Dog Training/Acclimating New Adopted Dog with Current Dog
We have a 4 year old male neutered German Shepard mix (Dodger) and just recently adopted an almost 2 year old female spayed Pit Bull mix (Siren). A little background on both:
Dodger was a rescue pup. He's originally form South Carolina, brought to a rescue in New Jersey, we adopted him and brought him home to live with us in Pennsylvania, and then we moved to Texas 3 years ago, lived in an apartment and just moved into a new house 1 month ago. So, he's moved around A LOT and I feel that lack of stability (along with the neglect as a puppy) has caused some insecurity. He's super submissive to us, loyal, and listens except when he's outside and there are too many distractions like squirrels and fun things to smell. He listens, but not all the time. Dodger has been typically afraid of most things which I've had a hard time making him feel more confident. He never acted out or was aggressive towards things that frightened him, but he does cower, avoid, sit and tremble. I've tried many things to correct this (tiring him out with long walks, rewarding him when he shows courage) but can never get him to be 100% confident.
We've been thinking about adopting another dog for awhile now and then we found Siren on the local shelter's euthanized list and made the decision to save her life. Don't know much about her past except that she was found in the middle of the road, is about 2 years old, was spayed 3 days ago and we brought her home 2 days ago. She's got a confidence about her and isn't afraid like Dodger. She's also very smart and picks up stuff quick. She's skinny from being on her own. It's still early so she still tries to test my leadership by jumping in front of me through doors and pulling on the leash when walking...but she's improving at that with every walk.
We let the dogs meet on neutral ground at the space around the shelter. We walked them and let them sniff each other and all was fine. We brought them home and took them on a walk around the block and all was fine. Let them sniff around the back yard and all was fine. Brought them in the house and gave her a tour and all was fine. Fed the dogs the first night and all was fine. Brought them into our bedroom where they each have their own crates and beds. They laid in the beds next to each other and Dodger started getting nervous/concerned. Siren didn't like it and started to growl at him and started to lunge. We separated them and reintroduced and they were fine for the night.
Now onto the situation and how I should proceed. Dodger is in complete avoidance of Siren. When I let them out of the crate Siren is excited and Dodger is nervous. She tries to get his attention by licking his face and mouth obsessively. Dodger stands still and lets it go on for about 15-20 seconds before he starts snarling. Siren ignores the snarls, keeps at it, and then a fight breaks out. This has happened 4 times since we brought her home and the fights can be intense. The first 2 times I broke them apart quickly. The 3rd time I let them go for a bit because it seemed like they were working something out and then as soon as Dodger pinned Siren and it looked like she gave in, I broke them apart and they were fine…avoided each other in the same room but were fine. The fourth time was the most intense.
Siren is showing signs of food aggression. After a long walk yesterday, I fed them. Dodger has always been picky about eating…and has been known to eat only when he’s excited/anxious. I made their food and gave it Siren first because she was calm while Dodger was nervous. Siren ate her food fast and then lunged and growled at Dodger. I corrected her, let her calm down, and put her in the crate while I tried to feed Dodger, who wouldn't eat even after he calmed (which took forever). Another incident happened tonight when I was training Siren to leave a treat I placed on the floor. The treat was in between the 2 of them while they sat. Dodger left it alone but was nervous and avoiding Siren. Siren again growled and lunged at him.
So my questions:
1) What can I do to instill more confidence in Dodger so that he's not so afraid around Siren?
2) Should I correct Siren immediately when she starts licking Dodger or should I wait until she ignores his warning signs or something else entirely?
3) I've read that it's a good idea to keep the new dog isolated as much as possible for the first few days. Is that a good idea?
4) What should I be doing to handle this major life adjustment for my 2 dogs so that they can get a long and love each other?
Jon, you're dealing with some very serious issues here and I'll try and address them as best I can, but I think you are going to need in-person professional help if you intend to keep Siren.
Yes, it would have been a good idea to keep the dogs separated for the first few days (or possibly a week). Rotating them around the house and exchanging scent is a great way for the dogs to get to know each other before meeting in person. Unfortunately, you've passed the point of that being helpful.
Did the shelter test Siren with other dogs and indicate that she was dog-friendly? Many pits are not - they are not bred to be. A dog that has instigated 4 fights in 2 days with the resident dog doesn't sound like she has lived successfully with other dogs. The fact that she's not picking up on, or is simply ignoring, Dodger's warning signals is not a good sign.
Feed these dogs separately. They shouldn't have to eat in the same room and worry about the other taking their food.
Break them up (but don't correct) when greetings go on too long. Simply call the dog's name or clap your hands and reward her for responding. Don't add more tension to the situation by yelling or punishing.
Normally, when a dog enters a new home, they are on their best behavior (the "honeymoon" period). They don't act out because they are evaluating the situation and determining their best responses. After 2-3 weeks, you begin to see their true personality and bad habits that you didn't see before.
My suggestion is think long and hard about keeping this dog. If you do, please seek a qualified trainer to help you. If you need help locating someone, please let me know.