Tips on integrating a new dog to the pack during feeding time

I foster pugs that have been surrendered to Philly Pug and Short Nose Rescue.     My objective as a foster mom is to get the dogs healthy physically and emotionally so that we can place them in a “furrever” home.  Integrating a new dog into the pack can be challenging on everyone involved, particularly at feeding time. 

My approach is based on routine and repetition, something I have learned works well with dogs.  I also have learned to carefully observe the dogs and be ready to respond quickly if needed. These tips will also work if you have adopted a second (or third!) dog into your home and are negotiating feeding time.

I feed my dogs at the same time every day.  I put them all outside while I prepare the bowls of food with any meds the foster may need.  I then let them in.  I have trained my permanent family dogs to go to specific places in the kitchen when it is time to eat.  They more or less sit there and wait—that bit is a work in progress and as pugs are highly food motivated it is really more “work” than “progress”!

When I put the food bowl down, I say the dog’s name; this helps the other furrbabies know to stay away.  I always feed them in the same order based on social structure: the most dominant ones go first and then on down the line.  I feed the foster last. 

I don’t walk away from the kitchen, especially the first few days.  Sometimes you’ll need to corral the dogs into specific locations, especially if the dog is a “mobile eater” like smush-faced dogs can be.

A dog that comes from a one dog home may not understand that it’s not okay to approach another eating dog and steal a bite.  If you have any concerns about feeding, the best bet is to feed the new one alone and test for food aggression. 

In shelters they use a plastic hand on a stick to prod a food bowl to see if the dog allows you to take his food.  I foster pugs, not exactly the most aggressive breed, so I usually just stick my hand down there but do be careful with that approach.  Try first prodding the bowl with your toe to see how the dog responds to you.  An owner should be able to pull food from her dog’s mouth without being bitten, but again that level of trust and training takes time. 

It’s not a big deal to feed a dog separately if that is what works best.  The key to any aspect of integrating a new dog into the pack is to lay out ground rules that are reasonable and repeated every day.

About the Author

Francesca Catalano is an avid dog lover and an active volunteer in dog rescue.  She works in fostering surrendered dogs, fundraising for rescues, and advocating to the public to #adoptdontshop. Francesca is a professor of science and Faculty Director for the School of STEM at American Public University.  She holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Loyola University Chicago and a law degree from DePaul College of Law. 


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