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Recently, we talked about how to introduce your fur baby to your new (human) baby, and the article wasn’t something I have any experience in. I’m a dedicated dog parent and I adore my nephew, but kids just aren’t for me. That being said, I did the research for the article to help out my friend Al, who was introducing his Pyrenees, Harlow, to a new baby soon.
The article did get me thinking about something that applies to my life a little more. I may never need to introduce my dogs to a new baby, but there may come a time when I need to introduce them to a new dog. While I love Janice and Leroy and don’t plan on getting new dogs any time soon, you never know what the future holds. Introducing a new dog to your family of existing pets is a little different from introducing dogs to each other at the dog park. So, I did some more research and here’s what I learned.
1. Consider your dog’s temperament before choosing your new dog
If you know ahead of time that you’ll be adopting a new dog, consider what will be best for your existing dog before choosing. For example, is your dog a dominant female? Introducing another female dog into the mix may be asking for trouble. Aggression among female dogs is a common occurrence. It is often a better idea to have a female with a male, rather than two dogs of the same sex, unless they were raised together. Another important factor is your dog’s age and activity level. It’s not usually wise to introduce a playful new puppy to an older, sedate dog. Try to get a dog of similar age and activity level if you can.
2. Ace the initial introduction
The first time you introduce your existing dog to your new dog, it’s wise to choose a neutral spot like the dog park or the sidewalk – not your house or your yard. Choose a place where your existing dog will be comfortable, but won’t feel as though they need to be on guard. Be sure both dogs are on leashes, and allow them enough freedom to interact. If it goes well, then allow them to interact off-leash in a safe area.
3. Let the new dog check out the house alone
One thing to keep in mind is that your existing dog will feel territorial about your home. However, you do also want your new dog to feel comfortable in the home. A good idea is to keep your existing dog separated in one room or in their kennel, while your new dog checks out the house. Give them a moment to get acclimated to the new space without the stress of having to navigate the relationship with your existing dog as well. You may need to keep the dogs separated for a few days until everyone feels comfortable with each other. Dog gates can allow the dogs to see and smell each other, while keeping them safe for the meantime.
It’s important that both your dogs get lots of attention from you during this initial introduction period. Your existing dog needs to know that they are still loved and valued, and your new dog needs to develop a bond with you. Additionally, you can unintentionally breed jealousy and aggression between dogs if you don’t give them both plenty of one-on-one attention. This can lead to the very behavior you’ve been trying to avoid.
5. At the same time, give them activities that they can do together
While it’s definitely important to give dogs one-on-one attention, it’s also important to start teaching them to be together. Taking walks together, playing together, doing compliance teaching or agility course training together, and other fun activities are great ideas. Be sure that you only involve them in positive activities together for now, where there will be lots of praise and treats. Both dogs need to associate being in each other’s company with fun and positive attention.
6. Feed them separately for quite a while
One thing that many dogs get anxious about is sharing their source of food. Feeding time aggression is very common with existing dogs getting introduced to a new dog, and if your new dog is coming from a bad situation – such as a crowded shelter or being on the street – they may already have aggressive eating habits themselves. So, feeding your dogs at separate areas of the house is a very good idea. However, it’s best to feed them at the same time, so that when you can feed them together, they are both on the same schedule. Supervised feeding in the same area can occur when the dogs are very comfortable with each other later. Remember that even the best of friends are still animals whose first instinct is to hoard valuable resources – so if you are handing out treats or favorite toys, always keep the dogs separate to avoid fighting.
7. Pay attention to body language when the dogs are together
It’s very important that you pay attention to the body language of both dogs when introducing them, and when they play together after the initial introduction. Watch for signs of aggression, like raised hackles, bared teeth, wrinkled noses, and stiff or bristled tails. It’s common to see signs of submission, especially from the new dog – this may include things like exposing their belly or avoiding eye contact. Watch out for aggressive responses from your existing dog that you may want to nip in the bud in response to these submissive behaviors.
