Are you thinking about adding a new dog to your family? This can be a great experience, not only for the human members of the family, but also for the four-legged family members as well. A new dog increases the love in a home, and it can act as a playmate and sibling for your other pets. Many people have said that having two dogs in the house is actually easier than caring for just one! However, introducing dogs to one another requires certain precautions and interactions in order to create a lasting bond and ensure the safety of all parties.
Things to consider beforehand:
-Dogs form social hierarchies with one another and with their human family. It is important that you take each dog’s personality into consideration before the actual introduction process. For example, if both dogs have ‘alpha’ personalities, they are likely to clash with one another in the attempt to gain dominance.
-The process may go more smoothly if all dogs being introduced have had some obedience training, particularly recall (so that they come when called) and a ‘leave it’ command (to redirect attention away from anything that causes agitation). Crate-training is also useful.
-Always be vigilant regarding body language. Play-bows, where a dog bends down over his front paws with his tail in the air, are good signs–they are invitations to play. Raised hackles, ears pulled back, stiff-legged walking, and showing teeth, on the other hand, are all signs of aggression. If either party shows these signs, immediately interrupt the interaction between the two and do not resume until they have calmed down.
-If you have multiple dogs already in your home, it is best to introduce them to the newcomer one at a time. If they are introduced all at once, the older pets may gang up together against the newer dog and make the situation far more tense than it has to be.
Step 1: Face-to-face introductions should be held in a controlled, neutral environment. It is important that you don’t introduce them in your home because the ‘older’ dog may be more inclined to defend you and your home against the new ‘intruder’. The best way to go about this would be with a physical barrier separating the two dogs at first. If they are both crate trained, you can set them face-to-face with each in their respective crates. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the other’s scent and appearance while having the safety of a barrier between them. You can bring along treats to reward both pets for positive behavior when they do not display aggression or fear. If either dog is barking, try to redirect his attention elsewhere.
Keep these interactions fairly short, as you don’t want to overwhelm either pet. You can repeat them as many times as necessary over the next few days and increase the interaction time if things are progressing well, until once again both dogs show that they are comfortable with the situation.
Step 2: Once the pets are comfortable with seeing each other, you can eliminate the physical barrier while keeping both dogs restrained on leashes. It is best to have each dog restrained by another person, as it allows for more space between each dog and more control over the situation. The leash acts as a measure of security if you need to quickly separate them from one another, and should be used even if your dogs are trained to respond to a recall command. Talk to both dogs in encouraging, happy voices, making it clear they should not be intimidated and you want them to be friends.
Allow them to approach on their own time to sniff each other for a few minutes. Try not to keep the leash taut or ‘choke’ the dogs during this interaction, as it may increase tension and anxious behaviors. Let the dogs smell each other for a few seconds, then pull the two dogs apart and have them walk around with their handler for a minute, or work on obedience with treats as rewards. Then bring the dogs back to each other for another, slightly longer period of interaction. Repeat the sniff-separate-cycle several times, removing the dogs any time you see aggressive or defensive behaviors and working on obedience in separate areas. Don’t force interaction! Keep speaking in a lighthearted and positive voice and praising your dogs when they are well behaved.
Step 3: Once all parties seem to be tolerating one another and getting along, the next step in the process is to walk the dogs home together. Walking together in a group helps build the “pack mentality” for dogs and encourages positive relationships between them. When you get back to the house, set up a room where you can house your new pet for the first few days. Even though each dog has already met with one another, it is important that the newcomer be allowed to adjust to their new environment with a ‘safe space’ to retreat to in case they get too overwhelmed. Gradually, you can start introducing them to different parts of the house, preferably while the older dog is out of sight while they are exploring. Once they have familiarized themselves with the various scents around the house, they should be allowed to go back to their safe space so that your other pets can get used to the scent the newcomer left behind.
Step 4: In time, closely monitored interactions between your dogs can proceed. Watch for any signs that your older dogs may be defending their territory. Continue rewarding and reinforcing positive behavior, and make sure that they are comfortable going about their daily routine with one another. This includes taking meals together, a process you should watch carefully to ensure that rivalries do not arise over food. They should each be provided with their own food and water bowls, and it might be best to feed them in separate rooms for the first few days. Rivalries may also occur in regards to particular toys or sleeping spots, they should not be ‘forced’ to share with one another in the very beginning.
Step 5: Finally, you can proceed to unmonitored interactions between your pets. You should not allow unsupervised interaction unless you are completely confident that neither animal will hurt the other, and even then you should make sure that each pet has their own personal safe space that they can retreat to at all times. This is especially important if your dogs have somewhat opposing personalities (ex. a hyperactive puppy and an older, more sedate dog).
If at any point in the process either pet shows aggression or agitation toward the other, even if they have not done so in previous interactions, it is recommended that you return to a previous step in the process and work back up to where you left off.
It is also important to keep in mind that sometimes dogs will simply not get along despite all our efforts, and they should not be forced into situations that could endanger them. You may need to consult a professional trainer if this seems to be the case.