Getting a new dog is always exciting and can be a little challenging. There is always a ‘get to know you’ phase that can be hard work. But what if you already have a dog? Does that make things a lot more complicated? It doesn’t have to! Once you find out how to introduce dogs the right way, the process is likely to go a lot more smoothly!
Dogs are sociable animals and getting another dog is a lovely thing to do if you have the time, space and financial resources. Both dogs can benefit from living as a pair. However, it is important to get the introduction correct so that both dogs are able to adjust. It can take some time.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to introducing dogs the right way. You need to start by meeting at a distance in a neutral venue and gradually work towards interacting off-leash in your own home.
How to Introduce Dogs in 5 Steps
By following these 5 steps you give your dogs the best chance of learning how to get along and yourself the best chance of a quiet life!
Step #1 Find the Right Dog
You need to first decide if getting another dog is feasible. If you have a reactive dog with behavioral issues because they have not been socialized correctly, this may not be a good move. It could end up being very stressful for both dogs and for you so have a chat with your vet or dog trainer first.
If you have decided that an additional dog is a good idea, choose one with care. Choose a breed that will fit in with your family and lifestyle. Is a puppy the best option for you? They tend to be too bouncy and ‘in-your-face’ for senior dogs to put up with and are too small to keep up with an energetic adult dog.
Perhaps, rehoming an adult dog would be a better idea? However, get the rescue center to provide you with full details of any behavioral issues that the new dog has. They may also give you advice on how to introduce the two dogs to each other.
Step #2 Find the Right Place
Dogs can be very territorial and possessive so your aim here is to make sure there is nothing that could cause a dispute. Choose a neutral territory for the first meeting—this should not be your home. This is because your original dog will regard this as their territory and will not welcome another dog trespassing. Also avoid the parks and walking routes that you frequent with your dog. These will have your dog’s scent on them and will also be regarded by them as their territory.
Choose somewhere that is fully fenced and secure and that has no toys or food bowls that could trigger confrontations. It is best that there are no other dogs or animals present. If you have a friend that has a secure garden and no dogs, that would be ideal. But a garage or basement will do if necessary. Get another adult to help you.
Start with both dogs on leash; You will have one dog and your helper will have the other. Walk the dogs around so that they are at a distance from each other but can clearly see each other. Re-trace the steps of each dog so that they can sniff the scent that the other dog has left. Watch their body language to see how comfortable they are feeling. If either dog is aggressive or scared, stop the meeting.
Step #3 First Meetings
Look out for positive canine body language. Look for things like relaxed postures with no staring, tucked tails or trying to get away. If this is happening, you can start to move the dogs, still on a leash, closer together.
Move in a relaxed way, keeping the dogs on loose leashes. Try to stay relaxed. If you are tense, your dog will sense this and start to feel anxious.
Let the dogs say hello – this is likely to involve some sniffing of butts. Keep monitoring their body language and move further away if needed. Praise both dogs if they behave well and offer some tasty treats.
Now you can move on to the stage where you take them on some walks together in different environments. Keep them on loose leashes for now. Carry on observing their body language for signs that they are becoming relaxed in each other’s company. Use a technique called parallel walking where you walk the dogs in the same direction but with a buffer distance between them so that they are aware of each other but not close enough to fixate on each other. Turn around are retrace your steps so each dog can sniff the scent left by the other dog.
Sniffing places where the other dog has pooped and peed is an important part of this. If all is going well, you can start reducing the distance between the dogs but never force them to meet face-to-face. This is not a natural position for dogs.
Step #4 Off Leash Walks and Play
This is the stage where your dogs can really start to relax and get to know each other. Again, you need a secure area where there are no toys or treats that could trigger a stand-off. Drop the leashes of both dogs and allow them to investigate each other with a lot of sniffs!
Talk in a calm but encouraging voice so they know that they are getting praise for being nice to each other!
Start walking around, so that the dogs follow you together and get used to the idea that they are now part of the same ‘pack’.
It is at this stage that, ideally, you will see the dogs starting to play, but it may take a bit longer than this. They may continue to be wary of each other for a while. Dogs show that they are ready to play using their body language – they may ‘bow’ by putting their elbows on the floor but leave their butt sticking up.
If your dogs do start playing, they will need close supervision because this is where things can start to go wrong! Games can get a bit too rough and become aggressive. You want to see a respectful interaction with regular pauses. If it is getting too rough, call the dogs back to you and put them back on leashes for some time out. Then try again.
#5 At Your Home
Once you have been through the above steps a few times and all is going well, you can bring the new dog into your home. Don’t forget that even though your name is on the deeds or rental agreement, your dog will perceive it as their territory! They, therefore, have opinions on who can enter and who should stay outside.
