Introducing a new puppy to a reactive dog: our story

02 Feb

How we transitioned our reactive dog to accept a new puppy

** Some of the order of things might be off, I don’t remember the exact order of what we did but we did the following activities.

First history: W has been fear aggressive and reactive since we got him at 8 weeks. He is a purebred border collie; we are not sure why he is this way. He was extremely reactive as a puppy to all strangers and dogs. We spent countless hours with deconditioning and positive reinforcement to turn “Cujo” into a dog that could now go on walks and ignore people and other dogs, although we always gave him a lot of space and walked into the road or a far distance when we saw people and dogs (now we just do it for dogs). He also will warm up to new people if they play ball with him and agree not to touch him. Touch freaks him out. However, dogs scare him the most because he has learned we have some control over people, but he doesn’t know what a dog is going to do.

We got a new puppy with the idea that if he didn’t accept her in 8 months, we would rehome the puppy, but we really thought he could do it. It helped a lot that we got a puppy with an amazing temperament. She is very calm and smart. She adjusts her play with other dogs based on their signals, so we were very lucky that she seemed like the perfect fit for our anxious dog. The new pup is Samoyed and I will call her M.

First couple of weeks: The first 2 weeks were all about her adjustment. We did not really try to get them together. We bought large Midwest black gates and we double gated an area for W and an area for M. They could see each other but nothing else. I would throw treats to both when they were calm and we made sure to exercise W a lot. He did get a little stressed and we would put him in his crate (which he loves) with something fun when he would get worried. But mostly, it was don’t let them see each other too much and exercise W. a lot.

After that we started working more directly. We would have W sitting on leash with my husband and I would walk M. on a leash at a safe distance where we would go in and out of sight. It is important to find the right distance, they can’t learn if they are over threshold. Everytime we were in sight, I clicked and gave high value treats to both dogs. We did this often. We did it in the house and outside.

Next, we increased having them on opposite sides of a double gated area and then a single gated area. We would click and treat often while both could see each other.

We would also do walks with W in the front with me and M behind him (out of reach) with my husband. We would treat during the walks.

We then had both on leash in the house and fed M a hotdog, very slow nibbles so she was distracted and while she did that we would throw treats near her on the ground and have W go after the treats (high value treats!). At one point he actually had to go under her body to get one. Note we started with distance and worked our way up.

We then had them outside with M on a leash and had an ecollar on W as a backup (never used) and would play ball (this is even a higher value for him than treats, he is a border collie, so when he is focused, he is FOCUSED). He would play ball and she would just be out there on leash not too close but not too far. We extended this to our 4 acre plot of land (not at our house) that we have and again let W play ball or frisbee and M was on leash the whole time, but now he had a bigger area to roam free.

Mistakes happen: During the first time, we had M. and I walk back towards the car ahead of W. We should not have had me go first. He didn’t like me leaving with her and ran right up to us, I panicked and picked her up quickly, I don’t know if he would have done anything, but I was afraid and of course, they both felt my fear (which isn’t good). We did go back the next day and do it again and I followed W. and my husband to the car and it went better.

Our next step was where we had both on leash and tried to get them to play tug together with a long tug toy. We had some success but M was nervous. We also played hide and seek (games W already knows), I would hide with M. next to me on leash. W. would wait until we were hidden and then released by my husband to go find us. When he found us, both dogs would get high value treats, and hubby would call off W. to begin again.

Tussle 1: I had them both outside and was trying to get them to play tug with a toy that was too small and brought them too close and W got nervous and dived on M. He isn’t a “let me kill you” type dog, he is a nipper (since he is a herding dog), so no harm was done except to make M more nervous about him.

We continued to play ball with W and eventually my husband let her be off leash while they played in the house (this was nerve wracking). She kept her distance, he stayed focused on play. It went well a couple times and then…

Tussle 2: She went for the ball and he would have nothing of it and another tussle happened. Same results, no real physical damage but again she is more wary of him.

We took them out to the land with both dogs off leash this time, so W would have more space. We would kick the soccer ball, he would charge to get it and she would charge after him (Yikes, I held my breath) but she would stop without getting too close. It was a success. There were times where he would run right next to her to get the ball and ignore her.

We extended the time of both off leash in the house but we had him playing ball at all times so that was his only focus. We also now tried parallel walks instead of having him in front and her behind.

We also made sure to give both dogs plenty of time without the stress of the other. We had plenty of time in the crates for both. We always kept our sessions together relatively short. I also continued to treat with them side by side, a piece for one and now a piece for the other dog.

This was another point in our training where I wasn’t sure how to make the leap from W. has to be playing when M. is out to just co-existing. We no longer carried her from place to place and would walk her through the house to her “gated spot,” at first we would tell W. to go to bed and then we just started saying, “backup” when we would bring her in (remember this is different because he is not focused on his ball). We slowly allowed them to sniff each other (rear side only) during these transitions as well.

Finally, we had to make another leap where W would just be out with M but we would not be playing with him the whole time. We put each on leash but we didn’t control their actions, we let them do their thing and we just followed them but we could stop them at any time. She was good about keeping her distance on her own so we then dropped her leash and just followed
W until we then tried dropping his leash. We always let the leashes dangle so we could intervene. We made sure no resources were around too. We still treated often and gave pets when they were side by side.

She is still nervous, actually more than he is now, but we figure the longer they go with positive experiences the more relaxed both will get. We still make sure there is time when no one has to be stressed and will divide the house with the gates to give them both a break.

One of the BIGGEST things that helped our success was reading their body language, especially W’s. We could see how tense he was in the beginning, so we knew we couldn’t push things further, then gradually he relaxed more and more and there were times when we had them separated that he would see her and wag his tail. (There were also times when he gave her “the stink eye” and we knew that we had to separate immediately) All of these clues were essential to the pace that we followed. We also had the expectation of 8 months, so we didn’t feel pressure to do it quickly, so 2 months time was a bonus! It isn’t perfect yet, but we are feeling that eventually they will co-exist nicely or maybe even be friends!


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