Tips on Introducing a Big Dog and a Small Dog
July 24, 2007 3:55 PM   Subscribe

This weekend, I will be introducing a small dog to a big dog. I would rather they not kill each other. Help me.

I'm going to my parents' house for a week and a half. I'm bringing my chihuahua Twinkie, who is, um, not the friendliest dog on the planet (she barks and growls at dogs on the street, visits to dog runs freak her out at first, although after an hour or so she calms down a little). Since our last visit, my parents have gotten a boxer (Smike) who is apparently very calm and good-natured. But I'm terrified Twinkie will get in Smike's face and Smike will go cucko and kill her. What's the best way to do the first introduction? What are some ways I can help everyone get along for a week and a half?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Smike won't kill her. They'll play kind of rough at first, probably rougher than you're comfortable with. That's what dogs do. They have to establish who the top dog is, and what kind of behavior is acceptable. Smike might let her run all over him, or he might not want to be touched, but either way, he'll let Twinkie know when she goes too far. Twinkie might get her feelings hurt a bit, but no actual injuries.

They'll have to repeat the exercise every time Twinkie thinks it might be time for her to be top dog, too. Interfering with that play only prolongs the issue, since Twinkie won't feel that she lost until she gives up willingly.
posted by ctmf at 4:07 PM on July 24, 2007

Yep, it's unlikely that anything will go wrong. I frequently worry about my dumb-as-a-rock little rat terrier bouncing all over dobermans and rottweilers at the dog park, but they usually just ignore him. Or occasionally pin him on his back so that they can give him a good sniffing.

If you continue to be really concerned, make sure that you and whomever the boxer listens to unconditionally and be present at the introduction. If things get out of hand, just make sure that the person that the boxer is subordinate to is there to yell "No".

Though, you can rest assured, this should be a totally unnecessary precaution.
posted by quin at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2007

Introduce them on neutral territory --- like a neighborhood park --- to which neither one goes often. I've heard that cuts down on the hostility between new dogs, and that's how we introduced our latest dog to the two we already had. It seemed to work.
posted by jayder at 4:29 PM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Repeat after me: Dogs aren't kids.

It sounds like your chihuahua, like many small dogs, probably has some dominance issues. Napoleon complex. They won't kill each other usually even if they really do *fight*, (there's a Beagle puppy that plays really rough -- with my 75 lbs ridgeback/german shephard mix -- at the dog park) ... but keep an eye on the play, especially if you hear 'squeaks' of pain. You can feel free to flip the one who is in the wrong over onto his back and hold him so his belly's exposed. Remember: they may need to sort out the pack order, but YOU and your parents are alpha.
posted by SpecialK at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2007

Just don't keep either one of them on a leash when you introduce them. This removes their flight response and may increase aggressiveness.
posted by dendrite at 4:38 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: I wouldn't introduce them on neutral territory (although that was common wisdom in the past), I think it's probably better to introduce them in your parents' back yard, so that Twinkie knows whose house it is and doesn't go thinking that she needs to establish whose house it is once you get back there. You also need to make sure that they have enough room to maintain appropriate dog-manners distance from each other, and you need to make sure that Twinkie has somewhere to go for refuge if Smike gets over-enthusiastic (which is the permanent state for most Boxers). Introduce them off-leash and on the ground if at all possible, leashes affect body language and also make dogs feel trapped (and therefore more likely to be aggressive). If you have access to a crate, it might be smart to put Twinkie in the crate at first, to let them get over the initial meeting in complete safety.

That said, it's more than likely that if there's any pecking order established, Twinkie will be top dog, first, she's female, second, she's older - bitches are almost always higher up than dogs in the pecking order, as are older dogs, and no sane and properly socialized male dog will ever harm a female on purpose. I would be more concerned about making sure that Smike doesn't harm Twinkie accidentally, since Boxers tend to play very hard.
posted by biscotti at 4:38 PM on July 24, 2007

And do NOT be flipping dogs on their backs, this is a completely discredited old school "training" method, it's counterproductive and dangerous to boot (since dogs don't use this the way people used to think they do, dogs only flip another dog if they intend to kill it, it's the subordinate dog who flips itself over - there is no such thing as an "alpha roll" in the canid world).
posted by biscotti at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2007

And I would also make sure that you have some way to separate the dogs for some time each day, or if Twinkie's getting annoyed or Smike's getting too rambunctious. A crate or something is a good idea.
posted by biscotti at 4:43 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Do introduce on neutral territory. They should both be on leashes, but don't hold the leashes too tightly or project an air of tension. Project "friendly, relaxed but not taking any shit."

You walk Twinkie as one of your parents walks Smike alongside you. Do this for several minutes so they can relax and smell from afar. Then if all is relaxed and going well, have your helper hand off Smike's leash to your spare hand and walk the two (on separate sides, not smack together) for several minutes.

Then, let them greet each other. If Twinkie barks or is otherwise snippy, sit her down with her back end facing Smike, and let him sniff her butt. That's making her submit so she gets the message that she's not allowed to be *overly* dominant or aggressive with Smike. She'll still likely dominate him benignly because dogworld is not a democracy, but unless he challenges her, which sounds unlikely, they won't fight.

