Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Let's face it: We would all love it if all dogs would cherish each others' company and embrace having a new friend join the family—no squabbles or major disagreements. Instead, many dog lovers who can't seem to be content with owning only one dog struggle when bringing home a new dog and introducing him or her to their current dog/dogs.
Why is that? Perhaps it stems from us rushing through the process and the preconceived notion that dogs are social beings, and as such, they should all get along as best buddies. After all, isn't that why there are dog parks scattered almost everywhere? Aren't Aunt Mary's five beagles the perfect example of the successful cohabitation of dogs? How can a dog walker walk so many dogs together if dogs don't have an innate predisposition to get along?
Well, this brings us to the very first tip in successfully introducing a new dog to a current dog. This one tip is often missed and may be a primary cause for things not working out as desired.
Tip 1: Lower Your Expectations
Among dogs, things are not always as rosy as it happens in Disneyland. Just ask any dog trainer or behavior consultant, and they will have their own stories of brutal dog-to-dog interactions gone wrong. Sorry to burst your bubble, but dogs aren't always that eager to share their living quarters with a stranger dog.
As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I can attest that problematic relationships among dogs sharing the same household rank as one of the top three main reasons people seek assistance with their dogs. And the issues are not always easy to solve, especially if the problematic behaviors have been rehearsed for quite some time.
Some desperate cases even need a referral to experts in the field who have made dog behavior their primary area of specialty: veterinary behaviorists and certified applied animal behaviorists.
Many dog owners expect dogs to be social beings that look forward to having a new playmate to play tug on a rope and share their sleeping spots together for hours on end. It, therefore, comes as a shock when new dog-to-dog introductions go sour as the expectations at stake are high. Perhaps lowering them is, therefore, a very important step that plays a crucial role in successful introductions.
Look at the Situation From Your Dog's Perspective
After all, if we think about it, even us humans are far from being the perfect example of amicable interactions. For instance, let's take a look at divorce rates. With 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorcing, we are not a very good species at getting along. Things may be especially rocky in the beginning, and while some couples survive, others sink, never to resurface again.
So let's put ourselves in our dog's shoes. How would you feel if your landlord picked up a random stranger and brought him/her into your home to live with you and expected you to get along with him/her? You would likely see this as an invasion of privacy, and you would feel very uncomfortable: "Eek, what is this new person doing in my home? Is this move a long-term one for real? I don't want to share my living space with this person!"
Dogs, though, are much more direct than people. They do not secretly hide their thoughts or say "please" or "sorry"; they're rather more explicit as they do not adhere to social etiquette. Their barks, growls and snarls say it all clearly: "Get out of my house!"
So the very first step for successfully introducing a new dog to an existing dog is to realistically put ourselves in our dog's shoes before plunking down a new dog into our dog's existing household. Here are some additional tips to prevent upsetting the delicate state of balance our dogs have achieved in their lives up till today.
Tip 2: Introduce on Neutral Grounds
If it takes two or more dogs to make you happy, it is your responsibility to up the chances for a successful introduction. Tip number 2 is often overlooked due to all the excitement in bringing new Fido home and the preconceived notion that dogs love other dogs as much as you do.
"Neutral grounds," as the name implies, refers to areas where your existing dog has no strong emotional attachment. So, skip introducing the dogs inside the home, skip the yard, and even skip in front of the home or other nearby areas where your resident dog may have shown an inclination to bark at stranger dogs. Remember: A dog's territory often stretches far past the fence line.
Your home and surrounding areas are often perceived by your dog as a safe place that encloses all the many amenities that make his life so wonderful (feeding areas, sleeping areas, play areas). Many dogs have quite a large "mental map" of their perceived territory and may dislike other dogs in any nearby areas, and these may include nearby roads and back ways.
There are several neutral places dogs may meet and get acquainted without having to feel threatened about ownership. A dog park, a pet-friendly store or a distant road where both dogs can meet and greet and then walk home together may be good places for the introduction.
How to Conduct the Introduction
Both dogs should be individually on leash with one person, and the leash should be kept loose. Remember: Tension may travel through the leash, and a tight leash may interfere with a dog's proper body language display and calming signals.
Let the dogs sniff each other. This allows them to gain some information about each other. Impolite sniffing behaviors should be avoided. Frontal meetings can be perceived as confrontational. Sniffing each other's rear ends is preferable, and the greetings are best if kept short and sweet.
Should there be any growling or lunging, it is best to give more space and not correct the dogs. This is communication. Correcting the dogs for displaying such communication over time may lead to dogs suppressing their growling and going straight to a bite. You do not want that.
In an ideal setting, both dogs will be happy to meet, and they may even try to entice each other to play. If it's safe to do so, and the area allows it, it may be helpful to watch the two dogs interact off leash; however, caution is often needed as a fight may erupt any time two unknown dogs meet. A plan should be in place to safely separate fighting dogs (for example, having blankets handy to toss on the dogs or making an abrupt distracting sound).
How to Walk Home Together
Following a brief meet and greet, a nice long walk together home may be ideal. Parallel walking is particularly helpful. In parallel walks, both dogs are on leash side-by-side. To err on the side of caution, I prefer to have the dog owners in between both dogs so that both owners are next to each other. This provides a slight visual barrier that prevents direct eye contact between dogs.
By the time the dogs are closer to home, they have hopefully relaxed enough that one owner can move to the other side, and then finally, both dogs can walk closer together. Of course, avoid this if you notice any signs of tension, no matter how small.
Tip 3: Create Positive Associations
Dogs live in a world of associations and you can take advantage of associative learning to help your dogs like each other. Obviously, this works up to a certain point. Some dogs will never completely enjoy each other's company to the extent of being able to safely share the same home.
