Q: I have a 4-year-old rescue rat terrier, Otep, and recently added a 6-month-old Chihuahua, named Bella, to our lives. The girls met in a neutral place then came home together with no problems. They play very frequently, and Otep has tolerated Bella needing to eat from his bowl, but twice recently Otep has charged Bella in the backyard. I have been considering this behavior as Otep “telling” Bella who is boss, but wondering if Otep has crossed a line heading toward continued aggression. I don’t want to give up either of the girls. I love them both and they are great playmates otherwise. What do we do now?
A: You did a good job introducing Otep and Bella before bringing the Chihuahua home. Right now they’re still in the process of forming their relationship, which often takes several months. Here are some tips for changes you can make that should help smooth out this process.
Feed the dogs in separate areas with a closed door or gate between them, so Bella won’t try to eat Otep’s food. Food is one of the highest value possessions a dog has, and it sounds like Otep is being pushed away from her food by the newcomer. Do not let this happen. If you don’t intervene, Otep will feel like she has to deal with the problem on her own – dog style. It’s better to be a benevolent leader, yourself, than cause one dog to have to take the leadership role over the other dog.
Not being able to see Otep’s “charge” toward Bella, and having only the information you’ve provided, it’s hard to know what Otep means by the charge, but it sounds like she’s trying to gain back some of the personal power she used to have, before Bella joined you and Otep in your home.
In general, the established dog needs to know she’s not going to lose the things she values by sharing them with a newcomer. Pay special attention to Otep during this transition period, as they form their relationship, and make sure she still gets some special “mommy-and-me” time with you. Take Otep on a walk or ride by herself, just you and her, a few times a week. This way she’ll realize she’s still “special” to you. It needn’t be a long walk or ride; the point is just having some premium private time together, like in “the old days.”
Also, it may help to enroll both dogs in a gentle, reward-based dog class. Find an instructor who enjoys working with small dogs.
Having both dogs learning the same skills in the class environment and practicing their homework together can be a positive bonding experience for them. Modern, reward-based dog training classes are fun for both dogs and humans, so it might be an enjoyable weekly family outing.
Most important, be patient. From your letter it sounds like the two dogs have a fairly good relationship already, but it will take time for them to completely adjust to each other. Manage the situation so neither dog hurts the other, but don’t give up yet – good relationships take time to develop.