Dog Meets Dog

introducing a new dog to an already resident dog or dogs

Here are ideas about introducing a new dog to your already resident dogs. This could be a rescue foster situation or an adopter situation. There's always a bit of worry as to whether two dogs will get along together.
The title "Dog Meets Dog" is a bit of a play on the Konrad Lorenz classic "Man Meets Dog".

Dog Meets Dog

by Pam Green , © 2013

There is always a bit of worry when introducing a new dog into your home where one or more dogs are already in residence. Those who do rescue foster care have to do this often. Adopters who already have a dog will be doing this, and it's important to understand that if the newly adopted dog doesn't get along with the resident dog, the adoption cannot continue. I try to prepare my adopters for this possibility and assure them that I am always willing to take the newly adopted dog back..

I'm going to refer to the dog being added to the situation as "the new dog" and the dog or dogs already resisident in the home as "the old dog". This refers to their time in this home, not their ages.

the usual advice

The most ususual advice given is that the new and old dog should meet "on neutral territory", ie in a place neither one considers to be his/her own home territory. While that can be good advice, it's not always easy to do, because you want to be able at some point to have the dogs interact freely, ie leashes dropped or removed, and that can be safe only in a fenced area. (The advantage of dropped leash is that handler is not sending tension down the leash and into the dog, thus making aggression more likely or more extreme. The disadvantage is great reduction of control, inability to immediately intervene without getting your hands near the danger zone.)

If you do not have a neutral area that is safe available, then it makes sense that the dogs meet at the resident dog's home because that is where they are going to be living together. In case of adoption, often the adopters want their already resident dog to have the advantage and be the higher ranked dog anyway, so meeting on that dog's home ground makes sense. However, as you will see below, I've often had adoption meetings a my home which is home territory to the adoption candidate dog and foreign territory to the adopter's own dogs, and that has worked just fine. So I really don't attach high significance to the idea that neutral territory is highly important.

a method that has worked well for me

However what I find very helpful if you are able to do it is for new dog and old dog to first go for a walk together, with separate handlers for new dog and old dog(s). All the dogs should be on head halters because that gives the handlers control over eye contact (as heads can be turned away from one another, thus preventing or breaking eye contact) and ability to turn the mouths (teeth) away from each other (and skillfully used , a halter can close the mouth and abort an intended bite). Plan a walk on path that is wide enough that the two sets of dogs can walk on parallel routes with a few feet (or more) of space between them.. Each handler should keep their dog from focusing too intently on the other dog. The dogs should be aware of one another (one could hardly prevent that if one wanted to) but they shouldn't be paying intense attention to each other. They shouldn't face each other frontally and start a staring contest. They shouldn't yet make physical contact. So each handler walks in a business-like manner, with dog having to keep some attention on the handler. For some dogs , intermittant treats could be helpful (classical conditioning a happy mood), but for other dogs the presence of food could be cause for competition and food-oriented aggression. The longer the walk, the better, ie long enough that the dogs should be tired but not exhausted by the end of it. That may have to be according to the abilities of the less athletically fit dog. If you know that one dog will get tired a lot sooner than the other, perhaps the more athletic dog could get a long walk (or energy consuming play session) before this joint walk. Anyway the goal is to let the dogs experience one another as non-threatening, then come home tired enough to relax and to be less apt to be ready for trouble-making but not too exhausted to interact at all or to play together.

Now after this walk, you return to a safely fenced area. Maybe it is a neutral area or maybe it is the home of one or the other of the dogs. Now both handlers can drop the leashes to the ground. I'd rather drop them than remove them, as this gives you ability to pick leashes back up if you need to use them to separate the dogs again. Now at this point you will be hoping that the two dogs will interact in a benign manner. There will certainly be plenty of sniffing of each other.. May be one or both putting head or paw on the other's shoulders. Both handlers should do their absolute best to remain calm and to breathe slowly and in relaxed manner. Don't interfere unless you really have to do so.. Don't speak in anxious voice, and preferably don't speak except to call your dog in a happy voice. We'd be hoping to see dogs give play bows and then do some playing. Or the dogs might be tired enough to just lie down and relax. Either of those is fine. Obviously if you see signs of real trouble brewing, especially stiff standing tall bodies and hard stare eye contact, pick up leashes and go separate directions. Might try again some other day or might just accept that this is not going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.

