Dogs are social animals. They’ve evolved as pack animals, keen to cooperate and operate as a unit. When man domesticated the canine, he took the dog out of the natural pack environment, but dogs still have strong pack instinct. This instinct informs every element of their behavior. Understanding the behavior of dogs together helps make the transition of introducing a new pooch to the family as smooth and problem-free as possible.
All canine packs have an order, or hierarchy. The alpha male is the boss and everyone else is ranked underneath him in order. Dogs are only secure and content when they know their place in the pack, even if that place is right at the bottom. So whenever new dogs come together, they will work to determine which of them is superior. A dominant dog uses body language to assert himself in the first instance. He’ll put himself first in all scenarios, often barging his underling out of the way to get through a door first, for example. A submissive dog will communicate his position by rolling onto his back and showing his belly, avoiding eye contact and never challenging the superior dog. A dog living in a human family must never consider himself pack leader -- that is your job.
Dogs use play to learn about their environment, other dogs and to set boundaries. It's like a rehearsal for real life. It’s normal for dogs to growl excitedly during play, so don’t be alarmed if your dog issues a growl accompanied by a wagging tail and bowed posture. This is a classic play growl. Play sometimes gets rough, but dogs are more than capable of telling each other when enough is enough. A yelp says, “Ouch, too rough,” and a bark says, “Hey, you’re being a jerk and I won’t take it much longer!”
Sometime dogs don’t instantly get along, normally because they are both attempting to assert their dominance. In rare cases, this can cause a little conflict in the camp, often characterized by squabbles over toys, sleeping spots and attempts to get attention from you. If a new dog joins your family, it’s totally natural for your current dog to feel threatened. He has a territorial instinct that drives him to warn off perceived intruders. This instinct often causes friction in the early stages when a new dog joins your family.
Use a neutral location and leash both dogs when they first meet. Have a friend help you by taking the leash of one of the dogs. Picking a neutral location means that the resident dog isn’t totally blindsided when the dog turns up at his house. The first introduction gives them a chance to sort out dominance early on. Praise both dogs when they are passive and well-mannered and lead them away in separate directions if things get too heated.
If one dog is allowed on the sofa and the other isn’t, conflict and confusion are bound to happen. Set clear boundaries early and treat both dogs equally. Support the dominant dog. Feed him first, pet him first and go along with the hierarchy the dogs have established. Misguided attempts at improving the weaker dog’s self esteem or confidence will just lead to more conflict.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.