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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.

  7. Watch each dog’s body language for signs of happiness or stress. Happy dogs have loosey goosey bodies. Their tails are level with their backs or slightly higher and wagging easily. Their mouths are often open and ears are relaxed. Their eyes are soft looking. Friendly dogs often circle ones another and make s-shaped or c-shaped approaches. Friendly dogs usually greet nose to butt. It’s weird to humans, but it is actually a very appropriate doggie hello.

  8. Stressed, nervous or unhappy dogs have stiff postures. Sometimes their hair on their backs stand up. You can often see the whites of their eyes. They may freeze, yawn, lick their lips, lift a front paw, turn their head away, walk away, or hide. Nervous dogs will sometimes greet nose-to-nose which is not polite doggie greeting behavior. Fearful dogs will have ears flat against their heads. Their tails may be low, tucked between their legs or even straight up in the air wagging very quickly. Nervous dogs will also sometimes make a bee-line straight toward another dog. This can be intimidating to some animals. If you see any of this body language, the interaction needs to be interrupted, the dogs should be separated, and the introduction should be tried again another time.

  9. If the first greeting on neutral ground goes well, the next step is to repeat the process at your home. I suggest repeating a walk beginning in your front yard and finishing with both dogs going into the home at the end of the walk.

  10. In the case of any concerns or questionable behavior by either dog, you should reach out to a professional at the shelter or a certified positive trainer to guidance.

Making sure your dog’s first introduction to your new furry family member is great insurance for a life-long bond of friendship and love. The care and effort it takes to make the first meeting between your two dogs a positive one is well worth it in my opinion.

These tips can also be useful for meeting new doggie friends or dogs that will be visiting your home.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. There’s no danger in progressing too slowly, but it can sometimes be risky to go too fast. Let the dogs set the pace for how quickly they want to become friends, and before you know it, you’ll probably find they have become life-long buddies.

Misty Mills is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed and owner of Lotus Canine Companions, a dog training business based in Tomball, TX. She believes dogs (and people) learn best when treated with kindness, compassion and scientifically proven methods. She's a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, an avid runner and lover of desserts. She shares her life with two mixed breed dogs, Kingston and Bette, and two humams, Ted and Gabriella.

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