Canine Behavior/Getting my dog to get along with other dogs
Hi! I have a 10 year old male Labrador who is not neutered. He has lived with me since he was 2 months old and almost always in apartments. I used to have a golden retriever with whom he got along with after a while. He has no problem hanging out with his sister or his mother. Now I'm moving in with my boyfriend and he has a 2 year old Husky. We tried introducing them first at Petsmart and my dog ignored the husky. Then we tried introducing them at my boyfriends place but my dog had a toy and when the husky tried getting near he snarled at her and gave her a nip in her ear. Nothing major, no stitches were necessary. We've tried walking with them but have kept them at least 10 feet apart just in case. Now I'm trying to get him to also get along with my moms 3 month old puppy that from time to time I end up babysitting. The puppy wants to play, but my dog sometimes growls at her. It's not always just when she gets close to his face or what he considers his toys. I need to get him to get along. I used to have cats and he got used to them and also with the golden retriever, but in those cases I just left them alone to figure out how they would get along and it worked. Just don't know what to do know. Boyfriend is scared that my dog will end up hurting his dog. Rarely has my dog ever gotten in a fight and he is not one to aggressively attack another dog and keep attacking him. Thank you for any advice you may have.
Thank you for your question.
It sounds like your dog is just not particularly social. He learned to tolerate the Golden Retriever he used to live with as well as the cats, but from your description it doesn't sound like they were great friends. More like he just tolerated their presence. Not all dogs are social. It's not a failure of your training nor is it a flaw in his character. Just like some humans prefer a quiet spot to read rather than going to parties, some dogs prefer to not spend time with other dogs if they can help it.
The growling that your dog is doing is clear and appropriate communication, telling the other dogs to back off. Ignoring the Husky at the PetSmart is actually a great thing. He's willing to mind his own business. He's not out to start something and he was clearly saying "I don't want a conflict with you" by instead choosing to sniff other things and "put blinders on" pretending she just wasn't near him.
At your boyfriend's house, he had a toy and the Husky intruded on his space. His response to growl and snap is called Resource Guarding. It's a fear-based behavior that is normal for all social animals. It comes from a fear of losing something the individual feels is valuable. In this case, that toy was his. He was in a strange environment (the Husky's environment) and she came into his personal space and he very clearly said "don't you dare come near me or my stuff!" I'm sorry he nipped her ear, but try to remember, if he meant to cause real damage, it wouldn't have been a single nip. Dogs have excellent reflexes and excellent aim. And if he's meant to cause damage he would have bit repeatedly or done a bite/hold. So while this is not a great start to a friendship, it does speak to your dog's bite inhibition (ability to control his bite) and his ability to only give out what he feels is necessary to make his point and not an ounce more.
The parallel walking with some distance between them is a good way to start. If you're not comfortable trying to work them closer than 10 feet, you should enlist the help of a professional positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist in your area as they will be able to guide you in person on this. Hopefully it's someone who actually understands canine body language and communication who can help you translate what's going on as this makes it much easier to work with the dogs - when you can look at the dog and determine if they're feeling uncomfortable or stressed even if they're quiet.
I strongly encourage you to read the book On Talking Terms With Dogs - Calming Signals
, by Turid Rugaas. It will walk you through a bunch of very subtle behaviors that can tell you when your dog is feeling anxious or uncertain. She not only describes what the behavior looks like, but circumstances when you might see such behaviors and how other dogs respond to those behaviors. There are even some behaviors that we, humans, can do to help calm dogs who are feeling anxious. It will open a whole new world of communication for you with your dogs.
Now, if it's a real concern, you can/should acclimate your dog to wearing a basket muzzle (Baskerville Basket Muzzle) so that you can keep everyone safe, and to allow the humans to feel more relaxed and comfortable while working with the dogs closer together.
There are some videos that can teach you how to acclimate the dog to the muzzle. I would take a couple weeks of acclimating him to it, and having him wear the muzzle at various times when you're having fun with him - just the two of you - so that he doesn't see the muzzle as a cue that he'll be forced into close proximity with the other dog.
Video for how to acclimate the dog to wearing a muzzle (without a clicker)
Second video for acclimating dog to wearing a muzzle (with a clicker)
Please note your dog's age. At 10 years old, he's officially in his senior years. He may be starting to feel the effects of age - vision or hearing impairment, stiff joints, sore muscles, slowing of reflexes, less traction on slick surfaces, etc.
His tolerance for a puppy may well be very low. It's important to help your dog feel safe and secure. It may be necessary to protect him from himself - by not putting him into situations where he may feel a need to be defensive. If he's laying down and is stiff or sore and so can't get up and move quickly, and a puppy suddenly comes bounding over, his most likely reaction will be an offensive strike "Get away from me!!!!" because he doesn't feel he can get himself away comfortably in time. So, if you MUST puppy sit your mother's dog, I would keep the dogs separated. This may be by keeping them in separate spaces (crating or play pen for the puppy, different rooms, one outside while the other is in), or by keeping the puppy on a leash either in your hand or tethered on one side of the room so that the puppy can't invade your senior dog's space. If you dog is curious and wants to come over to sniff or visit, he's free to do so, but because the puppy is tethered, your dog can more easily move away without feeling like he's being chased.
You don't want your dog to live in a muzzle. The muzzle is a tool meant to keep everyone safe while you help your dog learn to be comfortable in the presence of the Husky and possibly the puppy. But, even when the muzzle is on, you must be doing positive reinforcement training to help him learn that good things happen when that dog is near. Also - you must never force him to be near, move closer or stay close to a dog he doesn't wish to be near. Your dog must always feel he is free to create space or leave the room/space altogether if he would rather not engage with that dog.
While the book is a bit dry in places, Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression
, by Grisha Stewart will walk you through set-ups you can do with the two dogs he needs to learn to tolerate that will help this situation.
But, remember, in his senior days, his ability to cope will be less than it was when he was young and fully vital. He may not ever be truly comfortable with the Husky nor the puppy and supervision may always be necessary, which means that when no humans are around, the dogs will need to be separated, either in separate rooms, or each in their own crate with interesting things to engage with such as Kongs or antlers or Bully Sticks (crates should be closed and inaccessible when humans are home and those high-value chew items should be picked up and put away (not left in the crate) to help minimize resource guarding of those spaces.
Yes, both dogs should be crated if one is going to be. It's unfair to have one dog in a crate while another is free to move around and taunt/harass the one who has no escape. Crates should not face each other. They should be several feet apart and parallel or back-to-back. They can be on opposite sides of the room or in two separate rooms (ideal).
As always, if you feel you need help implementing this advice, please search for a local trainer or behaviorist who is well versed in positive reinforcement training and who has a clear understanding of canine body language and communication.
Good luck. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist