How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other: Factors to Consider

I recently saw a client who is planning to introduce a new puppy to the household. How exciting! We’ve been working together for a while on her resident dog and so already had a lot of the puzzle pieces when it came to the training options she has for the puppy. 

But where she was concerned was in introducing the new puppy to the resident dog. How do you introduce dogs to each other successfully? And while her resident dog has some peculiarities that make this an incredibly valid concern, I honestly think this is something that everyone should think about, even with the most amiable resident dog. We should all be asking how to best introduce a new dog to our resident dog!

By the time we met, she had gone down many rabbit holes trying to research how to introduce dogs together. And, as usual, the internet was not very forthcoming. She found a whole lot of conflicting information and was pretty confused. I don’t blame her; it is absolutely confusing to try to comb through those internet searches. 

Here’s the thing. All of that conflicting information isn’t necessarily wrong. One of the reasons there are so many opposing thoughts is because what works for one dog in one situation is not going to be what works for another dog, or even perhaps for the same dog in a different situation. 

Now, because I know her dog and environment quite well, we were able to talk about the nitty-gritty details that were going to work for them specifically. Since I don’t have that knowledge about your situation, dear reader, let’s stick to the broad strokes and talk about factors that you should consider when bringing home another dog. 


How long will it take for dogs to get used to each other?

Before we even get into those factors to consider, let me make my stance on introductions clear: slow and steady wins this race. Dog introductions, especially when it comes to introducing a new dog into a household, fall into my “better safe than sorry” category of risk tolerance. I would much rather have someone spend weeks on their integration process than throw them together immediately to “see how it goes”. It can be hard to undo a bad first impression. And intrahousehold aggression cases are way harder than a few weeks, or even months, of solid, steady integration. 

What does this look like? It looks like focusing on short, quality interactions instead of prolonged, mediocre interactions. Quality over quantity is our mantra in the beginning! There are many ways that this can happen, but the biggest thing that I see folks forgetting to plan for is how they’re going to keep their animals separate during this process. How will we keep them from having bad interactions? Limit interaction. There are many ways to do this and your environment, pets, and situation are going to determine this management strategy. 


Your dog’s sociability level

Let’s start at square 0: does your dog actually like other dogs? Right now, today, in the present. Not did they, not do they have the potential to, do they right now? The answer to that question is going to dictate several different factors, including if bringing home another dog is the right decision right now. 

Check out this blog post to learn more about dog sociability levels.

Remember: this isn’t an all-or-nothing question. Rarely does an individual- of any species- love all other individuals or hate all other individuals. There will likely be particular factors that influence how much your dog enjoys another individual that you’ll want to take into account when choosing your next furry family member. This could include size, age, energy level, play style, and more. Those factors will also impact what you decide for your management strategy for when and how to separate them.


How quickly is the new dog being integrated?

The first question I asked my client (because I already knew her dog’s sociability level) was where the new puppy was coming from and what the process of taking him home was going to look like. Did we have the luxury of having several meet-and-greets before he was officially home? Or is he coming home that same day? Can we do a meet and greet at all before he arrives? The answers to these questions are going to help you further cement your management strategy. 


On leash vs. off leash?

I get this question a lot: is it better to introduce a dog on leash or off leash? And, as usual, my answer is that it depends. It depends on the dog and the environment. But, honestly, one of my biggest deciding factors is the human(s) involved. Does the handler have experience breaking up dog fights? Are they comfortable with dog introductions in general? Do they know when to separate during initial signs of escalation, and how to do so safely? Do they have the leash handling skills to not tighten up on the leash during an interaction?

We focus so much on the four-legged part of the equation that we forget the two-legged part– which is equally important. The comfort and expertise-level of the humans involved are going to make a big difference as to what is going to be best for the dogs when it comes to whether we should do on-leash or off-leash interactions. And, if making that decision yourself makes you feel a little squeamy (which is valid), then the answer is you should get a professional involved. Again, let’s take a better safe than sorry approach.  


Neutral space?

I also get a lot of questions about neutral spaces. And, once again, this is going to be super dependent on the dogs, environment, and logistics. If it makes sense to do several meet-and-greets on-leash beforehand, sure! Neutral spaces can be great! If we have to do all of the integration in our house, whether because we can’t do meet-and-greets or there isn’t a great neutral space available or some other reason, then so be it. There are plenty of ways that we can provide separation to help make this an okay option.


Prepare your pet for the new management strategy

I’ve talked about management quite a bit already (can you tell that it’s super important to your success for integration?), but let’s talk about what that means for your resident pets. If you’re setting up a management strategy that is going to somehow change their routine or environment, then let’s practice and prepare them ahead of time. That could mean setting up baby gates a few weeks before the new arrival, changing feeding locations and set-ups, relocating beds and crates, or anything else! Let’s ease them into the transition. 


Elevated stress levels

The reason we’re trying to ease them into the transition as much as possible is because everyone is going to have elevated stress levels those first few days that the new dog arrives. It could be good stress (e.g. “Hooray! I’m home!”), bad stress (e.g. “Uhhh, I did not agree on having a “brother!”), or a mixture (e.g. “Yeah, he’s pretty fun but could he, like, not touch my stuff?”) Regardless of the reason, there’s going to be stress. And when stress is elevated, it impacts behavior. Give everyone decompression time, grace, and let them go at their own pace. Again, slow and steady wins this race. 


Now what?

  • If you’re thinking of adding another dog to your family, consider what traits will fit in well with your family. Are you looking for a particular energy level? Play style? Something else?
  • Take the time to consider your management strategy carefully. How will you separate everyone? What skills do they need to feel comfortable being separated? Do you know the signs to look out for to know if they need to be separated? 
  • Check out these resources from Shelter Playgroup Alliance. They’re applicable to pretty much any environment, not just shelters, and have a wealth of information when it comes to introducing dogs together!
  • If you feel at all uncomfortable, I recommend working with a professional for this. Again, better safe than sorry. 

Happy training!