Introducing Your New Dog to Your Resident Dog
Adding another dog to your household can bring you and your current dog more fun and companionship. However, it’s important to realize that your current dog might feel similar to how you might feel if your parents picked your friends and then told you to share your toys with them. In the long run, things will probably work out fabulously, but in the beginning it’s a very smart idea to take a few extra steps to make everyone feel good about the new arrangement. This handout provides some guidelines for smooth and safe introductions and ensuring that your dogs’ relationship gets off to a great start.
Maximizing the potential for a great relationship between your new dog and your current dog is a two-step process. It involves the actual introduction process and then management of the new dog in your home. If you have more than one resident dog in your household, it may be best to introduce the resident dogs to the new dog one at a time. Two or more resident dogs may have a tendency to "gang up" on the newcomer.
Choose a Neutral Location: Introduce the dogs in a neutral location so that your resident dog is less likely to view the newcomer as a territorial intruder. Each dog should be handled by a separate person. With both dogs on a leash, take them to an area with which neither is familiar, such as a park or a neighbor’s yard. If you frequently walk your resident dog in a park near your house, she may view that park as her territory, so choose another site that’s unfamiliar to her. We recommend bringing your resident dog with you to the shelter and introducing the dogs before adopting the new dog.
Use Positive Reinforcement: From the first meeting, you want both dogs to expect "good things" to happen when they’re in each other's presence. Let them sniff each other, which is normal canine greeting behavior. While they are sniffing it is important to keep the leash loose so there is slack. Tension in the leash could cause unwanted tension in the greeting. As they sniff, talk to them in a happy, friendly tone of voice- never use a threatening tone of voice. Keep the initial greeting short, only a few seconds and then separate, standing 10-20 feet apart. Don’t allow them to investigate and sniff each other for a prolonged time, as this may escalate to an aggressive response. Once separated you can give treats for calm behavior or in return for following a cue such as "sit" or “shake.” If your dog is unable to offer a basic cue or is not taking his normally favorite treats, those are signs that your dog’s stress level has risen. Give yourself some additional space before attempting another greeting. If bodies are loose and no signs of aggression are seen, take the dogs for a walk and let them sniff and investigate each other at intervals. Continue with the "happy talk," food rewards and simple cues.
Be Aware of Body Postures: One body posture that indicates things are going well is a “playbow.” One dog will crouch with her front legs on the ground and her hind end in the air. This is an invitation to play that usually elicits friendly behavior from the other dog. Watch carefully for body postures that indicate an aggressive response, including a tall and stiff legged gait, a prolonged stare, teeth-baring or deep growls. If you see such postures, interrupt the interaction immediately by calmly and positively getting each dog interested in something else. For example, both handlers can call their dogs to them, have them sit or lie down and reward each with a treat. The dogs will become interested in the treats which will prevent the situation from escalating into aggression. Try letting the dogs interact again, but this time for a shorter time period and/or at a greater distance from each other.
Taking the Dogs Home: When the dogs seem to be tolerating each other's presence without fearful or aggressive responses and the investigative greeting behaviors have tapered off, you can take them home. Whether you choose to take them in the same, or different vehicles, will depend on their size, how well they ride in the car, how trouble-free the initial introduction has been and how many dogs are involved. However, the dogs will need to be kept separated by a physical barrier such as a crate.
Introducing Puppies to Adult Dogs: Puppies usually pester adult dogs unmercifully. Before the age of four months, puppies may not recognize subtle body postures from adult dogs signaling that they’ve had enough. Well socialized adult dogs with good temperaments may set limits with puppies with a growl or snarl. These behaviors are normal and should be allowed. Adult dogs that aren’t well socialized, or that have a history of fighting with other dogs, may attempt to set limits with more aggressive behaviors, such as biting, which could harm the puppy. For this reason, a puppy shouldn’t be left alone with an adult dog until you’re confident the puppy isn’t in any danger. Be sure to give the adult dog some quiet time away from the puppy, and some individual attention.
The First Couple of Weeks at Home
- It’s crucial to avoid squabbles during the early stages of your dogs’ new relationship. Pick up all toys, chews, food bowls and your current dog’s favorite items. When dogs are first forming a relationship, these things can cause rivalry. These items can be reintroduced after a couple of weeks, once the dogs have started to develop a good relationship.
- Give each dog his own water and food bowls, bed and toys. For the first few weeks, only give the dogs toys or chews when they’re separated in their crates or confinement areas.
- Feed the dogs in completely separate areas. Pick up bowls when feeding time is over. (Some dogs will compete over bowls that recently contained food.)
- Keep the dogs’ playtime and interactions brief to avoid overstimulation and over arousal, which can lead to fighting.
- Confine the dogs in separate areas of your home whenever you’re away or can’t supervise their interactions.
- Give your new dog his own confinement area. When the dogs are separated, it might be a good idea to let them get to know each other through a barrier, like a baby gate. Your new dog should be gated in his confinement area, and your current dog should be free to move around and visit when he wants to.
- When the dogs are interacting, interrupt any growling or bullying behavior with a phrase like “Too bad,” and then quickly separate them for several minutes. Then allow them to be together again. Be sure to sincerely praise your dogs when they are interacting nicely.
- Spend time individually with each dog. Give each of them training time with you and playtime with other dogs outside your home.
- If your dogs are very different in age or energy level, be sure to give the older or less energetic one his own private space where he can enjoy rest and down time. In addition you will want to give the younger or more energetic dog increased physical and mental exercise.