Dog-to-Dog Introductions: Start off on the right paw

One of the things I love most about dog people is how often one just isn’t enough. If one dog is good, two dogs is better, right? There are so many reasons that two-dog households are so common – double the kisses, double the cuddles, twice the fun at the park, cuter holiday card photos and more.

Adding a second dog to your home should be undertaken with thought and care. Bringing a second dog home should improve the life of the dog you already own as well as the dog you are adopting. As a trainer, I occasionally hear from clients who are frustrated because their new dog and their old dog aren’t getting along as nicely as they would like. Sometimes, it is not that the dogs are incompatible. The problem can often be traced back to a poorly planned first introduction.

So, what should adopters be considering when choosing a new dog and how should you introduce your new friend to your current companion to set them up for success?

Selecting a potential companion: Hone in your search for a new dog that will be compatible with your current pet – size, temperament, play style and perhaps age. For example, if you currently have a Mastiff, a Chihuahua would probably not be a suitable playmate. If you have a high-energy Weimaraner, a low-energy Shih Tzu might not be the best fit. And most senior dogs don’t appreciate puppy play.

Also, I suggest adding in a second dog only if you are mostly happy with your current dog’s behavior and level of training. If your current dog barks inappropriately, jumps the fence, pulls on a leash or guards his food, the addition of another dog to the house often makes those problems worse, not better. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Some dogs with signs of separation anxiety actually improve when they are given a canine companion, and some dogs whose behavior deteriorates after the death of a dog in the household return to normal when they get a new friend.

The good news is, the shelter is able to offer a variety of dogs – different breeds, ages, temperments and play styles. Odds are good that you’ll find a match for your family.

Introducing a potential new dog to your current dog: It’s true with people, and it’s true with dogs, too. First impressions count. We want the first meeting between your current dog and your new dog to go well, so here are some tips to set them up for success.

  1. Make sure both dogs are healthy. If the new dog needs treatment for a flea infestation, an injury or time to recover from a surgery, it always helps to make sure they are feeling their best before an introduction takes place. I don’t like to make new friends when I have a cold, and I imagine most dogs don’t feel particularly social if they aren’t running on all cylinders. If either dog is not 100% healthy, it’s probably best to hold off on the first meeting. If either dog has had an upsetting experience – moving, surgery, etc. – a 3 day waiting period is advised if possible. It can take that long for a dog’s body to metabolize certain stress hormones. If waiting 3 days isn’t feasible…

  2. Let each dog have about 30 minutes of exercise time by themselves before meeting a new friend. Did you know that dogs can experience a runner’s high just like people? They can! Exercise can increase the level of feel-good hormones in our dogs.

  3. Have the dogs meet on neutral ground. A walk around the neighborhood is good. A park is often a good option or a walk outside the shelter can work, too.

  4. Let the dogs see each other from a distance for 5-10 minutes before allowing them to approach one another.

  5. If you’ve elected to take an on-leash walk together, start by walking parallel to each other with about ten feet between the dogs. As they walk and get more comfortable, you can slowly ease your way together and finish by walking side by side.

  6. If an enclosed park or a fenced area works better for your situation, and the dogs have both shown friendly body language during their slow approach to one another, enter the fenced area separately then allow the dogs to greet off-leash. Make sure there is no food or toys left lying around. You don’t want the dogs to have an altercation over a snack or a ball.