In December 2019 I joined the ranks of multi-dog owners. I brought Maya, an alleged Labrador hybrid puppy from animal welfare, about 8 weeks old, to my four-year-old Dalmatian mixed breed dog Emma. The Labrador crossbreed puppy turned out to be a terrier crossbreed within a very short time, which should make life with two dogs even more exciting than I had already imagined.
Emma was four years old at the time of Maya’s move-in and we had trained so successfully that her problematic behavior towards strangers, which was expressed in places and verbs, that she could now run anywhere where it was safe to do so. So there were no major “construction sites” anymore. Emma had no problems with other dogs in everyday life, provided the other dog was not too stormy, overrun or harassed. In these cases, Emma understandably got scared and sought protection from me. This problem would not exist in a puppy. I knew that I would have to be careful about food because Emma tends to defend what is edible from other dogs. She didn’t have any problems outside on the walks, and at that point she could even stand it if another dog stuck her nose in my food pocket. But I knew that within the apartment and especially with higher quality things, such as Bones or meat, would not necessarily be as relaxed.
In a nutshell: I had imagined everything to be easier than it actually was. Despite all the considerations that I had before and the preparations that I had made. Maya was a very lively puppy, with a quasi non-existent tolerance for frustration, which tugged on my and Emma’s nerves. Emma basically got along well with Maya, but you could clearly see that she didn’t really want this “little annoying something” in her home. She withdrew, did not want the puppy to be near her and was less and less in contact with me. Her reaction was terrible for me, I blamed myself for simply “forcing” Emma to live with another dog. I hadn’t expected Emma to react in this way, after all, she liked to have contact with dogs outside and visiting dogs was also not a problem. About two weeks after Maya’s arrival, there was an incident that really frightened me: I had always been careful when I had prepared the dog food and then put it down for the dogs. But that evening I was completely ecstatic because Emma and Maya had just made the first tentative attempts at playing together. So I put Maya’s bowl down and went to Emma’s feeding place to put her bowl down too. Emma was already waiting there and I thought Maya was busy with her bowl. But it wasn’t. She had run after me and I couldn’t look that fast, Emma attacked the puppy violently and immediately withdrew. Maya and I were scared to death, Maya screamed like a stick and I solved the situation by letting Emma eat and leaving the kitchen with Maya. I inspected her in the living room and unfortunately Emma had actually hurt her: Maya’s ear had a bleeding hole. After this experience, I had to collect myself again, Maya, on the other hand, had hardly been impressed by the experience, she behaved towards Emma just as before – and Emma behaved again as before the incident.
After this event, I was initially very unsettled, after all I was a dog trainer. Why hadn’t I been able to better assess the situation and prevent the attack? After a short consideration, the answer was very simple: I am emotionally much more influenced by my own dogs than I am by customers’ dogs. At customers I am an objective observer, at home I am part of the action. My joy at these tentative attempts to play had made me careless, I was wearing pink glasses. But a dog can only behave like a dog and aggression is a strategy to solve conflicts. And your own beloved dog, which is actually always friendly, can show aggressiveness in certain situations. Thinking about how this situation came about helped me a lot. It makes a difference whether you live with your own dogs or support customers with their dogs. Dog trainers are private only people and people make mistakes. After this knowledge I was able to continue the training with Maya and Emma – now without pink glasses.
The dogs had to learn to live together peacefully and to resolve conflicts without using teeth. So I supported every growl and teeth show from Emma and at the same time taught Maya to react appropriately, i.e. with de-escalating behavior. Emma learned that it was sufficient to growl to keep the little dog at a distance and that it was not necessary to take more serious measures. Maya learned to behave. 😉 I rewarded Emma for each Mayan approach that she tolerated and spent a lot of time actively relaxing both dogs – one on the right, one on the left – and building up relaxation signals. This training had an extremely quick effect, and there has never been a conflict between the dogs to this day. Emma growled less and less when Maya approached her. About four weeks after Maya’s move in, I was able to leave toys lying around in the apartment without having to be careful. Another six weeks later, it even worked with less high-quality chewing items such as Buffalo skin bones. I never stopped rewarding both dogs for friendly, de-escalating behavior and after about six months, three quarters of a year, I found that the two bitches actually grew together and built a bond with each other.
Today our living together is absolutely harmonious. The dogs are now best friends and if they were separated for any reason, the greeting at the meeting is always long, intense and full of joy. The two often lie together and can plaster their pig’s ears side by side. The road here was exhausting, nerve-wracking and often frustrating. It took a lot of attention and training to teach the dogs how to live relaxed together. I don’t want to miss this experience. I have learned a lot and I am glad that I took the risk of a “second dog”.