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As a fellow dog lover, you probably agree that the love you have for dogs is limitless. You might secretly wish that you lived in a gigantic house big enough to rescue a hundred dogs (strike that—rescue ALL the dogs!). One hundred dogs may not quite be feasible right now, but you are ready to add one new dog to the pack. With this new addition, you might be wondering, “how do I introduce a new dog to my current dog(s)?”
There is a safe way to introduce dogs and integrate a new dog or puppy into a home that already has a dog (or a few). An improper introduction can lead to a scuffle between the dogs as well as injury to one or both dogs and the intervening human. Before we review the process, it’s important to know what not to do right from the start:
- Don’t simply bring a new dog into the home without any prior meeting
- Don’t give the dogs free, unleashed access to each other before a proper introduction
- Don’t leave “valuables” lying around, such as toys, treats, or food that could give the dogs a reason to dispute
It’s important to have a basic understanding of each dog’s personality and how they act with other dogs and when meeting new dogs. When adopting a new dog, a good shelter or rescue organization will be able to provide details about how the dog behaves around other dogs. If either your current or future dog has had difficulty meeting other dogs, consider hiring a trainer or animal behaviorist to help you through the process.
Step 1: Start in a neutral area
Your home is the territory of your current dog(s) and a newcomer might be seen as an intruder, so it’s important for the first meeting to happen on neutral grounds. A quiet park without much distraction is a good option so the dogs have the best chance of staying calm and not getting overstimulated. A dog that is overstimulated might instinctively overreact to meeting a new dog because they are already feeling overwhelmed.
Have one handler for each dog and set out for a walk with the new dog walking in front so the dog(s) in the back can pick up on the new dog’s scent. After a while, switch positions so the new dog can do the sniffing. A walk helps to relieve a little pressure from the situation and gives the dogs a mild distraction while they get used to each other’s presence, plus it will help release extra energy.
Step 2: Get a little closer
If both dogs are relaxed, take turns allowing each dog to sniff each other’s behinds. Try to avoid a nose-to-nose meeting at this time because it can feel threatening to some dogs. Be mindful of the body language cues of each dog in order to separate and distract them from a potential altercation. Some signs to watch for:
- Hair standing up on the back
- Stiff, slow body movements
- Tensed mouth or teeth-baring
- Prolonged staring
Step 3: Off-leash play
With both dogs displaying relaxed and happy body language, you can proceed to the next step which is allowing them to interact with less restriction. Let the dogs check each other out or take them to an enclosed area where they can be let off-leash.
As the dogs interact, you might be on edge and ready to jump in at a moment’s notice but try to relax and give them some space. Dogs will correct each other when they don’t like the other’s behavior. These kinds of corrections (like lip curls or air snaps) are often mistaken for aggression, however, they are actually part of normal dog communication. Dogs should be able to correct each other for inappropriate behavior, as well as listen to the other’s corrections—this is how they learn boundaries.
While you supervise, offer verbal feedback, like “very good!” when they are doing well, or “settle down” when one or both dogs get too excited. Play bows from both dogs are always a good sign! Only physically intervene if necessary. If one dog is giving signals that it wants the other dog to back off and the other dog doesn’t heed these corrections, you can help by pulling him away to give the dogs a short break.
In the case of a scuffle, separate the dogs either by distracting them with noise or pulling them apart by their hindquarters, then allow the dogs to calm down. If repeated play sessions result in fights, it’s wise to seek help from a certified applied animal behaviorist.
Step 4: Going home
The walk and the off-leash play session went well and both dogs were well-behaved—great! Now you’re ready to bring them home. Before the dogs are allowed inside, be sure to pick up all toys, chews, and food bowls to prevent guarding or fights over possessions.
Bring the dogs inside and allow the new dog to explore his new home. Your “old” dog(s) may be excited to have their new friend over—if they get too excited or playtime gets too rowdy, separate the dogs and let them calm down. This is also a good time to take all dogs on a good long walk to tire them out. If the new dog is a young puppy, be sure to give the older dog regular breaks since they can lose patience with puppy energy, plus puppies don’t always pick up on corrective cues.
Your dog pack should always be supervised for the first few days or weeks until you are confident that they can be trusted when left alone. In the meantime, put them in separate rooms or separate crates when you need to leave the home. It’s best to also initially keep them separated during mealtimes or when giving valuable toys or treats.