Helping an Aggressive Dog Meet a New Puppy the Right Way

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 17, 2015

Bentley and Maya

Bentley (Left) is a seven-year-old English Pointer mix who is high energy and somewhat dog aggressive. His guardian called me in to help introduce him to the new Lab Pointer puppy they recently rescued. Because of his intense reaction to other dogs his guardian had kept Bentley and the puppy separated until I could help them have a good introduction.

One of my initial concerns was Bentley’s lack of rules and structure. He didn’t strike me as an aggressive dog, rather an excited one who was used to doing as he pleased. He had no rules and didn’t have to do anything to get attention or affection from his guardian. This can easily confuse the dog into thinking that the human is equal or subordinate to it.

When a dog has that perception of self, the human really isn’t in any position to lead their dog. I knew I needed to change the leader follower dynamic before we could introduce the dogs.

The first opportunity to do this was at the door to the back yard. When we got to the door, I showed his guardian how to communicate that the dog wasn’t to go outside without her permission. By doing this I was able to help alter the leader follower dynamic. But it also let me see how well Bentley could restrain himself.

Once we got outside and Bentley relaxed a bit, I had his guardian get a ball so I could see his energy level and focus when playing fetch. Dogs with hunting lineage often go into a “work mode” or get very intense when playing fetch and Bentley was no exception. He was coiled and ready to sprint off the nanosecond his guardian threw or appeared to be about to throw the ball.

I had her put him into a sit and wait for him to calm down before throwing the ball each time. By making the dog stop and wait, we can help it practice a little self control. Just with any other skill, practice makes perfect.

I ran through another couple of exercises that required Bentley to control himself before putting him into the kennel so I could work directly with the puppy. We had been working on self restraint for nearly an hour and it was still warm outside so I wanted him to have time to calm down and recharge a bit before I introduced him to the puppy.

Maya seemed pretty normal for a puppy. Good curiosity, bouncy energy and a playful nature. I went through some basics with her guardian and we practiced a simple recall exercise that she picked up pretty quickly.

The next step was to actually get the dogs together. Because Bentley was used to a kennel, I decided to use that to help ensure a safe initial introduction. I picked up Maya and walked into the room backward to partially obscure Bentley’s view of the puppy.

Dogs should meet by scent first as its their dominant sense. But after being in the same house for a week, even separated, Bentley had already met her that way. I sat in the floor in front of his kennel so I could get a good point of view; I wanted to be able to read his body language and pupil dilation.

Once Bentley calmed down a little, you can see me offer the puppy’s rear end so that he can get a good sniff. Once he settled down a bit more, I let the puppy off my lap so I could observe Bentley’s reaction to the pup’s movements.

I was observing the puppy as much as Bentley as her comfort was a big factor as to how this introduction went. She came close at times, but stayed away from the kennel at first as Bentley showed a little bit of anxiety once the puppy was walking free.

Bentley was doing a little small air biting while whining, but it subsided after a bit. You could see he was stressed out; he ws berating heavy, he drooled a but and his pupils were still pretty large. But there were encouraging signs as well; he was staying down in a laying down position to get to her level and he had a curious energy, not an aggressive one.

To help Bentley harness some of the self control ability we practiced earlier in the session, I communicated that he needed to stay in the kennel, even with the door open. It only took a few small corrections before Bentley gave me the front half of his kennel.

By opening the door and asking the dog to restrain himself, I was helping Bentley practice self control. I corrected him a few times because he started to get a little too excited, but over all Bentley did pretty good.

Now that the dogs had met face to butt, I had their guardian pick up the puppy and take us out into the living room. I kept Bentley on a leash and we sat on the other side of the room. He was very curious about the puppy and was still excited, but much calmer than before.

After a few moments, Bentley let out a deep exhale and his pupils started to get smaller, so I had their guardians take the puppy out into the back yard as Bentley and I followed behind them. We let the puppy run free while I kept Bentley on a short leash. I was watching closely for any signs of hunting, predator or aggressive energy, but Bentley remained excited curious.

They were both using their noses and the puppy’s fearless approaches were really helping. After some face to face sniffing, they moved to each other’s rear ends in a very polite dog introductory way. The more time Bentley spent around the pup, the more relaxed he got.

The next step was to let the dogs interact on their own with less guidance from me. I kept Bentley on the leash, but gradually gave him more freedom to dictate where to go as long as he remained in a curious, greeting mode.

A couple of minutes later, both dogs started to engage in play cues. Bentley was maintaing control and kept lowering himself to Maya’s level and she was playing right back. You don’t have to be a dog behavior expert to see that these dogs were starting to have fun.

At this point the supervised introduction had gone on odor over and hour and it was time. I dropped the leash but left it attached to Bentley’s collar just in case I needed to intercede.

I may as well have taken the leash off. After dropping it, Bentley stood in place on his own. He didn’t even react when the puppy jumped over to try to bite his tail.

Im really happy that their guardian reached out to me for help. Even though I gave up my day off, it was rewarding to help start a friendship that will last both of the dog’s lives.

It will be important that their guardian provide close supervision when the dogs are together for the next few days to a week or two. I suggested that they take Bentley out for a long walk or hearty game of fetch, then give him a good 15 minutes to calm down before getting the dogs together.

For the next few days, the guardians should get the dogs together for a few play sessions starting out with Bentley on a leash until their guardian feels completely comfortable with them together. Each play session should last a little longer than the one before.

As the dogs get to know one another, their guardian can give them more latitude in terms of how long and rough to let them play. By keeping the play limited to a mild intensity and energy level, we can help ensure that the dogs don’t get into trouble. But based on what I saw during this session, I think these two will be the best of friends by the end of the week.

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