Introducing Dogs

photo credit:  Kim Benson

photo credit: Kim Benson

How to safely introduce your new dog to your furry pal. 

Introducing your new dog to your current dogs can be a worrisome experience. Will the get along? Will there be a fight? Will they be best friends? How you introduce your new dog now can greatly influence how your dogs interact in the future. 

Setting the stage.

When introducing dogs, its best to start on neutral territory. Your current dog may be more prone to act defensively if the introduction is in his own home. 

Begin outside with both dogs on leash. Keep the leashes nice and loose as tension on the leash causes tension in your dog. Try to remain relaxed, as your dog will pick up on the change in your body language and react differently. Often, when people introduce dogs, they are tense - breathing differently, have stiff movements, have a change in the tone of their voice.  All of these changes influence how the dogs will respond to each other. 

The nose knows.

Unlike humans who rely first on their vision, a dog’s most important sense is smell. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than our own. Dogs experience the world first with their nose, then their eyes or ears. This is why dogs usually first interact by sniffing each other’s genitals and rears. They obtain lots of important information such as the other dog’s sex, reproductive status, emotional state, diet and more.  

A way to speed up this process is to apply the dogs’ scent to each other. Take a cloth and gently wipe the genitals of one of the dogs. Wipe the cloth with the scent across the face and back of the other dog. Repeat with the second dog so that the dogs have scent applied to each other. When introductions are finally made, the dogs will smell their own scent on the other dog and feel more comfortable, as if they already have met. 

Out for a walk.

Start by calmly walking the dogs parallel to each other at a distance where they are not actively trying to get to each other. An average distance is 15-20’. Walk the same path back and forth until the dogs are relaxed, allowing the dogs to sniff the ground and investigate things. After several passes, swap paths so that the each dog is walking in the other’s trail.
By walking dogs parallel to each other, then crossing paths, you give the dogs time to get accustomed with each other’s scent. This helps the dogs become familiar with each other before they are physically interacting.

While you are parallel walking, the walkers should reward their dog with tiny, bite-sized treats, for calmly looking at the other dog without showing any negative behaviors. This will help build a positive association between the dogs. 
When your dogs are relaxed and calm at a distance from each other, begin gradually decreasing the distance between the dogs without allowing them to greet. If at any time one or both of the dogs begin displaying agitation, increase the distance between the dogs until they are comfortable again.

The meet and greet.

Once your dogs are comfortable being near each other, its time to let them greet. It is very important not to allow the dogs to greet nose-to-nose while on-lead. Face-to-face greetings are confrontational in the dog world. Instead, dogs prefer to greet nose-to-tail. This is far more polite for dogs - a dog handshake.  As mentioned above, dogs receive a lot of information from sniffing each other’s rears. 

Its best to first allow dogs to greet off-lead in a neutral area. If a neutral area is not available, a fenced-in yard is the next best thing. 

If using your yard, allow your new dog to visit the yard first without your other dog present. Investigating will give him another opportunity to get used to the current dog’s scent. Swap dogs and let your old dog explore the area. 

Bring both dogs into the yard on-lead. Once both dogs are comfortable, release the dogs to visit each other. It is best to remove leashes, as leashes can cause tension with dogs. If you’re concerned there may be a fight, you can drop the leashes so that they can be picked up to move the dogs away from each other. 

If there is a fight off-lead, do not try to break up the fight by grabbing collars. People are often bitten when trying to break up fights by reaching near the dogs’ heads. Instead, lift both dogs’ hind legs off the ground. This will often be enough to diffuse a fight. 

Allow the dogs short visits with each other. If there is signs of tension - hackles raised, stiff posturing, growling, snapping - calmly call the dogs away from each other to give them a break. It is completely normal for dogs to display these behaviors - dogs are allowed to say, “back off” - but it is best to diffuse the situation before it escalates. 

When you call the dogs away, be sure to do so in a happy, calm voice. If you are demanding, you will add additional stress to the situation and may actually cause aggression. Punishing the dogs for growling or snapping will also add to the tension and could trigger a fight. 

Introducing in the home.

If you don’t have access to a neutral area or a backyard, choose the largest area of your home for greeting.  Be sure that any resources are picked up and removed from the area - bones, rawhides, favorite toys, and anything else that the dogs may feel the need to guard. 

Place your current dog in another area and let your new dog explore the room. While he is exploring, he will be leaving his scent in the house. If you have an item of the new dog’s, you can leave it with your dog for scent familiarity. Swap dogs to allow your dog to smell the new dog’s scent in the room. 

Just as with the yard greeting, begin with them on-lead on opposite sides of the room. Reward each dog for looking at the other dog without reacting. Once they are comfortable, release the dogs. 

Allow short visits, calmly interrupting any tense posturing, growling or snapping. As the dogs become familiar with each other, you can allow them longer visits. 

Maintaining the peace.

Now that introductions have been made, its important to keep the peace. Keep the dogs separate when you are away from the home. Feed them separately to avoid resource guarding. Your old dog has seniority in the home. Teach the dogs that the old dog will receive things first - attention, getting to go out of doorways, food, treats, etc. By attending to your old dog first, you create predictably and order. The dogs will learn to wait for their turn, rather than jockeying for position.

A happy coexistence

First impressions do matter. Its worth taking the time to introduce your dogs in a calm, controlled manner to set stage for future happy coexistence. Safety first! If you are introducing dogs with a history of dog aggression, or if you are worried there may be a fight, it is best to seek the help of a qualified trainer or behaviorist when making first introductions. 

Rebecca Lynch is a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy of Training and Behavior. With 15yrs experience as a positive reinforcement dog trainer and veterinary technician, she provides loving care for dogs boarding and training in her home.