A positive introduction between your existing dog(s) and a new dog can help them to begin establishing a strong friendship. Even if you know that all dogs are social, it’s useful to put a plan in place which 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 always a good idea to work on introductions before bringing your new dog home. If you have the luxury of being able to take both dogs out for a fun activity, they can begin to bond before they ever have to make contact with one another. A hike in a state park or nature preserve is a great way to allow both dogs to get used to each other in a relaxed setting.
Even if you can’t take the dogs for a hike, 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 others 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 and to take breaks while having fun sharing space together.
How It Works
No matter where you conduct this introduction, begin with both dogs on leash. 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 your dogs are communicating) 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 over 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.
When the dogs are close enough to greet each other, be sure to keep your leash totally loose, and 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 so that they continue to demonstrate polite, calm behaviors like sniffing.
If your space does not allow the dogs to go for a walk together, you can substitute training next to each other. Give the dogs enough room that they do not try to push in for each other’s treats.
By choosing a slow greeting now, you’re allowing both dogs to have the space to get to know each other and simultaneously improving their ability to respond to you when they’re around each other.
Your dogs may become comfortable enough to play together off-leash, if you’re in a safe space for it, or they may not be ready to jump right in and play. There is no reason that dogs must play when they meet each other, and if one of your dogs is older, they may not be so 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 (like training or walking) 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.
Dogs who both choose to play should be given frequent breaks, while they are still playing nicely, so that each one continues to look forward to the next interaction. It’s always better to know that they’re both begging for more instead of wearing on each other’s nerves.
Before bringing the new dog into your house, pick up any items of which either dog may feel protective. This can include chews, toys, resting areas (like beds), and food or water dishes. 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.
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 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 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.
Please separate the dogs and contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer if you observe worrisome behaviors such as aggression, barking, lunging, or growling. In the meantime, here’s an article on how you can rotate the dogs successfully before a trainer gets to you.
If you are concerned about either of your dogs’ behavior or could use assistance with an introduction, we’re always here to help! Visit our website to contact us (and explore some great free resources).