Introducing a new dog to your other pets can be a nerve-wracking experience for everyone involved. But really, it doesn’t have to be, as long as you know how to introduce your pets properly and how to spot signs of a problem.
You should have at least one person per dog when you perform an introduction. Each person is assigned the task of monitoring their dog for signs of agitation or fear. It’s extremely difficult to carefully monitor two or more dogs at once. And if a fight were to occur, it’s much easier to break it up if you have at least one person per dog.
The first step to introducing a new dog to your other dogs is to find a neutral territory. Many dogs are protective and territorial by nature. They may be inclined to act aggressively to an unfamiliar dog. Therefore, it’s important to introduce the dogs in a location outside the home and yard. I prefer to perform introductions in front of our home, in the driveway. But other nice options include the park or at a friend’s home.
If you have more than one dog at home, it’s best to perform the initial introductions one at a time. It can be extremely overwhelming to the new dog if she is suddenly surrounded by several strange dogs at once; this can lead to fear-related aggression.
To perform the introductions, leash the dogs and allow them to interact and sniff each other. Ideally, the person who has the closest relationship with the resident dog should hold his/her leash; this helps the resident dog feel more confident, less threatened and more welcoming.
Carefully watch the dogs as they interact. Their hair should be smooth, their body language relaxed and their tails should be wagging. Be on the look out for signs of agitation or aggression. These warning signs can include:
- raised hair along the spine
- tail down or tail between the legs
- intense staring
- showing teeth
- ears positioned down and back
- tense body language
Pull the dogs apart at the first sign of a problem, but stay relaxed. Keep your voice light and up-beat. If you become tense or show fear, your dog will pick up on this and he/she will become tense and fearful as well.
Some dogs — especially shy dogs — tend to do well on a get-to-know-you walk. If you start to see tension, pull the dogs apart and take them for a walk. This can serve as a bonding experience and it provides the dogs with an opportunity to get to know each other. After the walk, allow the dogs to interact again briefly; they’re usually much more relaxed after a walk.
In fact, after the initial introduction, we always take the dogs on a walk together. Again, they will remain in neutral territory and this gives the dogs an opportunity to get to know each other, without concerns over territory, toys, food bowls and so forth.
This leads me to my next point: When you add a new dog to your household, it’s best to avoid objects and situations that can lead to a fight or tensions. For the first couple weeks, you should avoid the following:
- Do not allow the dogs to rough-house together. It’s very easy for one dog to over-step the other’s boundary and the play can quickly turn into a fight.
- Do not leave rawhide, treat-dispensing balls and toys around. It’s fine if you’re actively playing with the pet, as you will be on-hand to monitor the situation. But do not leave these items sitting around, as it can be a recipe for a fight.
- Do not feed the dogs together. Food aggression is extremely common, especially when the dogs don’t know each other very well. In fact, we always feed our dogs in separate locations, even once they get to know each other. This eliminates any and all chances of a food-related scuffle.
Also, if your dog sleeps with you, it’s best to avoid bringing the new dog into your bed right away. This can be extremely threatening to your resident dog and it can slow the bonding process between the animals. Really, when you consider it from the dog’s perspective, it makes sense: you wouldn’t feel comfortable if a new roommate, whom you just met a few hours before, tried to cuddle up your bed. It would feel very uncomfortable and awkward, right? You’d want a little time to get to know the newcomer before they start sleeping with you!
If you have more than one dog at home, it’s best to perform the introductions separately. Then, bring the new dog into the house and allow him or her to explore, without the other dogs present. Then, once the new dog is finished exploring, bring one dog at a time into the house. Once the new dog is comfortable with the first dog, add another until everyone is peacefully co-existing. This will prevent the new dog from getting overwhelmed (and remember, when dogs get overwhelmed, they lash out and this usually involves teeth!)
Dogs live within a social hierarchy; it will take a couple weeks (or longer) for your dogs to find their place within the pack. Until then, it’s important to keep them relaxed. Avoid any potential triggers such as eating together, rough play or fighting over unattended toys.
I do not recommend leaving a new dog unattended with the resident dogs until they’ve formed a bond and the new dog has found her place in the pack. In my experience, this it can take 2-4 weeks (or longer) for the tensions to completely disappear. In tomorrow’s article, we’ll discuss pack dynamics and how to help your new dog find her place!