Adoption tips: Dog-to-Dog Introductions

by | Interesting |

Planning to bring home a new dog? Here are some helpful adoption tips for dog-to-dog introductions.

Introducing two unfamiliar dogs can be a stressful event for all involved. Luckily, with a solid plan in place, you can help things go smoothly and facilitate a lifelong friendship.

Important tips:
  • Leave your current dog at home when you go to pick up your new dog. This is a safer idea for everyone involved. Managing the interaction of two new dogs while you are driving a car will not be possible and could cause tension in the confined space of your vehicle.
  • Don’t make any stops on the way home.
  • Recruit a helper(s) for the introduction. You will need two people, one to handle each dog.
  • Have treats available to reward and encourage good behaviour!
  • Plan for the introduction to take place in a neutral setting (park, open field, parking lot). Allowing one dog to have the “home court advantage” is unfair.
Step 1: Introductions/Getting Started:

Take a walk together. The goal of this step is to release some nervous energy and get the dogs feeling calm and happy around each other.

  • Take the dogs on a walk in the neutral setting, keeping a safe distance between them (two to four metres) to prevent the leashes from tangling and the dogs from greeting each other just yet. This will help them relax and adjust to each other’s presence.
  • Both dogs should be on sturdy leashes handled by calm, relaxed adults.
  • Try to keep the leashes slack as you walk. Tension or tightness may translate as stress on your part and cause the dogs to become anxious in response.
  • Provide treats or praise to both dogs to reward good behaviour while walking.
  • If all is going well, allow them to meet, sniff each other, check each other out, again ensuring you keep the leashes as slack as possible. Provide verbal encouragement such as “Good dogs” or “Good job.” Keep your treats in your pocket for this part.
  • When first meeting, dogs will gradually sniff down one side, to the rear, and back up the other side, both of them sniffing each other at the same time. Beware of nose-to-nose greeting, this can be intimidating for some dogs.
  • Continue on the walk closer together, allowing short moments of contact between the dogs as you walk.
Step 2: Initiate a short, monitored play session.

If the dogs have made it this far without lunging, growling or showing signs of distress towards one another, you can proceed to letting them interact more freely with each other. Keep your treats in your pocket for this part; a dropped treat could cause conflict between the dogs.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but it is best to drop the leashes and allow a bit of freedom here. Take them to a large, enclosed area like a fenced yard or quiet park – the more space, the less tension there will be.
  • Drop their leashes, resist your urge to micro-manage, and allow them to investigate each other. As they approach, watch their body language closely. They may puff themselves up or even vocalize a bit, but neither dog should appear frightened or overly aggressive.
  • Try not to hover over the dogs, and keep yourself moving – both people should walk around separately, keep things light, and continue to offer verbal praise.
  • Give them about two or three minutes to get to know one another without interference.
  • If play is initiated between them (i.e. the dogs try to play by pawing or play-bowing with their legs stretched out in front of them), allow them to continue, and give praise for each nice interaction.
  • The dogs should be able to correct each other when one is being inappropriate; likewise, they should be able to pay attention to another dog’s corrections. It is also important for dogs to take turns being the chaser and the one being chased, and to take breaks when they get too amped up. If they are not able to do that for themselves, pick up their leashes and walk them around until they shake off and loosen up, then try again.
  • Even if they are playing and getting along well, keep it short. It is best to end these initial sessions on a positive note.
Here are some general body language signs to look for to get an idea of where the interaction is headed:
  • If they stiffen their bodies and stare into each other’s eyes with their hair up and their teeth bared, they probably aren’t going to become fast friends. If they lunge at each other and try to fight, separate them and don’t try further introductions.
  • Beware of nose-to-nose greeting. This type of greeting is very stressful for many dogs, particularly those who are fearful or feel threatened by eye contact. For these dogs, nose-to-nose greetings may cause them to make a bad decision and bite out of fear and defensiveness. When dogs first look into each other’s eyes, the appropriate behaviour is to give a glance and then look away. A hard stare into another dog’s eyes is a challenge — not a friendly way to greet. If the dogs practice inappropriate behaviour like stiffening or staring, try to get the dogs to calm down by offering verbal feedback. You can pick up their leashes if that doesn’t work, and walk them around until they shake off and loosen up, then try again.
  • If the dogs rush up to each other — with or without the hair raised at their shoulders and at the base of the tail — and engage in loud, rambunctious play, stay alert. This type of play can often escalate to fighting if the dogs do not know how to calm themselves down.
  • If one dog pursues the other continually and ignores the other dog’s corrections (i.e. lip curls, growls or air snaps) or requests to take a break, it can turn from play into bullying. These kinds of corrections are frequently mistaken for aggression, but they are actually part of healthy, normal dog communication.
Step 3: Taking things inside
  • Once at home, allow the new dog to enter the house first so he can have some time to explore the new space without the resident dog interfering.
  • You can allow some “dropped leash” meeting time again in the yard before allowing both dogs to enter the house together.
  • Make sure all treats, toys, food bowls and bones are out of reach and out of sight to prevent conflicts.
  • Be sure to feed them and give them treats separately until they have developed a secure relationship.
  • Set the new dog up with a safe space blocked off from other pets and family members so he has a place to decompress when feeling overwhelmed. Keep each interaction between the two dogs short and pleasant and separate them immediately if tensions arise.

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