How to Introduce Dogs

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Bringing a new dog home is an exciting time, but it gets a bit more complicated if you have other pets already living in your home. Many pet owners don’t realize the importance of learning how to introduce dogs to your other pets.

Introducing the new dog to your resident dogs in the proper way gives each dog time to adjust at their own pace. It helps the dogs accept each other and enjoy each other much faster than if you rush the introductions.

Rushing introductions, or doing them incorrectly, could create tensions that make your life miserable the first few months, or make the dogs unable to adjust and get along with each other – permanently.

Read the steps below to learn how to introduce dogs to your current dogs (or cats) in a way that maximizes success for each member of your pack!

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

When researching for this article I was surprised at some of the contradictions I found reading different behaviorist and trainer approaches to successful introductions. For example, some advocate for having dogs meet with no leashes (citing leash aggression), while others make the very valid point that if you don’t have leashes you can’t separate them if a fight ensues.

I actually found it a lot like reading parenting books: each person has a tidbit or two that is good, but the best information was when you put all the good tidbits together.

As with many dog instructional subjects, always remember not to blindly follow anything you read. If you’re unsure, check with your trainer or read more about it.

Before Introducing Dogs to Each Other

Learn Basic Dog Body Language

Spend some time learning basic dog body language. This enables you to observe the dogs throughout the meeting process and discern if they are relaxed or if they are showing signs of tension.

“Look, his tail is wagging, he must be happy!”

A common mistake people make is to assume a wagging tail means their dog is happy. The truth is, wagging tails can also mean a dog is uncomfortable so it’s best to look at other signals instead to help determine how your dog is feeling.

Take a little time and brush up on dog body language. You will be amazed at the important details you notice when you observe your dog and know what to look for.

I would highly recommend this Canine Body Language article by Victoria Stillwell of Positively.com. It contains an excellent rundown of your dog’s body language and what it means, and is much more in depth then what I will summarize in this article.

Here is a brief list of dog body language you might see when introducing two dogs to each other, and what it means:

Signs your dog is stressed:

  • Tail up
  • Still body
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning

Signs of appeasement: (i.e signs a dog sends to the other dog to keep the peace and show they are not challenging them)

  • Averting eyes
  • Lip licking
  • Turning head away, lowering head
  • Going belly up
  • Body freezing or shaking

Signs dog is stressed and defensive – these are signs your dog is NOT ready to meet another dog yet:

  • Leaning forward
  • Tense body
  • Hard stare
  • Mouth closed
  • Low growl
  • Lip curling

Signs your dog is relaxed:

  • Open mouth
  • Relaxed body
  • Relaxed tail
  • Play bow
  • Relaxed eyes (squinting look)

This Body Language Poster created by Dr. Sophia Yin is a great visual chart that shows the body language your dog uses to communicate.

Body Language of Fear in Dogs poster by Dr Sophia Yin
Click to download free poster from Sophia Yin‘s website

Dr. Yin discusses the importance of new owners being able to recognize subtle signs of fear in her article Adopting a Dog: Some Dogs are Easier Than Others.

Introduce Scents Ahead of Time

If possible, put an old towel in your current dog’s bed and in the potential dog’s bed for a day or two to get the dogs’ scent on them. Then, switch the scented articles so each dog has some time to get used to the other dog’s scent. This will help the actual meeting feel a little less intimidating to each dog.

How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other

The best way to introduce a new dog to your dog is to take a parallel walk on neutral territory. Spend 30-60 minutes on this, longer is better! If you create a positive first interaction between the new dog and your current dogs it will pay off tenfold in the long run.

Neutral Location

Try to pick a location that is not at or near your house, nor on your current dog’s walking route. If you can take territoriality out of the picture you increase your odds of a successful meeting.

On Leash Vs. Off Leash

You will most likely find both opinions out there when reading about on leash or off leash introductions. The more information I gathered, however, the more I realized that with a few exceptions, on leash is the safest way to do a dog introduction.

If you have a large, fenced in acreage (not yard), and two well-versed dog people who know their dogs well, off leash can work really well. Most of the time, however, that isn’t the case.

Those advocating for off leash introductions point out that being on a leash makes some dogs act more aggressively when they see other dogs (this is called “leash aggression”).

On leash advocates point out that no one can know ahead of time if an introduction will go well, and leashes are needed to separate dogs if one or both of them acts out against the other.

Most of the time you bring a new dog home, you don’t have a lot of information about their history. And, if you purchased the dog from someone, you can’t be sure they mentioned all the dog’s negative issues. Because of this, you have to introduce them in a way that lets you keep both dogs safe if a scuffle occurs.

Many times, any on-leash tension can be remedied by making sure leashes are loose (do not have tension on the leash as it can trigger aggression) and handlers are relaxed.

