Relationships between dogs can be complex, much more than the old archaic and very out-of-date “alpha dog” pack model beliefs ever suggested. There are things you can do to make sure this meeting is a success.
The most important tip we can give you is to take it slow and to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. Do yourself and the dogs a favor and trust your gut! Better to do a couple meetings and a few walks together, a little training, and slow introductions than to go too fast and risk starting off on the wrong paw, so to speak.
We’ve tried to keep it simple and break this down into 7 tips, each with a “Do” and a “Don’t”. We can’t stress enough: do what feels right for your dog and don’t be afraid to call something off if your dog looks stressed or uncomfortable. You are your dog’s best and only advocate, and he relies on you to keep him safe!
1. Location for the meeting
DO meet on neutral ground where neither dog is likely to feel territorial. Have both dogs on leash and only introduce two dogs at a time.
DON’T have the meeting in your house or backyard with one or both dogs off leash. You never know when one dog is going to take offense to something the other dog does and you won’t have any control over the situation.
2. Walk it off
DO go for a long walk with each dog being handled by a calm, relaxed adult handler, with each dog taking turns being in front. Keep the leashes loose, since pulling on the leash might communicate to the dog that you are worried about the meeting. Maintain about 10 feet between each dog at first, slowly decreasing the distance as you walk and things go well.
DON’T stop, stand around, get busy talking or fail to pay attention to the dogs. It is important to keep moving so the dogs don’t get too intense or focussed on each other in the beginning.
3. Keep it positive
DO praise and reward the dogs lavishly, even if things don’t start out going well. Take turns with each dog getting their attention, asking for a Sit or Stay and handing out plenty of rewards. Take breaks from the introductions to give a massage or sniff something interesting.
DON’T correct or punish the dogs if they do not get along. Also, don’t move the introductions along too quickly. As a general guideline, an introduction should take at least 30 minutes.
4. Pay attention
DO praise and reward the dogs if they try to play by pawing or play bowing with their legs stretched out in front of them. They may want to be best buddies. Allow them to briefly sniff each other and praise. Continue your walk and periodically allow them to sniff and investigate together.
DON’T take the leashes off (yet) even if it looks like the dogs are getting along together. Keep walking and giving them opportunities to enjoy the walk together.
5. If they don’t get along
DO pay attention to body language. If they stiffen their bodies or stare at each other, hair up and teeth bared, then it doesn’t look good for the dogs becoming buddies. Keep walking. If they lunge at each other trying to fight, separate them and don’t try any more introductions on your own.
DON’T correct the dog, pull on the leash, punish or threaten, or continue the introductions if the dogs try to fight. Just like you may not like everyone you meet, a dog may not like every other dog he meets either.
DO seek out a professional trainer skilled in modern, positive, and science-based training techniques who has experience introducing unruly knuckleheads.
6. Taking the dogs home
DO transport one or both dogs in separate crates. At home, put your dog’s toys and bones, food bowl and bed away first thing since these items could be sources of conflict. For the first few weeks, separate the dogs for high value treats and meals. After the dogs become best friends, then they may be able to share these things together.
DO keep the new dog separate from your dogs for at least 7 days, and 21-28 days is preferred. This will give time to see if the new dog has any contagious illnesses, allow you to pamper your current dog so she doesn’t get jealous and give you time to teach the new dog the house rules.
DON’T leave the new dog alone, unsupervised with your dog. Keep a leash on the new dog for the first couple of weeks so that you can easily redirect or remove the new dog if any conflicts break out.
7. A word about puppies
DO introduce a puppy to your dog in the same way outlined above. Keep in mind that if the puppy hasn’t had all his shots yet, you may need to cut out the walk and meet at a friend’s house (neutral ground) that you know if free from diseases the puppy could catch.
DON’T force your older dog to bear endless hours with a new puppy. Puppies can annoy older dogs and the dog may lose patience with the puppy. Take frequent breaks and until the puppy is older, allow the puppy and the older dog to play only in short spurts.