Dogs love to play rough and chew on each other, but you should supervise their games and impose time-outs if they seem to get getting too excited or intense. Excitement can explode into aggression if left unchecked. Oh, and make sure they get plenty of structured exercise rather than just letting them play to work off energy.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:44 PM on July 24, 2007

But if you let them meet in Smike's yard as biscotti suggests (for sensible reasons), then yeah, do it off leash. You want them leashed in a park only for control purposes.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:46 PM on July 24, 2007

I usually introduce dogs via the grazing method. Find some crazy smelly treats (canned sardines) and disperse them on the ground in small pieces over a 5-10 ft area and let the two dogs eat from the ground nose to nose. If the treat is smelly enough and tasty enough the dogs won't even bother with each other for the first few minutes. This has worked weell with our puppy for the first 10 months of his high energy life.
posted by iamabot at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Short answer: Get a crate, keep your dog in the crate if you can not supervise it, and limit the contact between the dogs. A week is a short time.

Long answer:
I can not find the article online, but my wife is studying at the dog training academy in the San Francisco ASPCA, and one of the papers she read was about dog fights. Some people observed a few hundred spontaneous dog fights (not in a dog fighting ring, etc...), and recorded the duration, the resulting injuries, and the owner's actions.

MOST dogs will not seriously hurt each other, and most dog fights last less than 30 seconds. Owner intervention (trying to separate the dogs, pulling on the leash, hitting them with a stick) only INCREASED the quantity and severity of injuries. There are problem dogs that will injure/get injured more often than others.

Most puppies learn the limits of their own strength if they are allowed to socialize with other puppies, or with people that know how to train them to have a 'soft mouth'.

This should make you less worried about the risks you are running. There is always the chance one of the dogs is not properly socialized, or one of them is reactive (Twinkie seems to be a reactive dog, her growling and barking can be corrected in a couple of weeks), and that could lead to more injuries.

There is a protocol for introducing dogs to each other, specially if one of them is reactive or under socialized. It is a long process, and I am not an expert, but from what I understand, it goes something like this:

You take the dog and expose it to the stimulus (in this case, seeing another dog), in the lower intensity that will still get the response (seeing the other dog in the distance, hearing the other dog, whatever gets Twinkie to start barking).

When the dog starts responding, you distract it with treats and games (food, scratches, whatever your dog likes) until it stops reacting. You repeat and repeat, in sessions less than 15 minutes long, until the dog no longer reacts at that intensity.

You then increase the intensity of the stimulus (getting Twinkie closer to the other dog, for example), and repeat.

The idea behind it, is that the dog has a negative association with the stimulus, and owners tend to reinforce it (Twinkie sees other dog, Twinkie starts barking, owner yells at Twinkie to start barking and holds her tight (dogs tend to hate this), in Twinkie's little brain: Other dog === being yelled at and held tight).

That association is very strong and hard to change. By giving treats and games, you want Twinkie to make the association: Other dog === treats!!!!.

Remember, I AM NOT A DOG TRAINER! It is easy to frustrate the dog if you don't know exactly what you are doing, and that will cause more problems.
posted by Dataphage at 4:55 PM on July 24, 2007

Watch any episodes of The Dog Whisperer you can download/get your hands on!

Seriously, every time I have seen this show it is about a situation just like this (right down to the aggressive Chihuahua) and Cesar Milan is very, very clear with his ideas and instructions.
posted by loiseau at 7:27 PM on July 24, 2007

In our case, Other Dog = suddenly diving at our little Jackapoo, grabbing her by the belly and shaking her like an old sock, denting her ribcage and tearing about a square inch of skin off her right flank before ms. flabdablet could hand the baby back to its mother and get in there to stop the fight. Luckily, there was no internal bleeding.

I'm with the crate crowd.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 AM on July 25, 2007

Crate ok, leash definitely not. Not only do dogs feel trapped when leashed, it's easy for leashes to get tangled and startle one or both of the dogs.
posted by nev at 6:20 AM on July 25, 2007

It might help to make sure each dog has had a good loooong walk (individually) beforehand. Tired dogs tend to be better behaved, in my experience.

Normally I would say follow biscotti's advice to the letter. But my mother in law has a very mellow, laid back, downright submissive little yellow dog that will attempt to kill any dog that sets foot on his territory. Unless he's met that dog on neutral ground first, in which case, he has no problem at all. I'd just suggest asking your parents if they have ever had other dogs over, how that went, before deciding how to proceed. Good luck!
posted by ambrosia at 9:32 AM on July 25, 2007

Every boxer I've run into tends to socialise well with other dogs, although they are a boisterous and energetic breed, they tend to be friendly and goofy... I don't know much about chihuahuas, but everytime we took our newfie/lab cross to visit family/friends with dogs, we basically did as biscotti described, and we never had a problem.
posted by glip at 11:00 AM on July 25, 2007

Best answer: Follow-up: Our trip went very well! Smike and Twinkie met on a walk around the neighborhood (my parents do not have a fenced-in yard, so we couldn't do introductions off-leash). Smike is quite a laid-back cool fellow; after about a day, he lost all interest in Twinkie. She would bark, growl, even jump up and try to bite him in the face, and he just walked away. By the end of the trip, the two were co-existing peacefully. Success! Thanks to all.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

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