The saying ”two is a pair, three is a pack” is used sometimes to describe the difference between owning one or two individual dogs and owning three or more dogs that already start to have certain pack behavior. Obviously all dogs interact together the same way, whether they live live alone or in a group, but pack behavior usually kicks in when there are more than two dogs.
Pack behavior refers to behavioral patterns that are usually met in large groups of dogs. These patterns take act in situations like meeting others dogs, hunting, facing danger or alarming. It is said that a pack of dogs let loose, even if they are pet dogs, is more dangerous than a pair of dogs or just one dog.
In Finland we have a saying ”joukossa tyhmyys tiivistyy”. It means you are never as stupid alone than you are in a group. Group members easily adopt behavior from others in the group, and this leads to certain behaviors becoming easily escalated. If one member of the pack is nervous, that feeling reflects to others more easily than it would if there would be just two dogs. Aggression escalates quickly, and so does the hunting behavior. It takes one of the pack to start hunting, and the rest will follow. This leads to problems if the dogs are loose and they decide instead of playing with a small dog they will now HUNT the small dog. Same happens if the pack escapes and ends up harassing lambs or other farm animals, or even people.
When having a pack of dogs, it’s important to focus on leading the pack rather than trying to lead every individual dog. This means you need to know what causes certain behavior, and if you need to command the leading dog or leave that dog be and instead find the ”weak link” that feeds negative behavior of the whole pack. Correcting or controlling the alarming dog will not do anything, if the leading dog keeps on signaling we need to stay alert. On the contrary, if one dog is nervous about a situation, working with that individual dog will solve the whole problem while trying to calm the whole pack down each time it gets nervous makes no difference. In a pack one dog’s behavioral issue is EVERY DOG’S behavioral issue.
Introducing a new family member
Bringing a new dog to the pack can be frightening. What if the dogs don’t accept each other? Let’s say it here in the beginning; it is a possibility. However, you can work with issues, and in most cases that helps. In some other cases you might have to separate the dogs in one way, at least partially and at least sometimes, but even that is not the end of the world. Usually things go smoothly, and sooner or later your new dog will be part of the pack or form a good working pair with the first one.
Introducing a puppy is always way easier than introducing an adult dog. Keep this in mind during all this rescue boom. Rescues can make super pets and form super packs, but there are more risks with adult rescued dogs you might not know a lot about than with puppies. Most well socialized dogs are instinctively more forgiving and gentle with puppies. This is not something to be taken as an opinion against rescue dogs, but a thing to keep in mind. The dog has, in worst case, gone through nasty things. Being prepared for possible problems may save the dog from further bad experience and guarantee a safe start for it.
Collect all ”treasures” away. Very important objects might not be up for sharing just yet. After all, your dogs just met.
Going for a walk together and introducing the dogs on a neutral ground works better than bringing the pup/the dog straight to the other one’s territory. A possibility to give the new dog a safe, calm place to sleep it’s first nights is also beneficial. If others are constantly trying to get to know it, it might stress both them and the new one (and vice versa, if the newcomer doesn’t leave the old dog alone).
What if problems occur?
Don’t let the old dog jump on the eyes of the newcomer, and don’t let the newcomer boss around the old dog. You are the authority making sure everyone feels safe and sound. Old fashioned ”leadership tricks” like rolling the dog on it’s back work only with soft dogs, and they are not based in any scientific or species related information. In the case of independent dogs and dominant dogs things like this can make the situation worse or the dog may even turn on you. The most important thing, however, is that nothing is taught this way. The effect is based on fear, not respect, and it works only with you and the dog, not to improve the situation between dogs. This is seen in many cases where people use rolling the dog on it’s back, for example, to correct it’s dominant behavior. The dog may then act OK with the human, but still bully in the pack. Nothing was taught, the problem and the source for the behavior still remains. One visible side effect was removed, that’s it.
Keep your head cool. ”Be the boss of your dogs and all goes well!” is something you will hear if your dogs are not friends at once. While there is half the truth in that, be careful with how you acquire that position of authority, and remember; weak nerve structure will cause problems whether or not you are ”a boss”. Not all dogs are balanced, and aggressive dogs are aggressive dogs. It is dangerous to assume everything depends on how you raise the dog or socialize it. Always go for mentally balanced dogs, or then be prepared to work with those that have more complicated nerve structure.