The Parallel Walk

With both dogs on leash (loose leash, relaxed handlers!) start your walk parallel to each other. If you have calm dogs you can walk 10’ apart, if they are more energetic walk further apart. The goal is to be far enough apart that the dogs won’t strain to get to each other.

Why Parallel?

Some of what I read instructed the owners to walk in a straight line, with one dog ahead of the other. I soon learned, however, that doing so can give the dog out front a feeling of superiority. Walking the dogs separate but parallel allows the dogs to feel equal.

Continue walking for quite a while. Watch for body language that tells you the dogs are relaxing and becoming less intensely interested in each other.

After a while, cross paths (keep the same distance) and let the dogs smell where the other walked.

At some point the dogs may go to the bathroom. A dog’s version of social media is smelling the other dog’s urine and feces. Believe it or not, dogs learn a lot from smells in pee and poop.

Use this to your advantage. If one of the dogs goes to the bathroom, wait until they finish and move away (nice and far!), then allow the other dog to come over and smell it.

As you continue your walk, slowly move closer together until the dogs are relaxed when walking around 6’ apart.

Introducing the Dogs

When both dogs have shown relaxed body language for a while, you can try a short nose to butt meeting.

You will already be 6’ apart, so just gently circle the dogs to allow them to approach in a nose to tail direction instead of face to face.

Now, allow the dogs to sniff each other for just a few seconds, nose-to-butt.

But letting them sniff butts is EMBARRASING!

We’ve all had those dog meetings where you worry the other person will be offended if you let your dog sniff their dog’s butt.

It’s important to remember that dog greeting etiquette is literally the opposite of human.

When humans greet, the proper way is face to face. Direct eye contact. Sniffing butts does not happen.

Dogs are the opposite, nose to butt is polite and non-threatening. Face to face is rude and aggressive. Direct eye contact is also aggressive.

Imagine how angry and offended you would feel if someone came up and started sniffing your rear end. It would be shocking, right?

That is how your dog feels every time you let another dog meet it face to face. Shocked. Insulted. Intimidated.

Try to remember how insulted you would be in the above-mentioned scenario each time your dog meets another dog; it will give you the courage to let them sniff nose-to-butt!

Wrong

tense dogs sniffing face to face while owners hold leashes too tight
photo by Mircea Iancu

Note how tense these dogs are:
ears are flat, tails up, black dog is nervously averting gaze, tan dog has a hard stare. Leashes are pulled tight instead of held loosely.

Right!

2 dogs greeting nose to butt
photo by Tim Dorr on Flickr

Note how these dogs have relaxed bodies; base of tails are lower and ears are relaxed.

OK, back to the nose-to-butt greeting process!

Let them sniff for a short time, then call them away with a happy voice and a treat.

If either dog begins to bark, bare its teeth, growl, or show other tense behavior, move back to your parallel walk distance and continue on – that dog is not ready to meet yet.

If they both seem relaxed during the sniffing, you can do a few more nose to butt sniffs, then continue on your walk, now side by side.

Some dogs may relax and adjust relatively quickly, while other dogs may need multiple parallel walks before they are ready to meet,.

Your best bet in that type of situation is to find a qualified trainer to help you do introductions.

In the interim, use baby gates and doors to keep the dogs separated if they both need to be inside your house.

Bringing the New Dog into Your Home

If your parallel walk on neutral territory was successful, now you are ready to bring the dog to your home.

Don’t let your guard down if the dogs did well on their walk; it’s important to remember that your home is your current dog’s territory so you need to be intentional in how you introduce a new dog to your home.

Allow New Dog to Walk the Yard

Before you bring the new dog inside, let them walk around your yard. Don’t rush it, give them time to explore and smell all the scents. This serves two purposes; it helps the new dog get used to your current dog’s scents, and also helps them achieve a more balanced (less tense or worried) state of mind. Sniffing calms their brain down – read more about how this works in the article about how to do a decompression walk with your dog.

When you are ready to bring the new dog inside, have a partner bring your current dog out using a different entrance to sniff the yard now that the new dog has added their scent to the area.

This gives you an opportunity to bring the new dog inside by themselves to explore.

Allow the New Dog to Explore the House Alone

Let the new dog check out all the rooms in the house. This will help them get their bearings, give them time to get used to your dog’s scent, and help them feel more calm and comfortable.

Introduce Dogs in the Yard

Now that both dogs have had time to sniff each other’s scents and become more comfortable, you can let them meet in one of two ways.

If you saw very loose, calm, relaxed dogs on your parallel walk greeting, then you can have loose leashes on both dogs (with relaxed handlers) and let them have another nose to butt greeting in the yard.

If you have a fenced yard, you have another option to use if your parallel walk greeting went well but you saw a little more tension or nervousness. In this scenario you can let the dog meet and sniff through the fence before deciding if they are ready to be together in the yard.

What if They Aren’t Ready to Meet?

If you see too much tension, it’s OK if the dogs need to wait a while to meet!

