First impressions are everything. That’s why you can’t just throw two dogs together in the same room all willy-nilly. If the initial encounter is not well-planned and orchestrated, feelings can be hurt, blood can be shed, and boundaries can be crossed.
It’s important that the first greeting is thoughtfully organized, especially if your dog or the new dog is not used to being around other canines. And since the new dog is going to be around for the long haul – as your new pet, for example – he and your dog need to co-exist. (If you’re planning on adopting a dog from a shelter, make sure your dog and the new dog meet before the adoption process is complete. If they don’t get along, it will be unfair and heartbreaking to all parties – new dog, old dog, and you.)
Here’s how to introduce dogs to each other:
If you’re stressed or nervous, your dog will pick up on it and become tense or feel like she has to protect you. Stay cool, calm, and collected so your dog feels free to be herself.
Start in neutral territory
Dogs are naturally territorial. (If you don’t believe me, ask your mailman.) The best way to make the first greeting more successful is to have them meet in a neutral place like a park or friend’s house. Neither place will smell like them and they won’t feel the need to become possessive of their home or act like they run the joint.
Take them on a long walk
If it’s their first time laying eyes on each other, it’s best to take them on a leashed walk. Have them walk side by side, but give them space and distance on the walk. Don’t force them on to each other. On the walk, they will be able to get to know each other, see familiar humans walking them, begin to trust the situation, and even drain some energy. Reward them with treats when they’re exhibiting good, calm behavior.
Keep them leashed
In order to keep the setting calm and controlled, they need to both be leashed. If they’re not leashed, one dog will undoubtedly take charge as the alpha leader and possibly come on too strong, attack, or intimidate the other. Not only will that cause chaos, it will make them both untrusting of you and each other for putting them in that situation.
Let them meet
After they’ve first seen each other and gone on a walk, it’s time to have them greet each other face-to-face (or face-to-butt). Keep them leashed, but let the leash drag on the floor. (That way they’re free to greet naturally but you can also intervene quickly if necessary.) Allow them to meet and sniff each other, but keep a close eye on their body language and look for signs of discomfort, tension, or aggression. If their hair raises or if they show their teeth or stiffen up, make sure you separate them before a fight occurs.
Provide verbal cues
Dogs – especially well-trained dogs – respond to our voices when it comes to following commands and knowing how to act. You’re the pack leader to your dog. She trusts you so if you speak calmly to her and the new dog with an, "It’s okay, guys" or "Go play," she will more likely follow your instructions and calm down if she’s nervous. And give praise when things are running smoothly. Let your dog know that she’s doing a good job and doing the right thing.
Let dogs be dogs
Don’t be a helicopter parent, hovering and micromanaging. Again, dogs feed off of your energy so if you’re stressed or tense, they will be, too. Let them feel each other out by giving them space. Be close by so you can watch and listen for negative reactions or body language, but let them play without your constant intervention.
Give it time
Don’t force a friendship the first day they meet. Let them hang out a few minutes the first day and maybe an hour the next time. While it’s important that they see each other and spend time together, it’s also important that they have space. Dog siblings are like human siblings. They annoy each other and sometimes need a break from each other. (And if one dog is an adult dog and the other is a puppy, the adult dog will definitely need breaks from the puppy’s constant boundless energy.) Let their relationship blossom gradually.
Hide trigger items
If your dog has a particular toy that he is especially passionate about, it’s a good idea to hide that item until the two dogs are in cahoots. Everything may seem fine and dandy at the park, but if he comes home to find the new pet chewing his favorite toy, he may not be too happy about it and react negatively. And if your dog has guarding issues, train him not to or hire someone immediately. His guarding behaviors will only intensify with a new dog in the house.
Hire a professional
The last thing you want to do is put your pet or another pet in danger. If your dog still isn’t playing nice – even after taking all the right steps for weeks or months and seeking extra advice from vets, books, or articles – you may need to hire a professional. She may be able to help introduce your dog to another dog or she may tell you that your home is perhaps a one-dog home. The ASPCA says professionals in the pet-behavior field fall into four main categories: trainers, certified professional dog trainers (CPDTs), applied animal behaviorists, certified applied animal behaviorists (CAABs) and associate certified applied animal behaviorists (ACAABs), and diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVBs). Once you identify which professional you need, do a Google search or check out The Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ website to find one in your area.
When it comes to introducing your dog to a new dog, slow and steady wins the race. By remaining calm throughout the process, giving them space and time to adjust to each other, and allowing the friendship to be gradual instead of forced, you and your dog will have a new buddy in no time.
Image: Matthew Wiebe