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If you’re considering adopting a new dog (or just want to go for a walk with a friend and their dog), it’s important to think about how to facilitate a successful first meeting with your dog. A positive introduction can increase the chances that a new relationship will thrive, but pulling that off isn’t as straightforward as you might think. And without proper introductions, you risk the safety and well-being of both dogs and yourself.
So, before you toss those pups together, take a minute to evaluate the situation and make sure everyone will come out unscathed. We’ll share some general guidelines below but don’t feel you have to do it alone. Line up professional help if you have reason to suspect that there will be trouble or that one or more of the dogs isn’t good with other dogs.
Here are some suggestions to get your new dog’s introduction to your dog off to the best start.
Before introducing new dogs
Before introducing your dogs to each other, consider the following checklist:
- There’s no standard protocol for dog-dog introductions that works best for every dog in every situation, and no introduction is risk-free.
- Before adopting a dog, check with the shelter or rescue group to learn about a new pup’s potential behavior around other dogs.
- If you do not know if the new dog has been friendly with other dogs before, or if any of them have shown aggression toward another dog (lunging, snapping), or if you are nervous at all, please do the introduction with a professional trainer or behaviorist to guide you.
- Make sure your current dog is up to date with vaccinations, including Bordetella (kennel cough).
- Apply flea/parasite prevention to all dogs as directed by your vet.
Seven steps to slowly introduce dogs
This method is slow and safe; the goal is to keep moving and reduce the novelty of the new dog. “This is a great way to help an introduction go smoothly,” says animal behaviorist and dog trainer Karen B. London PhD. “It not only prevents you from crowding the dogs, but also keeps their interactions with each other from developing intensity. If humans walk purposefully, dogs will often follow, allowing them to avoid greeting or interacting more closely than they’re comfortable with.”
1. Start with both dogs on a leash, each handled by a different person, in unfamiliar territory, such as a street or park you don’t usually visit, to help avoid any territorial issues.
2. Walk around the neighborhood, keeping a 40-foot distance between the dogs until they are both walking and not paying attention to each other. This can take anywhere from one minute to a half hour (or longer), depending on the dogs. If you can’t walk them long enough to get to that neutral-ignoring-each-other state while 40 feet apart, try lengthening the distance. You may need to do several of these sessions and focus on training while walking (reward your dog for looking at you with treats/praise).
3. Once you’re walking at a distance in the neutral state, you can begin to slowly close the distance. If one dog pulls on the leash toward the other dog, lengthen the distance a bit until you can slowly close the gap to about six feet.
4. Alternate who is the lead dog by having one dog cross the street, then slow down the other dog to fall behind, then cross the street to walk behind the other dog at the same distance.
5. Next, you want them to walk “parallel” but with their handlers in between. Keep the dogs walking next to your side. Don’t pull steadily or choke up on the dog. Try to keep some slack in the leash, but keep control.
If things go well:
6. You can have one handler switch sides with their dog so the dogs are closer. If that goes well, both handlers can switch.
7. Next, you can allow some brief butt-sniffing but try to avoid any head-to-head meeting.
Things to consider when introducing dogs:
Model calm behavior
Dogs respond to their handler’s emotions. “Our dogs respond to our emotions and behavior, so if you’re holding your breath because you’re tense or sending out nervous energy, the dogs will pick up on that,” says London. If you’re feeling nervous, don’t be afraid to ask the shelter or rescue or a friend to for help.
Avoid group meetings
If you have more than one dog, introduce them to your new dog one at a time. “Group introductions can be a bit challenging even for a well-adjusted dog. For a dog who struggles in social situations, meeting multiple dogs simultaneously can be so overwhelming that it could damage the new relationships,” says London.
One method to help dogs adjust to each other before their first meeting is to have them smell each other’s urine. This can be done by guiding them to an area where the other dog has urinated. “Novelty is often exciting to dogs, and the resulting high levels of arousal can work against a smooth meeting. By getting them used to the sight or smell of each other ahead of time … much of the novelty will have worn off,” says London.
Keep first meetings short
Have the first meet-up be just a few minutes long. If either dog wants to stay away from the other dog, do not “force” them to say hello. They may not be the best of friends immediately, for a long time, or ever. Ignoring each other is just fine too. Some dogs enjoy the company of other dogs but in a calm, non-interactive way.
“If one or both dogs find meeting new dogs stressful, upsetting, or tiring, a short meeting helps them avoid becoming overwhelmed, and that prevents trouble,” says London.
Watch body language
Pay attention to your dog’s communication signals. They will show you when they are relaxed and happy. After the first introduction, you can slowly increase the amount of time they spend together. If either dog shows signs of intolerance (growling, lip curl) or aggression (snarl, lunge, or snap), try a slower introduction — lengthen the distance between them, and continue with walking sessions a few times a day. If the aggression continues, consult a behaviorist or trainer.
Don’t crowd dogs
“In general, dogs feel more relaxed and are more likely to exhibit desirable behavior when they don’t feel confined, so do your best to keep both dogs in open space and away from narrow passageways,” says London.
Avoid gates, fences, doorways, and other tight spaces — and don’t hover too closely, either. Being crowded by people may make dogs feel more tense.
Tips for successful home introductions
When you’re ready to bring your dogs into the same home, start in the largest area possible so your dogs have room to move around. If you can start outdoors in a backyard, that’s ideal, but a big space, like your living room, works too. Then, follow these steps:
- Put all toys, beds, and treats in a closet (totally closed away).
- Do a long parallel walking session following the steps above so both dogs are tired. Have the walking session end by walking into your yard.
- The resident dog should lead the way home. Have the new dog follow your resident dog into your yard.
- Walk around the yard with both dogs on leashes, just like on your walk.
- Continue to add these sessions to the end of your walks. You might start with five to 10 minutes, then gradually increase the length of the sessions.
- Eventually, both dogs can be together while dragging their leashes, although still supervised, for longer and longer periods.
For the first few months, we highly recommend keeping your new dog and resident dog totally and safely separated — whether that’s crated separately or kept in separate rooms with closed doors — when you are not actively supervising them. Keep possible triggers like food, treats, chews, and high-value toys out of the mix when the dogs are together for that entire time — they can have those when they are separated.
Keeping the peace
If there are any minor squabbles, you may need to take the introduction more slowly. Do not let dogs “work it out.” You should be the rule enforcer; just as a good teacher wouldn’t let their students fight it out, you shouldn’t let your dogs fight it out, either. Dogs should be able to communicate and work out any differences (such as “That’s my tennis ball”) without resorting to aggressive behavior.
Proper meetings, however, go a long way toward preventing social problems, from minor angst to serious fights. Whether you are introducing a new dog to your household or meeting a new playmate, following this advice increases the likelihood of the dogs becoming friends. Most dogs adjust to other dogs over time and can even become the best of friends. But since the consequences of a problem can be severe, it is wise to follow a slow introduction process as outlined above to ensure all goes well when adding a new dog to your home.
FAQs (People Also Ask):
How long does it take for dogs to get used to each other?
The time it takes for dogs to get used to each other depends on their individual personalities. Some dogs get along instantly, while others take days, weeks, or months.
How do you introduce two dogs when one is aggressive?
When introducing a dog to an aggressive one, consult a professional animal behaviorist or trainer so they can provide individualized guidance.
How do you know if two dogs are compatible?
To determine compatibility, keep an eye on both dogs’ body language. Watch for signs of tension, such as stiff body language or growls, and trust your intuition.