Dos and don’ts for introducing a new housemate

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

how to introduce a new dog to other dogs

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  • The first aspect of successfully introducing a new dog to your family is choosing a dog who will mesh well with your social unit; personality, size and age should all be considered
  • Plan to introduce the dogs on neutral territory, such as a fenced-in yard of a friend or a large indoor training facility
  • Outdoors is typically best, as introductions indoors can make the pups feel trapped and heighten territorial feelings
  • Choose a time when the dogs are well-exercised and be sure all introductions are one-on-one
  • Both dogs should be on a leash when the first introduction occurs; observe the dogs’ body language, and as long as both appear friendly, continue to get closer and then you can drop the leashes to let them greet each other
  • If you notice signs of tension between the dogs, try increasing the distance and doing a walking introduction to diffuse tension

When you’re adding a new dog to your family, first introductions are key to a smooth transition for all the animals involved. How you approach this introduction can make the experience a positive or negative one.

Dogs are social creatures, and as such often enjoy the company of other dogs. But they also have hierarchy within their social units, and adding a new dog will disturb this pecking order. Before you bring your new dog home, here’s what to know to ensure the first introduction sets the stage for a long-lasting, happy relationship for humans and dogs alike.

What new dog should you adopt?

The first aspect of successfully introducing a new dog to your pack is choosing a dog who will mesh well with the pack. Personality is important, but so is size.

“The greater the size difference, the greater the possibility that the smaller dog might get hurt, either during too-rough play, a dog-on-dog altercation, or even in a tragic moment of predatory drift (in which the larger dog suddenly perceives the smaller running dog as a prey animal such as a rabbit or a cat and chases or grabs it),” Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal’s training editor, explained.1

Some dog trainers recommend dogs in the same household be no more than 25 pounds apart in size to avoid the risk of predatory drift.2 I believe personality has much more to do with dogs getting along than anything else. Age is another question. Some older dogs thrive around the energy of a younger pup, while others are easily irritated or tired out.

This is why personality is so important, as choosing a dog who complements your current dog’s quirks and traits will help you avoid clashes. Be wary if you’re considering two adult female dogs, however, as they may have difficulty establishing a pack order, and may fight more aggressively than two males or a male and a female might. Again, this boils down to personality. Many shelters have a “trial period,” where you can take a perspective adoptee home for a few days and see how the relationship unfolds.

Choose the right location and time

Your dog has established your home as her territory and introducing another dog into her zone can cause some tension right off the bat. Ideally, plan to introduce the dogs on neutral territory, such as a fenced-in yard of a friend or neighbor or a large indoor training facility (set up a time for introduction purposes, in which only the new dogs will be present).

If this isn’t possible, your own backyard will do. Outdoors is typically best, as introductions indoors can make the pups feel trapped and heighten territorial feelings. As for timing, choose a time when the dogs are well-exercised and lower on energy.

Avoid new introductions if either dog has pent up energy and hasn’t had a chance to get in a good run or play session. Also, be sure all introductions are one-on-one. Do not unleash your three dogs onto the new dog all at once, as this is likely to make the dog fearful or defensive.

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New introductions should begin on a leash

Both dogs should be on a leash when the first introduction occurs. Bring the new dog into the yard calmly and allow the dogs to see each other first, then approach slowly in a curved line, rather than directly, giving them time to sniff along the way as they please.3 Observe the dogs’ body language, and as long as both appear friendly, continue to get closer and then, assuming you’re in a safe enclosed space, drop the leashes to let them greet each other. Miller explains:4

“Dropping the leashes allows the dogs to meet and interact naturally, increasing the likelihood of a positive interaction. Leashes held by humans interfere with normal canine social signals, and may cause one or both dogs to send tension signals they don’t intend.

Leaving the leashes attached for the first few moments (but not held by a human) allows you to separate the dogs more easily and safely if things don’t go as well as you had hoped.”

Continue to monitor the dogs’ interactions closely, even if they appear friendly. If, on the other hand, you notice signs of tension between the dogs, try increasing the distance and doing a walking introduction. You can try walking with the dogs parallel (with another person holding the other dog’s leash) or walk between both dogs on a sidewalk. A moving introduction can sometimes help to diffuse tension.

Avoid bringing food or toys to the initial meeting, which could make the dogs feel possessive, and if you know one or both dogs are easily stressed, keep the meeting brief. Remember, too, that your mood can influence the meeting. It’s important that you stay calm and avoid getting stressed, which will only make the dogs more likely to become tense.

What to do if the dogs don’t get along

In most cases, dogs will figure out their family social status and live together peacefully. However, there are cases where two or more dogs are simply incompatible. If you notice signs of aggression, avoidance or escalating tension at the first meeting, you’ll need to move slowly in the introduction, just letting the dogs see each other from across the yard at first.

In this case, enlist the help of a behavior professional who can assess the situation and help to make the relationship work out. “If tensions between the dogs escalate or maintain at the same level of intensity despite your on-leash work over several sessions, the wise choice may be to look for a different dog to adopt into your home,” Miller said.5

Typically, even if the meeting is tense at first, the dogs can learn to coexist peacefully with ongoing work. However, many dogs enjoy each other’s presence right from the start and accept the new canine right into their family.