Use baby gates and doors in your house to create two separate spaces for the dogs to be for the first few days. This gives them more time to get used to each other’s presence without the stress of existing together in the same space.

Baby Gate Separation for a Stressed Foster Dog

I have brought many stressed fosters into my house using this method. In one case the new dog was separated from my dogs for a week before they were ready to meet. My house has an open floor plan so I used multiple baby gates.

On the first day I used the gates to create spaces where the dogs could hear each other but could not see each other. Then we progressed to being able to see each other, but double gates kept them quite a big distance apart. Eventually we progressed to the dogs being on either side of gates, so now sniffing was possible.

When they finally did meet, there was much less tension than there would have been if I let them meet on Day 1.

Here are some non-standard baby gates that are useful if you don’t have small doorways to keep dogs apart:

**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**

Monitor Closely

Once your dogs have been successfully introduced, continue to keep them separate inside your house and give them supervised, short times to interact together in areas of the house.

By limiting the new dog to one room and then slowly increasing the areas they can be in, you give both dogs time to relax and become more comfortable together.

What do I do if One of the Dogs Starts to Get Tense or Overstimulated?

If your new dog or your current dog gets too ramped up, or one of the dogs starts to get overstimulated, redirect the dogs in a fun voice.

Call them over to you for a nice sit, then give each one a treat. Practice training skills that you are working on with each dog that make them think and divert their thoughts from the other dog.

Many times a little distraction will diffuse the situation and avoid possible conflict.

Other Details That Will Help

In addition to the introduction itself, there are other details that will help your dogs have a smooth adjustment when you get a new dog

Spend Individual Time with Each Dog

One key factor that contributes to successfully adding a new dog to your household is to intentionally spend individual time with each dog.

This can be in the form of a solo walk, playtime in the yard, or positive attention. One-on-one training time is another great solo attention activity.

Give one dog a favorite chew toy or Kong while you spend time with the other dog.

There is no Such Thing as Too Slow

When introducing a new dog to your current pets, you can’t go too slow. Rushing introductions, however, can cause long-lasting issues between your dogs.

Take your time to ensure your introductions are successful.

Feed the Dogs Separately

When adding a new dog to the house you want to avoid any potential situations that can cause tension. Food is a big one.

Give each dog their own area to eat using baby gates, crates, or doors. Don’t let them out until both have finished eating and you have put their food dishes away.

Don’t Leave Dogs Alone Together When You Leave the House

Be sure you are around to supervise all interactions for the first few weeks you have a new dog. When you leave the house, put the dogs in separate rooms or crates.

Introducing a New Puppy to Your Dog

Use the above methods for introducing a puppy, with one important addition:

Give your resident dog frequent breaks from the puppy. Puppies have boundless energy, are still learning impulse control, and have sharp teeth! Subjecting your current dog to this behavior 24/7, or expecting them to keep the puppy entertained, is unfair.

If your dog is stressed or losing patience with the puppy, do not leave them alone together.

Another important thing to note: it is OK for your dog to give a short, appropriate correction to the puppy. Too many people yell at their resident dog when the dog corrects a puppy; owners need to realize that this is how puppies learn what is OK behavior and what isn’t.

If your dog corrects the puppy and the puppy doesn’t listen, it’s time to remove the puppy to their crate or a separate room to give your adult dog some peace time.

How to Introduce Dogs to Your Cat

Introduce your new dog to a cat slowly and carefully, just like your dog introductions.

You will do much of this the same as dog-dog introductions. Bring home a towel with the new dog’s scent for the cat to sniff.

Initial introductions should be done with the dog on a loose leash. If your cat will stay on one side of a baby gate, have them sniff through the gate.

Note if your dog seems excited, tense, or loose and happy. If your dog is staring or barking at the cat, call the dog away from the gate to distract, and then reward him if he goes back and sniffs without getting tense.

I like to put my resident dogs on the cat’s side of the baby gate so the new dog can see how calmly they interact.

If your dog is showing loose and calm body language, try a face to face meeting, praising the dog for calm behavior when interacting with the cat. Don’t do this step until you can feel relatively sure your cat won’t approach then run away, as this will be an incentive for the new dog to chase it.

If your dog gets too excited, you may need to do a slower desensitization process and keep them gated apart for days or weeks until your dog becomes accustomed to the cat’s presence.

If you are still having issues and need to implement a formal desensitization plan, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has a great article featuring a step by step desensitization training program.

Knowing How to Introduce Dogs is a Valuable Skill

Learning how to introduce dogs to each other is a skill you will use in many situations.

Whether you plan to get a new dog, or even if you are out with a friend and want your dogs to meet, knowing how to introduce dogs will pay off with many successful new friendships for your dog.

Planning to adopt a rescue dog? Introductions are only one part of a successful transition into your home. Read Bringing Home a Rescue Dog to ensure you are doing all that you can to make your new dog’s transition smooth and successful.

Until next time –

Naturally,

Karen

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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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