. This can be quite stressful, as dog fights can lead to injuries and unwanted noise, but keep calm. The last thing you want is for your dogs to sense that you’re also frazzled by the situation, as this can upset them further.
Accept that dog fights can take place when you’re introducing a newcomer and plan for it accordingly. At the same time, don’t put yourself in the middle of a violent encounter without regard for your safety. It’s possible to get injured and cause injuries if you intervene in a dog fight without a plan in place. Ideally, you should be able to spot signs of aggression before the dog fights even start and put some distance between the dogs in your household.
If a dog fight breaks out, take note of how you can diffuse the situation while reducing the risk of injury. Don’t yell or put yourself between the dogs as this can further agitate them. Instead, find another person and take charge of one dog each. Pick up the dogs from their hind limbs and pull them away from their point of contact.
If there’s no one else who can help you, use the tools at your disposal to distract the dogs. You can, for example, put a pillow between the dogs, spray water on them, or distract them with a loud noise. Once it’s safe, put them in separate rooms and address the injuries that they may have incurred during the squabble.
Strategies to Prevent Future Fights
Taking note of who instigated the dog fight in the first place and why it happened can help you address the root of the problem. If one of your dogs is a little too aggressive, you can use positive conditioning so that they can associate good things with the other dog. If they fought over food or a toy, then maybe you can allow each dog to play with the disputed item separately in order to prevent aggressive behaviors. If one of your dogs gets jealous when you show affection to the other, show them that you want to spend time with them equally.
Alternatively, you can also enroll your dogs in obedience classes to improve their self-control. If you have the budget for it, you can try looking into dog trainers who can help you assess the behavior of your pets, determine the cause of their aggression, and help you come up with a program that will address their behavior issues.
Be patient and consistent throughout this whole process, and you’ll slowly see improvements. In time, you’ll be able to broker peace between your pets. At the very least, your furred companions will be able to tolerate each other, and you’ll get to enjoy the full benefits of having multiple dogs in your household.