‘Tis the Season to Adopt a New Dog

‘Tis the season of goodwill and kind acts—like adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization. It’s a good deed to bring a homeless dog into your family, and can be the perfect holiday present for all involved. But you can’t just breeze into your home with a new dog. Adoption takes forethought and planning—especially when you already have a dog.

A Group Decision

First, and most importantly, the whole family has to be in on the decision to bring another animal into your home and heart. Children especially should be part of the process of visiting the shelter, meeting your potential pet and deciding whether he or she is a good match for your household. And your current canine companion needs to be an active participant in your planning.

The Perfect Match

The gender, age and size of your present pooch will play a big role in your decision about a second dog. Behavioral experts suggest matching up dogs of the opposite sex. Dogs are territorial, and those of the same gender are more likely to fight. Pairing a much older dog with a very young, hyperactive pup can strain the older dog’s patience and ability to keep up. And a tiny Yorkshire terrier and a Great Dane may make an unlikely yet cute couple, but the smaller, more delicate terrier may get hurt during rough play with the extra large Dane.

Include the shelter in your hunt for the right pooch. Tell them about your current dog, and your family’s needs and desires, and they may be able to assist in a match. Many shelters and rescue programs promote a meeting between your current and potential second dog before you finalize adoption. Some shelters even have spaces for these meet ‘n greets.

Making Introductions

When you’ve found the match that meets your (and your dog’s) specs, behaviorists recommend not bringing the new dog straight home, but having the new and your current dog meet first in neutral territory. Ideally, each dog should have its own handler. As they sniff each other, keep your voice friendly, and provide words of encouragement. Don’t let them sniff too long, though, as friendly behavior can suddenly turn aggressive. Give them treats for good behavior, and try going for a walk together. Watch their body language for signs. A good indication that the introduction is going well is the “play-bow” posture, when a dog’s shoulders are bowed and front legs spread on the ground while his hindquarters are in the air. If you see bared teeth and hear growls, or if either dog’s posture is stiff or they’re engaged in an extended stare, take a time out. Separate and distract them immediately, and after a cooling off period bring them together again for another, shorter introduction. Once the two dogs have accepted each other without displaying fearful or aggressive behavior, and their initial curiosity and sniffing has abated, it’s time to take them home.

If you have more than one dog in your household, it’s smart to introduce them one at time to the new family member, and prevent your pack from ganging up on the newcomer. Matching up a puppy with an adult dog may take more time and supervision. Adult dogs don’t always tolerate a puppy’s rowdy ways, and may respond with growling and snapping. Don’t leave the two alone together until you are absolutely sure the puppy will be safe.

The Ultimate Reward

Adopting a dog in need will take effort and time on your part but will ultimately bring rich rewards of love, devotion, companionship and lots of doggie kisses. What better present than that to receive this holiday season?