Updated: Apr 11
A positive introduction between your existing dog and a new dog can help them establish a strong friendship. Even if you know that both dogs are dog-social, it’s useful to put a plan in place that will allow them to see each other’s best selves. This will reduce the stress that naturally comes along with a transition in your home.
It’s typically a good idea to do an introduction before bringing your new dog home (though if your existing dog struggles in new places or around new people, talk to your trainer about whether this is the best option for your pup). You can take some pressure off of the initial greeting by allowing the dogs to meet each other in a neutral location. This could be a park, a friend’s yard, or the designated space used by your shelter or rescue. An ideal space will be large enough that the dogs can explore without feeling forced to interact, providing both dogs with plenty of environmental enrichment while they get comfortable with each other's presence. The dogs will have a much easier time practicing a slow, polite introduction if the environment encourages them to think about something besides each other allowing them to take breaks while having fun sharing space together.
Setting up a successful introduction
No matter where you conduct this introduction, begin with both dogs on leash, each with their own adult handler (if your dog struggles on leash or displays reactive behaviors towards other dogs, talk to your trainer about setting him up for success before attempting an introduction). Each dog should have their own handler, and enough distance that they are not immediately trying to get over to each other. At this stage, encourage the dogs to explore the space instead of interacting with each other. If the dogs struggle to focus on the environment, you can drop a treat on the ground for them every time they glance over at the other dog. Keep track of any treats you put down, and ensure that the dog finishes them off - we don’t want to leave anything behind that could cause conflict when they are eventually near each other.
If both dogs appear comfortable and calm (check out our Canine Body Language Webinar for help understanding what both dogs may be feeling at any given moment), you can begin closing the distance between them in an arc so that the dogs are never moving in a straight line directly toward each other. This is much more “polite” from a dog’s perspective than rushing right up to each other. If one or both dogs become overly excited while moving forward, just back up until they are able to slow down again. Spend some time rewarding calm behavior, then try arcing closer again. If one or both dogs becomes nervous, agitated, or cannot settle down, take a break and try again once both dogs are completely calm (you may need to wait until the next day).
When the dogs are close enough to greet each other, be sure to keep your leash totally loose. Each handler should move with the dogs so that the dogs are able to circle without their leashes becoming entangled. After a couple of seconds, recall the dogs away from each other, and reward them both for retreating. Now you can begin walking the dogs next to each other, encouraging them to continue to demonstrate polite, calm behaviors.
By choosing a slow greeting now, you’re allowing both dogs to have the space to get to know each other, simultaneously improving their ability to respond to you when they’re around each other.
Meeting off leash
While some dogs may become comfortable enough to play together off-leash, many will not be ready to jump right in and play - and that’s okay!. There is no reason that dogs must play when they meet each other - some dogs, especially older dogs, may simply not be interested in interacting that way. If one dog wants to play but the other does not, be sure to respect the dog who is saying, “no.” Give the playful dog another activity to occupy themselves with (such as practicing simple cues like ‘touch,’ walking, or an enrichment project) to avoid conflict. Everything they do together is teaching them new things about each other, and they’ll gain just as much essential information from sniffing together as they would from romping around.
If both dogs choose to play, limit play to just a few seconds at a time. Frequently call both dogs out of play and have each handler reward her dog with a small treat. This will help teach the dogs to take breaks and give you the opportunity to quickly end play if energy levels escalate towards conflict.
Spending time together at home
Before bringing the new dog into your house, pick up any items in shared spaces that either dog may find valuable. This can include chews, toys, resting areas (like beds), and food or water dishes. This will greatly reduce the chance of conflict between the dogs. You can reintroduce these items later with barriers in place so that you can safely determine how each dog will react.
Start off by giving your new dog a quiet space to settle in without being interrupted by your current dog. Breaks from each other are essential and can make all the difference as they adapt to living in the same home. A bedroom, a different level of the house, or a space blocked off by a gate or exercise pen can all be appropriate, but ensure that the space you choose is away from traffic through the house. Big transitions are exhausting, and it’s best to allow your new dog some time to rest. You can use this as an opportunity to take your current dog for a walk, give them a special treat, or some extra cuddle time. In most cases, waiting about three days before introducing the dogs in your home is the best course of action; this allows your new dog to decompress, and both dogs to get used to the smells and sounds of another dog in the home before directly interacting.
Just like you did in your dogs’ first meeting, be an active participant in their interactions until they are totally comfortable with one another. If you see one dog looking tense or overwhelmed, recall the other one away and give them something else to occupy their time. When your dogs know that you will step in to help them out, they’ll be less likely to escalate or become upset with each other. If you are unable to actively supervise, the dogs should be prevented from having access to each other with baby gates or closed doors.
There is no standard timeline for what your dogs’ relationship should look like as they get to know each other. Some may bond quickly while others will need some time to build trust. Management, like separating during meal times, scheduling breaks for the dogs to be apart, and splitting up your space with baby gates, may be necessary to ensure that all of your dogs’ experiences with each other are positive. Keep appropriate management in place for as long as you need to ensure that both dogs are totally comfortable - whether that's a couple of days or several weeks.
It can be fascinating and rewarding to watch a bond develop between two dogs. They’ll teach each other in ways you may not expect, and with you there to guide that learning process, they can stay on track for a lifetime of friendship.