Owning more than one dog is regarded as pack ownership. More than one dog in the pack automatically creates an instinctive hierarchy system where rules of leadership come in to play. Dominance may be exhibited in the forms of territoriality, resources, food, socialization and “top dog” status. These categories may be all controlled by one particular individual or in a multi-canine household there may be a food dominant dog, a territorial male, an alpha bitch etc. so that each animal has its own significant role to play without any overlap.
These are factors decided by the genetics, characters and sexes of each pet and no human being can manipulate the natures of the beasts for what would suit the owners. Pet owners may never make the claim “…but I want my Labrador to be pack leader”; it is not for people to decide on this. Interference can and does cause heartache e.g. in-house dog fights, even death. Democracy does not exist in animals i.e. being treated equally, but the canine and avian species enjoy and understand the linear hierarchy of the flock and pack, respectively, similar to the importance of the ranking systems of the military. The feline species, on the other hand, is more flexible and has more of an associate arrangement with other cats where spatial territory is the most important facet of their lives.
The knowledge of these principles will assist greatly when a need arises to integrate different groups of animals when two families have to merge or when one person finds a partner and co-habitation is the new order of the day.
The expectations will differ if one family or one person is moving in to an established home of the other or both sides of the relationship equation decide to move on to a completely new property.
It is often expected that the older established creatures will reign supreme when newcomers are introduced. Wrong!
Before amalgamating two groups of dogs or two groups of cats it is advisable to seek the professional advice of animal behaviourists or veterinarians with a special interest in the subject.
The alpha dog in each group needs to be known or identified.
The genetics of the breeds and the sexes in certain dog groups are the major initial considerations e.g. introducing two terriers may be impossible and dangerous, combining two dominant bitches or two dominant males of certain breeds may be seriously risky e.g. Dobermann Pinschers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
The two dominant characters then have to be introduced to each other under restraint, on neutral turf, in a mood of owner calmness and vigilance. Patience must prevail. One cannot rush the relationship although most animals will make it clear in a very brief period: it is either love or hate at first sight.
If there is lunging, negative body posturing and aggression the idea of pack integration may never happen.
If the two top dogs take great interest in one another, greet, lick, sniff and acknowledge each other positively for about 20 minutes then they can both be taken off lead in a fenced-off area and allow them to decide which of these two are in charge of matters, which one submits and which one dominates.
The next step is for both owners and both families to understand that the attitude of people towards the dogs is on a new footing hereafter. The combination of all dogs is a completely new pack system with new rules. The ownership of the previously “top dog” has to accept the new pack leader. The respect of the new pack leader will avoid tension in the hierarchy and general acceptance that a dog which was top of the heap in the previous home no longer holds that position and an entirely new ranking system will come in to play; even the lower status individuals have to do some vertical shifting in order to seek social comfort and security.
In general, everyone must back off from feeling pity for the dogs in the first 10 days. Allow the pets to settle in and sort themselves out. Human interference may cause tension and in-house fighting. Once the pack is settled then everyone must focus on, and greet, the pack leader first! Then the attention may work its way down the order of importance, always keeping an eye on how the pack leader is reacting to human attention meted out amongst the other animals. It will hurt the owner of the demoted “top dog”. Rather accept nature’s way and live in harmony than try and manipulate the dogs for personal affection and sentiment. All attempts must be made not to ever upset the alpha status. Initially it is an effort to change one’s mind-set and routine but once it has been put in to practice for a few days it can become an invaluable habit supporting social homeostasis.
Integrating two packs of dogs can consist of various breeds, sexes, ages and numbers. Combining two single dogs falls under the same category but is far easier to estimate from a compatibility perspective.
Even though the human role-players abide by all the professionally recommended behaviour and environmental modifications there can still be anything from incessant niggling between two dogs of the same sex, an all-out dog fight or disastrous consequences in the form of a fatality. Sometimes the “resentment” between two pets can build up over an extended period because of the accumulation of numerous irritating factors. While dogs are known to be a gregarious species enjoying social groups there are, unfortunately, a number of issues that cancels out these expectations:
- Temperaments of certain breeds have a low tolerance towards other creatures
- The more confined the more frustrated i.e. walled-in small properties
- Lack of social skills
- Negative interaction from pet owners who have no idea how to interact with, and understand, dogs
- Negative, traumatic experience e.g. a puppy attacked by an adult dog may well become sinophobic (fearful of dogs) in adulthood and will, in turn, attempt the same form of aggression
- Same sexes of identical status e.g. two working breed bitches
Breeds with mostly good temperaments e.g. Pointers, Retrievers, Pugs, Setters sterilized pets and those dogs that attended and completed puppy socialization classes followed by basic obedience training are most likely to adapt to amalgamated dog groups without any hassles whatsoever. There is nothing more pleasing than an obedient, trustworthy dog under the supervision of an informed pet owner.
It is also advisable to rather relocate the individuals that do not fit in than live in a prison. If there are elderly pets being persecuted constantly by younger dogs it would be kinder to place the senior canine citizen in safe isolation or consider euthanasia.
It is never simple amalgamating two established systems. Businessmen will vouch for that with company takeover bids.