Introducing a new dog to your family is sure to be a mix of nerves and excitement.
Adding a second dog is a big decision, and in order to make the transition smooth for all parties, pet parents should plan each step of the process—from the dogs’ first meeting to their daily lives together.
Forethought and a calm approach will encourage a harmonious canine household.
The first step to a lifelong doggy friendship is a smooth introduction. Here are the steps to follow for new dog introductions.
Find a Neutral Space to Introduce a New Dog
If possible, find a neutral, outdoor, fully fenced space—an area that neither dog has “claimed” through frequent visits.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, so the next best option is an outdoor space with enough room for the dogs to roam on-leash as they get to know one another. If outdoor space isn’t available, opt for a large garage or basement.
Since the dog introduction process begins with both dogs on-leash, you’ll need a partner that understands canine body language to help out.
Do Parallel Dog Walking
After introducing a new dog, the next step is parallel walking with both dogs. They should be far enough apart that they’re aware of each other but not so close that they fixate on trying to reach one another.
Walk both dogs in the same direction with a comfortable buffer of distance between them (this will vary by dog). Then, trade places with the other dog-human team so that each dog has a chance to scent where the other dog walked.
Allow the dogs to investigate any potty spots, since urine-sniffing is one of the ways dogs pick up information about other dogs. Both handlers should remain calm and keep their grip on the dog leash as loose as possible.
Watch for Positive Dog Body Language
Watch the dogs for happy, waggy body language and interest in one another without hard stares, tense posture or freezing in place. If you’re not comfortable with how the dogs are interacting during this first step, or you’re unsure of what the behaviors they’re offering mean, consider enlisting the help of a trainer during the introduction process.
If both dogs are offering relaxed, social behaviors towards one another, gradually decrease the distance between them while continuing the parallel walking. Avoid allowing a direct face-to-face approach as the dogs get closer, since head-on is a stressful and unnatural way for dogs to meet.
Allow the Dogs to Interact
If both you and your co-handler feel comfortable with how the dogs are interacting, drop the leashes and allow them to interact. Give the dogs a few minutes to sniff one another while praising their calm interactions, and then encourage the dogs to continue moving with you for a final, brief walk together.
At this point, the dogs might continue sniffing to learn more about each other, or they might begin playing. Look for the universal invitation to connect; a play bow, in which dogs put their elbows on the ground and rear end in the air.
As the dogs play, watch for mutual give-and-take and pauses in the action, which signal respectful interactions. End the meeting with a brief stroll together.
Introducing a New Dog to Your Home
After you introduce your new dog to your resident pet, you can introduce your new dog to your home.
Instead of bringing both dogs inside right away, you should have a helper take your resident dog for a stroll so that your new dog has a chance to check out his new living space alone.
Keep an eye on your new dog as he investigates, and when he’s checked everything out, bring him to an open part of your home, away from the front door. Then, you can have your helper bring your resident dog in.
As with the meeting space, make sure your home space is free of dog toys, treats or food that could create tension between the dogs.
Things to Be Careful of During the Dog Introduction Process
Even canine BFFs can struggle with certain aspects of the settling in process, so watch out for hidden challenges:
Doorways, hallways and stairs: Cramped spaces can lead to jockeying for position and accidental scuffles, so avoid traffic jams in confined parts of your home.
Dog toys and chews: Put away your resident dog’s prized possessions during the dog introduction process, but also consider objects that don’t seem to interest your dog. An old bone might suddenly become valuable again if your new dog takes an interest in it.
Mealtime: Always separate your new dog and resident dog during mealtimes. You can either place their bowls in different rooms or use a dog gate to separate them. If one dog finishes first, don’t allow him to hover as the other dog eats. To prevent tension, you should keep them apart until both dogs have licked their bowls clean. Always pick up the dog bowls after feeding time.
Dog beds: Some dogs are possessive of their resting spaces, so watch to make sure both dogs are acting appropriately around beds. Even if the bed is big enough for both dogs to share, it’s a good idea to have a different bed for your new dog.
Daily Life: After You Introduce a New Dog
Try to keep your household calm as the dogs acclimate to one another—meaning don’t throw a “welcome to the family party” on the first day home.
Maintain your resident dog’s typical daily schedule, and try to set aside one-on-one time with each dog, like going for solo walks.
Always be aware of signs of brewing tension between your dogs, like low growling, hard stares and body blocking. If you notice any of these signs, you should intervene immediately by directing your dogs’ attention to something else.
Introduce toys back into the environment slowly rather than bringing out the entire toy chest right away, and always supervise your dogs when trying out a new toy. Look for playful interactions without signs of guarding, like standing over the toy or snapping at the other dog if he gets too close to it.
Whether you’re leaving the house for the day or just taking a shower, always separate your dogs when you can’t watch them. This obviously keeps them safe when you’re not around to supervise, but it also provides them with downtime apart from one another.
Alone time is an important aspect of the getting-to-know-you process. Many dogs don’t understand when to say “when,” particularly if they’re having a good time together. But that nonstop play can tip over into inappropriate behavior when dogs get overtired. Giving your dogs a break from one another allows them to relax and regroup.
It can take months before your new dog and resident dog mellow into true comfort with one another, so have patience with them as they get used to siblinghood.
In the long-term, it is always wise to supervise them together and separate them when no one is home. This will keep everyone safe and interactions more positive. Always acknowledge positive interactions between your dogs and enjoy watching the lifelong friendship bloom.
Featured Image: iStock.com/YuriyS