The above is how I like to introduce an adoption candidate dog to an adopter's dogs.. Usually the adopter is bringing their own dogs to my home to meet the candidate dog.. (Or sometimes I have brought the candidate dog to the adopter's home.) We go for a walk on the trail next to the creek or on the wide farm roads.. Then back to my own yard (which the candidate may consider home territory). I will have put any of my own dogs who might inspire trouble, either with candidate dog or with the visiting adopter's dogs, out of the way (probably in my bedroom with stretch gate closed). Might even put all my own dogs out of the way. Of course if during the walk the dogs never relax about the other's presence, then the yard part is not done. Not a good basis for adoption. Now if the adopter lived nearby, we could try again another day.

a variation that I've used

For those who have a kennel run (or other living quarters that is separate from where your resident dogs live), you might start the new dog out living in the kennel run. Then you can introduce your resident dogs to the new dog one at a time. I've done this with quite a few dogs. I will have the new foster dog on leash on a head halter. I will during preceding days have already taken this new dog for a few solo walks, actually walk combined with training session, so that I have "gotten a handle on the dog", ie taught a few responses such as Sit and Come. Now the first dog to be introduced will be the most dog-sociable dog of mine who is opposite sex to the foster dog, thus the dog most sure to get along with the new dog. My dog will be off leash and thus has choice about how much contact to make. If I had a second person available, my own dog would be on leash with that second person, but usually I don't have that luxury. We are out in farmland on dirt roads through row-crop fields, so it is safe for my well trained dog to be off leash. The next day I will introduce the dog I consider next most sure to get along with the new dog. And so on until they are all comfortable with one another.

By the time the new dog has walked with all the others, I should be reasonably sure if it's going to be OK to bring the new one into the house. Sometimes the new dog won't be compatible with one or more of mine , in which case new dog will only get partial house time (during which the incompatible dog will be crated or separated into my bedroom).

I should add that there have been plenty of foster dogs who I have brought right into my house immediately. Often this is based on feeling sure the new dog is very dog-sociable. Many times this has worked just fine. I won't say there have never been any battles, usually just garden variety status squabbles, but there's been a few real fights. That's why nowadays I proceed more cautiously. I've gotten older (and less willing to get hurt) and I've gotten more protective of the welfare of my own dogs, some of whom are old and fragile..

use muzzles if you are really unsure.

A well fitted wire basket muzzle can "take the worry out of being close". Safest and most fair to have both (all) dogs muzzled. But if your own dog is very dog-sociable, maybe only the new dog needs to be muzzled.

For rescue fosterers, sometimes a muzzle is the only way you will be willing to let a particularly problematic foster dog have any contact with your own dogs.. Right now (or over a year) I have been fostering a grumpy old bitch who is unlikely to ever get adopted and who has started a few fights with my own dogs, in one of which my oldest dog accidentally got seriously hurt. So my choice is either to have her live in the kennel run or to let her be with other dogs but with a wire basket muzzle (muzzle during day and free to be a member of the family, separated into S-pen and unmuzzled at night). An adopter is not going to want that as a long term lifestyle. It's pretty much last resort in foster care..

separate dogs when necessary

Any time you have two or more dogs, or two or more pets of any kind, it's wise to think in advance how you would separate them if needed. Sometimes one dog has to be in a restricted area in order to limit activity while dog is healing from surgery or recovering from an injury or an illness..

That's why Athena invented stretch gates and X-pens and crates.. It's good to have all your dogs used to these limitations before you ever have a serious need for them.

If you are a rescue foster person, it's ideal to also have a kennel run or some other separate living space (such as an empty horse stall or other outbuilding) for a new foster dog. Sometimes you want a new dog taken from a shelter to be in quarrantine. Other times you want to do a more gradual introduction of the new dog into your home. Sometimes the foster dog will be separated full time pending adoption to a home where he will be an "only dog".

usual results

Because dogs are a highly social species, most often a new dog will be able to become accepted by resident dogs and vice versa, and all of them will wind up getting along , some becoming regular playmates and friends. Managing the initial introduction well can help make the process smoother so that the introduction really is the start of a beautiful friendship. Mostly careful introductions reduce the human participants' worry level.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 8/03/2013 revised 8/03/2013
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