8. Be sure that your existing dog is very well trained to follow commands before introducing a new dog
It is very important that your dog is excellent at responding to commands before introducing a new dog. You need to be able to trust that your dog will heel if there are any issues. You’ll already be dealing with one dog that may not be trained; two could be disastrous. However, this tip is even more important if your new dog is significantly smaller than your existing dog. Dogs still do have their prey drive from their wild ancestors, and they may see a smaller dog as prey. Even if they don’t, they may not know that playing roughly the way they would with a dog their size could harm a small dog. You need to be sure your dog will heel, “drop it”, “leave it”, and so on, in every situation.
9. Respect your existing dog’s need for alone time, especially if there is an age or activity level difference
Your dog is used to being alone, or with the pets that have always been in your home. They’ll find the new addition to be tiring in many ways, especially if they are older and the new dog is a puppy, or if they are low-energy and the new dog is high-energy. They’ll need some alone time where they don’t feel that they have to be on guard all the time with the new addition. Give your dog a space where they can go – for example, consider blocking the new dog from getting to your dog’s bed. This gives your existing dog a safe space that they can retreat to until they are ready to face the new dog again.
10. Consider taking both dogs to a professional trainer
Even if your existing dog is already well trained, you may want to consider taking all your dogs to a professional trainer if they are struggling to get along. There are a few reasons for this. First, it’s common for dogs to revert back to old behaviors when a new dog is thrown into the mix. Your dog may need the reminder to stay the well-behaved dog you know and love. Second, a professional trainer can work with the dogs on building trust between them. They’ll be able to train them in a way that makes the dogs feel like a team, rather than competitors. Finally, a trainer will be able to work with you, showing you some good techniques for separating the dogs and working with them together, so that you are more confident in your ability as a multi-dog owner.
11. Set reasonable goals for your dogs’ behavior
Remember that your dogs are animals, and that they each have unique backgrounds that can give them unique anxieties about other dogs. Keep in mind how your new dog has been socialized up till now, and set reasonable expectations for how the integration may go. It may take many months of supervision and separation before your dogs are comfortable with each other. It may only take a day or two before your dogs are best pals. Having patience as your dogs figure it out on their own schedule is the best policy. Remember that your existing dog thinks it’s her job to protect the house and you from threats, and any new dog will be seen as a threat at first. Don’t punish her for doing what she sees as her job – help her understand that her family now includes this new dog as well.
12. Introduce dogs from a multi-dog family one at a time
If you have multiple existing dogs, it’s important to treat the relationship with the new dog as an individual thing with each existing dog. You’ll want to introduce them all separately, offer them all one-on-one time with the new dog, and also arrange for “pack” playtime with all dogs together. It can be a lot to manage, but it’s very important for encouraging a healthy relationship among all the dogs. It may be that some dogs bond more quickly, while another of your dogs takes months to trust the new dog. Make sure you’re being patient with all your existing dogs, giving them all the same time and space they need to trust the new dog.
13. Know when it’s time to consider a new situation
Finally, be aware that you may not be able to happily integrate a new dog into your existing pack. Some dogs just may not be able to live together without posing a threat to one another. If your dogs are not happy living together, forcing them to stay together long term is not a good idea for anyone. Would you like to spend your whole life living with someone you hate? In this case, it may be best for everyone to find a new home for the new dog. Be sure to talk to your vet about any potential health problems in either dog that could be causing them to act out – dogs get defensive and aggressive when they are sick or injured. Beyond that, however, don’t feel bad if you can’t make it work. The best thing you can do for both dogs is to ensure they both have a happy home.
While I don’t plan on introducing a new dog to my home, I am not ruling out the idea either. Janice and Leroy are still young and healthy, but I’ve had enough dogs to know that one day, I’ll have to say goodbye to one of them. I hope that when that happens, I’ll be able to find a new family member to keep the other good company. And when that happens, I know that I’ll be pulling out these tips to make the introduction go smoothly.
When it’s time for you to introduce a new dog to your family, keep this list in mind. The closer we get to the winter holidays, the more common it is for families to need these tips – from rescuing freezing strays to getting new puppies as gifts, having a new dog in the family is common around this time of year. Be sure that your existing dog will still have a happy and healthy home life, and that your new dog is coming into a good, stable situation.