Safe and slow: introducing a new dog

SIMON GOODALL
Last updated 10:23 20/12/2012

We have a new dog staying with us for three months - a beautiful four-year-old island dog from Rarotonga named Jess. She kind of looks like a Huntaway but not as butch, I suppose.

Anyway, I had arranged to pick her up from quarantine when I had a relatively quiet week so I could make sure she settled in correctly, got used the chooks, cats, dogs, lambs and children. I picked her up on the Tuesday morning but got a nasty tummy bug so was out of action for the entire week and my wife was left to deal with this new dog.

Beagle greeting
  When introducing a new dog to yours, it's best to take things slowly.
Now my wife is no dog trainer - she prefers to work well away from Dog Guru. And in my absence she handled the introduction of Jess as many people would - being won over by the new dog's cuteness, just letting her be, rather than taking charge of her introduction to the household, and seeing how she fitted in.

I was essentially bed-ridden for four days and in no position to offer any helpful advice. By the time I came right, Jess had growled at one of the cats, which my daughter was holding, causing the cat to bite her arm; both our cars have huge scratch marks all down them; and Jess has taken to sleeping on the couch and not staying downstairs when told and will run off when you ask her.

I'll get to how we are fixing this, but it made me think: this is how most people do it. So I am here to show you how not to introduce another dog, as there are many people who simply fail and I can see why. Had my wife continued in her fashion, I think we would be looking for another home for Jess for the remaining three months, but luckily I'm back on board.

First step was let my two dogs (entire male) know that their territory was not being threatened; though they'd not done any attacking, I could see the warning signs - a few growls here, a few lip raises here, a few walkoffs. My wife's idea for when a dog growled was to tell it off, which is pretty standard, but everyone was under stress so this just stressed out the situation more. Splitting up the dogs for short periods and letting them have short times together works well.

The next thing is my car. It's a relatively new black car that looks as though a gorilla has attacked it. (I train dogs, so the scratches don't look out of place.) My wife had Jess up in the house with her all day and then at night put her in a dark, cold and miserable garage without showing her the area and expected her to get used to it. No such luck. So I have started to feed Jess in the garage, play with her in there and take the cars out!

Next is letting Jess outside. Our dogs are so used to being told what to do that they listen really well. So my wife just let Jess out with our three and hoped she would get used to everything. For the next week with me, her outside time will be on a long lead so I can control her around the stock and show her where the boundaries lie.

Last, the cats. Our cats are well used to dogs but for a dog that has not seen cats before, it's like Christmas! So when Jess is upstairs for the next week or so she will be on a lead to simply get used to having them around.

You see, a dog can settle down well - but if you just expect too much, everything will go south. The biggest thing is to take things slowly. To expect everyone to be merry and act as though nothing has changed is crazy, but within two weeks we should have a very relaxed dog and, all going well, a relaxed household where Jess just slots in. Yes, some dogs will fit in easily, but dealing with two entire males who own the property, so to speak, and a dog from the islands is a very different ball game.

Simon Goodall is CEO of Dog Guru Ltd. See them on Facebook and Twitter

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