Hopefully, after completing steps 1 to 4, your dog will view the new dog as a friend rather than an intruder. Nevertheless, both dogs need to be back on leashes for the first meeting. This is just in case they become aggressive in this environment.
Lead the new dog into the same room as your original dog but don’t get too close. Keep the leashes loose so you don’t build up tension. Look for signs of aggression.
If all is well, let the dogs interact and over a period of an hour or so, you should be able to let both dogs off the leash. If you notice any issues, just go back and repeat some of the above steps. You will get there in the end!
Maintaining Good Relations Between Dogs
Even if you complete all of the above steps and things seem to be going well, you may notice that something triggers a dispute and relationships deteriorate! This is perfectly normal.
It will help if you keep your household calm and don’t invite loads of people over to see the new pup/dog. Keep to your original dog’s regular routine in terms of walks, mealtimes, and usual activities. Make time for cuddles and a walk alone with your original dog so that they do not feel that they have lost your attention.
Be on the lookout for rising tension and simmering resentment – dogs will show this by growling at each other, staring hard at each other and body blocking. If this happens, do not just let them get on with it. Put them in separate rooms for half an hour or so, then try to re-introduce them.
Potential Problems When Introducing Dogs to Each Other
Even the sweetest natured dogs will find something to fall out about. These are the most likely scenarios when dogs will fall out:
Mealtimes and Treats
Food is very important to most dogs! Some can be very particular about what happens at mealtimes. Some breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, are prone to ‘resource guarding,’ meaning that they can get very aggressive when they feel that another dog (or even a human) is going to take something off them. Fights can break out if one dog tries to eat from the other’s bowl or even just hovers over them whilst they are finishing their meal.
You can avoid a lot of hassle by placing the dog bowls in different rooms or separating them using a dog barrier. Even dogs that have been very laid back about mealtimes can get very upset once another dog is involved! Wait until the meal is over, then pick up the bowls before allowing the dogs to mix again.
Sleeping and Downtime
Dogs need somewhere that they can go to rest and be on their own to decompress. For some dogs this is a bed in the corner of a quiet room. For others it is a crate with a cover on it. Either is fine but it is important that each dog has their own space.
Of course, many dogs will choose to share a bed and after you have gone to the expense of buying another bed you will find them curled up together every night. You can always sell it in a few months if you need to!
There should be no toys at all in your home as you start the introductions. Once the two dogs have settled, you can start to re-introduce toys. Do it slowly, one toy at a time. It may be best to leave your original dog’s favorite toy until last.
Keep a close eye on your dogs when a new toy is introduced as it could trigger guarding behavior. Look out for tense postures, growling and snapping. If this happens, distract the dog that is doing the guarding with a treat and then get another adult to remove the toy and hide it away. Don’t grab at the toy yourself as this puts you at risk of getting bitten.
Being Alone in the House
For the first few weeks, the dogs should never be left together unsupervised. If you cannot watch them because you are in another room then you must separate them. This also gives them time to relax and process what is going on without another dog being in their face.
When you do start to leave them alone, do this gradually. Start with just a few minutes and build up to longer periods. Having two dogs may help with separation anxiety but they can also get up to a lot of mischief!
Dogs can be a bit like toddlers when it comes to getting over-tired. Instead of realizing that they are tired and taking a nap, they can just get more and more wound up. Dogs that are constantly playing and interacting are more likely to get over-tired.
This is when inappropriate behavior can emerge and fights can break out. Build breaks into the day when you physically separate the dogs into different rooms or different crates. They will get on much better when they are rested.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How long does it take for dogs to get used to each other?
There is no set time. Some dogs hit it off right away but for other pairings it can take months. If you try to rush the process it will take even more time. It is important that you are patient and let the dogs adjust to each other at their own pace. Use lots of positive reinforcement so your dogs know the behavior you expect.
How do you introduce an aggressive dog?
It may not be a good idea to introduce another dog if your own dog is reactive. Seek advice from a vet or dog behavior expert first. If you are thinking of taking on a reactive dog, these are often from a rescue center. Often, the center will advise that these dogs should only go to homes where there are no other dogs.
How do you introduce a dog to a cat?
Some cats and dogs can get on but it can be a long process to get them to accept each other. You need to follow similar steps to those listed here but the sessions will be in the home and shorter.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- PetMD, Available here: https://www.petmd.com/dog/training/evr_introducing_a_new_dog_to_a_resident_dog
- Animal Humane Society, Available here: https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/how-successfully-introduce-two-dogs