The goal is to make wonderful things happen to dog number one when dog number two is present. Throw a party and make a major fuss. Let your dog feel like he won the lottery every time dog number two makes his appearance and enters the room. If you celebrate every time that dog number two appears, you are celebrating togetherness rather than one dog dreading the other dog's presence.To make this extra clear, make sure that when dog number two leaves, all these great happenings abruptly stop. No more fun.
The process of creating positive associations may even take place prior to the new dog's arrival. You can bring home a few items that carry the new dog's scent, leaving them around and leaving treats right on them or nearby. Then, you can replace them with other items that carry a stronger and fresher scent.
Some dog owners go as far as purchasing stuffed animals that resemble the breed and size of the new dog and play recordings of the new dog's vocalizations starting at a low volume and then increase the volume gradually. Food and initiation of enjoyed activities take place during these low levels of exposure. Exposing the resident dog to these stimuli prepare the dog for the new dog's arrival, just like when introducing a new baby.
Tip 4: Prevent Hard Feelings
Many dog fights in multi-dog households take place in presence of the owner, why is that? A good reason may be the fact that dogs have a tendency to compete over the owner's attention. To prevent hard feelings, it's best that each dog is given separate but equal time, especially initially.
It is very tempting when getting a new dog to provide him/her with oodles of attention, yet, this will likely upset the resident dog. There's fortunately a way around this. The ideal method would entail giving the new dog attention, but never in front of the existing resident dog.
And please, when you do give attention, make it as discrete as possible: no loud smooching and cooing that can be easily overheard by the resident dog. Remember that dogs have very sensitive hearing.
Best to give attention in the farthest room of the house while the other dog is provided with extraordinary toys and treats, or even better, while Rover is in the yard exploring or playing fetch with another family member so to not upset anyone.
Playing some music or turning on the TV at a good volume may help filter all the cooing. Do the same for each dog ensuring quality one-on-one time for each.
A Dozen More Tips for Heightening Chances for Success
- Pick dogs of opposite sex. Aggression among female dogs is very common, and fights between competing males are common as well.
- Find a dog that matches your existing dog's energy levels.
- Ideally, pick a dog similar in size. A big gap in size may promote a phenomenon known as predatory drift.
- Consider that significant age gaps may lead to a younger dog continually pestering an older dog to play which may lead to squabbles. It's important that younger dogs are exercised enough so that they are not constantly trying to get older dogs to play.
- Spay and neuter both dogs.
- Exercise both dogs prior to the introduction.
- Maintain your existing dog's routine.
- Feed dogs food and valuable treats or bones in separate areas at first to prevent fights over food. After some time, it may be possible to feed them gradually closer under supervision. Use caution.
- Keep toys and other high value chewing items out of reach to prevent fights.
- Have a plan and ready access to tools to safely split up fights should they erupt.
- Invest in calming aids to lessen stress. Pheromones under the form of plugins or calming collars can help make the introduction go smoother.
- Avoid falling into the school of thought that both dogs should “work out” their relationship issues on their own. This theory has led to countless bloody fights.
When Things Don't Work Out
Unfortunately, things don't always work out. Some dogs may be best buddies, others may just tolerate each other and some may never get along. Generally, many dogs show signs of adjusting in two weeks, but in some cases, it may take longer. Enlisting the aid of a dog behavior professional may help.
Dogs should be carefully managed in the meantime by providing separate areas and never leaving them together. In some specific cases, re-homing the new dog may be the best thing to do to prevent stress in both dogs.
Introducing a new dog to an existing dog comes with risks. The utmost caution is needed. Dogs may get severely injured, and dog owners may become victims of a redirected bite while attempting to separate fighting dogs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 29, 2018:
Congrats on getting a new dog! She sounds like a great match for him. It's so nice when things go smoothly as such.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on November 11, 2018:
Update: We got a new friend for our boy. She's been amazing! We went with a dog that's the same age as our current dog which I think was a great choice. Plus, the male/female energy helps. We looked for one that was a good personality fit and let them meet on neutral territory.
Hope all is good with your pack! Have a great day!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 10, 2018:
Glad to hear this article on how to introduce a new dog was helpful to you. Best wishes.
Devika Primic on October 04, 2018:
Useful and informative. Dogs are just amazing.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2018:
Linda, so true that there are always a risk when introducing a new dog. Good to hear things always worked out fine in your family. You certainly must be doing everything right.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2018:
Heidi, our boy has been coping fairly well, thanks. We are not yet considering adding another dog for now. I wrote this mostly for a client who was struggling and using it as a hand-out for other clients in a similar position.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 14, 2018:
This is interesting and useful information. My family has been lucky because every time a second dog has been brought into the home there has never been aggression. I know there is a chance that problems will appear in this situation, though. Thanks for sharing the great advice.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 14, 2018:
Well, with the title of this post, are you considering adding another 4-legged "kid" to your house? We're still going back and forth about a replacement companion for our guy.
When we have paired up our pets in the past, we found, too, that pairs of the opposite sex were great yin and yang energies. As well, we also did a lot of the things you suggest and have rarely had issues with competitiveness and fighting, except when one gets a little to much in the other one's space or face. But it never ending up in anything bloody or even long-lived. Just a little spat between friends.
Hope you and your pack are recovering from your recent loss. Thanks for sharing your expertise, as always. Have a great weekend!
Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on September 14, 2018:
Very useful advice. It is easy to convince yourself your dog needs and wants a little friend when it may love being yours alone. I have been considering another dog for a while but ours may be better on his own