In multi-dog households, a new dog can throw off the balance and everyone might need some reminding of their training. Here are some suggestions to get your new dog’s introduction to your dog or dogs off to the best start! Note: The technique we describe below is for DOG-FRIENDLY dogs. If you do not know if the dogs have been friendly with other dogs before, or if any of them have shown aggression toward another dog (lunging, snapping), please do the introduction with a professional trainer or behaviorist to guide you.
If your new dog is coming from a shelter or rescue boarding kennel, or has been exposed to other dogs within the last 2 weeks that were from or in a kennel, make sure your dog(s) are current on all their vaccinations, including bordatella (kennel cough) especially. Get your vet’s recommendations whether total separation (quarantine) is needed and for how long. There are many potentially fatal diseases that dogs can be ‘incubating’ that may not show any symptoms during the first few weeks. Also, treat any new dog for fleas and other parasite prevention as recommended by your vet, before introducing them to any other dogs.
Just having a new dog coming in their house is enough to for your current dog(s) to adjust to. Keep your new dog totally separated by using a “starter room” like a bedroom or bathroom, size appropriate. Starter room tips:
- Use a room that is NOT used by your other dogs for sleeping or eating.
- Dog-proof the room, or better yet: use a crate (see crate training).
- Feed, play and train separately, giving equal time to all dogs.
- Depending on your adult dog’s reaction after the first introduction (see below), the total separation period could be an hour, a week, or more.
First introductions: walking sessions
This is just one method of introduction. There are other ways that work well too! This is a very slow and safe method.
If you have more than one dog, introduce them to your new dog one at a time. Start with the most friendly submissive of your dogs.
Use unfamiliar territory, such as a street, or park you don’t usually visit. For this example, we’ll explain it as if you’ve walked down the block and turned onto streets you don’t normally walk on. This helps avoids any “this is my territory” issues.
- Both dogs start out on leash, each handled by a different person.
- Walk dog#1 out of the house and down the neutral block.
- Walk dog#2 out of the house and onto the neutral block after dog #1, keeping a distance of at least 40 feet to start.
- Walk around the neighborhood, keeping the 40ft distance between you, until both dogs are 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 work on training to focus on you while walking (reward looking at you with treats/praise).
- Once you’re walking at a distance in the neutral state, you can begin to slowly close the distance. If the dog pulls on the leash towards the other dog, lengthen the distance a bit, until you can slowly close the distance gap to about 6 feet.
- Alternate who is the lead dog by having dog #2 cross the street, dog #1 slow down to fall behind, then cross the street to walk behind dog #2 at the same distance.
- Next, you want them to walk “parallel” but with their handlers in between. So the order from left to right is: dog#1, dog#1 handler, dog #2 handler, dog #2.
Walking Session Rules:
- Keep the dogs walking next to your side.
- Don’t pull steadily or choke up on the dog.
- Use short tugs on the leash to keep them at your side if needed.
- Try to keep some slack in the leash, but keep control.
- RELAX! Have a friendly conversation with your helper. Dogs respond to their handlers emotions. If you are tense, they will know it from how you feel on their leash… and the other dog (especially if it’s your dog) will be watching your face too. Relax, talk, smile.
If the parallel walking goes well, you can have one handler switch sides with their dog, and then if that goes well, both handlers can switch. Then, if THAT goes well, you can allow some brief butt-sniffing BUT try to avoid any head-to-head meeting. So head-to-butt… they are dogs, this is how they say hello in a friendly manner!
If either dog wants to stay away from the other dog, do not “force” him to say hello. They may not be the best of friends immediately, or 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.
Pay attention to your dog’s communication signals… he or she 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. Do several days or more of parallel walking, before proceeding to…
Home introduction & together sessions
Pick the largest area possible so your dogs have room to move around. This might be your back yard or your living room. (The kitchen = food so this is not usually a good area.) We’ll assume you’re using the yard for the rest of this exercise. Use the yard, then repeat inside other areas of your home.
- Put all toys, beds & treats in a closet (totally closed away).
- Do a long-enough parallel walking session so both dogs are tired. Have the walking session end by walking into your home or yard.
- Let the new dog follow your resident dog into the yard.
- Walk around the yard with both dogs on leashes, just like on your walks, same “rules” above apply!
- Add these together sessions on to the end of your walk sessions. You might start with 5-10 minutes on the end, and gradually increase the length of the sessions.
If after a few sessions, both dogs are is happy and relaxed, you may drop your resident dog’s leash, while keeping new dog on a leash for a few more sessions.
Together & separate time
Eventually, both dogs can be together in the home while dragging their leashes supervised for longer and longer periods.
For the first few months, we highly recommend keeping all new dogs totally and safely separated (crated or separate rooms with closed doors) when you are not actively supervising them. Some dogs are safest always crated/separated when you are gone. Keep possible triggers like food, treats, chews, and high-value toys out of the mix for that entire time too. They can have those when they are separated.
Keeping the Peace
If there are any minor squabbles, you may need to take a few steps back and take the progression more slowly. Do not let dogs “work it out” – you should be the rule enforcer, just like a teacher with students – a good teacher wouldn’t let students fight it out! See the excellent article at http://badrap.org/rescue/multidogs.html for more tips on keeping the peace. We also love the real-life slow intro success story they tell here – using crates, baby gates, and tie-downs. Great ideas!
Every dog is different – some dogs will growl and never escalate to a snap or bite – how well do you know your dog and your new dog? Dogs should be able to communicate and work out any differences (like “that’s my tennis ball”) without showing ANY to aggressive behavior.
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.