Our first off-leash experience together in the backyard!
When bringing a new dog to a home with existing dogs, chaos can ensue if steps are not taken to make proper introductions. Dogs who are not introduced the right way can become hostile and aggressive towards each other, making training much harder for you and putting unnecessary stress on the dogs. Proper introductions do not guarantee the absence of hostility or aggression but will probably not be the trigger that causes it. Here are some tips on properly introducing your new dog to his canine family so everyone can live happily together. Please note the rules for introducing highly aggressive dogs or dogs with a history of fighting are much more complex and require consultation with a certified professional–a veterinarian, trainer or animal behavioral specialist. When in doubt, seek professional assistance.
1. Understand your role. You are there to provide brief positive reinforcement yet be the first to step in and correct the moment things start to turn sour. Your job is also to protect the the dogs, especially the new dog when bringing more than two dogs together. By consistently showing you will not accept aggressive behavior, your dogs will trust you will take care of them.
2. If you have more than one existing dog in your household, introduce each one to the new dog separately.
3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Do not introduce the dogs at your house! To your ‘old’ dog(s), the house belongs to him/them; to your new dog, it’s a scary new place. Instead, take them somewhere neutral, preferably somewhere they’ve never been before but a location close to your house (you can walk home with all of them after. Of course, a short ride works just as well!). In a new setting, no one is territorial; the park you take your dogs to everyday is their park. *In some situations, a backyard is an acceptable setting but you should only do this if you have no other option and if the new dog is completely submissive. Aggressive dogs? Take them away from the house!
4. Keep the dogs on leashes the first time they meet. Keep the leashes loose. If you are the least bit worried about aggression, consider using a breathable muzzle.
Because of the size difference, when Scarlett showed aggression, she was muzzled. She forgot about the aggression and was just annoyed with the muzzle.
5. Allow them to sniff and interact with each other but be ready to stop anyone who steps out of line. Do this with a firm yet calm ‘no’–do not jerk the leash. Lead the dogs away from each other. If you show fear or tense up, the dogs will sense it, misinterpret it and react in a way you don’t want. They can size each other up, circle, sniff and hopefully they start to play but be ready to stop any aggression, including growling, baring teeth, raising shoulders, tensing body, staring each other down or any other form of hostile body language (you’ll see the change). Again, do not jerk the leashes; say ‘no’ and lead them away from each other for a few minutes. Dogs who want to play will put their front paws and shoulders down, butt up and probably wag their tag or playfully lunge. This behavior is good; let them get comfortable. Some dogs respond to this negatively, so be sure to watch body language of both dogs.
6.If you have more than one dog, now is the time to bring them together. Repeat step 5. If, at any time, things tense up, separate the dogs and try again after they’ve cooled off. Do not continue trying after two attempts or things could get worse and aggression could increase. Instead, keep the dogs separated and seek the help of a professional.
7. Now, it’s time to walk or drive them home! Once you get there, take them through the side yard to your backyard, if possible. First unleash the veteran dog(s) and then unleash the new dog. Let them play freely but supervise them closely. Be ready to intervene and constantly watch their body language. If they are getting along, great! If they ignore each other, that’s alright, too. Continued aggression or hostility requires separation. Do not force continued interaction, as things will just get worse.
8. When the dogs have played and are responding positively to each other, you can take them inside. If they are aggressive or hostile, separate them with the use of crates. The new dog should go into the crate and the existing dog(s) should be allowed out. Allow the dogs to walk up and sniff the new dog but do not allow aggression from either side. Do not let the dogs gang up on the new dog. Then, put the old dogs in their crates and let the new dog out. Don’t neglect one group; be fair to the new guy and the old guys! Consult a professional as soon as possible to help you address the problem.
By taking these steps to properly introduce your dogs, you will help their relationship start off on the right paw. Good luck to you, your veteran pups and your new dog as you welcome and integrate him into your family!
Do you have tips for introducing new dogs to their canine counterparts? Let us know below!
This is how I’ve introduced my dogs for years. Both the ASPCA and Humane Society offer similar approaches:
Humane Society: Introducing a Dog to Other Pets
ASPCA: Introducing Your Dog to a New Dog