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How to Properly Introduce New Dogs

Check out our guide for everything you need to know about introducing new dogs, whether you're at the park or bringing home a new furry family member.

How to Properly Introduce New Dogs

Check out our guide for everything you need to know about introducing new dogs, whether you're at the park or bringing home a new furry family member.

On leash, off-leash, nose to nose, or nose to butt — there is a LOT of advice out there about how to and how not to introduce dogs. Ultimately, a proper introduction boils down to understanding the personalities involved, differentiating between normal and problematic behavior, and knowing how to advocate for your dog.

This article explores common challenges, misconceptions, and ways to introduce your dogs based on their preference and personality for long-lasting, healthy relationships. 

First Impressions Go a Long Way

Sometimes, the start of a good thing can unintentionally become the start of a bad thing. This is why when and how you introduce your dog to others matters. Even introductions that go awry with one specific dog can lead to those negative feelings from that single event transferring to the next dog they meet, the next, and so on.

Being strategic with introducing your dog to other dogs can help set them up for social success!

A small brown dog and a large white dog touch noses in a field.

Common Challenges When Introducing New Dogs

Introducing your pup to a new friend might sound simple, but knowing what challenges you may be up against will ensure you and your dog feel comfortable and confident making social connections with other dogs.

Challenge #1: Assuming your pup wants to be as social as you do. 

Most dogs are dog-selective, meaning they get along with some dogs but might not get along with others. Much like their human counterparts in human relationships, it's rare for a pup to love or hate every dog they meet. Remember this as you decide who to introduce your pup to and who not to. Be selective for them, too!

Additionally, puppies and young dogs are often excited to meet and greet everyone. Still, as they mature and their personality settles (around two years), they may not enjoy those interactions anymore. They may prefer not to greet new dogs or people — and that's okay!

Challenge #2: Misreading Your Dog's Body Language

Body language is a window into your dog's emotional state. That language can shift from moment to moment and be subtle at times, so learning more about canine body language and reading your dog's individual signs can help you determine whether to continue an interaction or walk away with your best friend.

Challenge #3: Not introducing your dog to every other dog you meet. 

It may sound counterintuitive, but there might come a time when you have to put on your Fun Police badge and stop your dog from interacting with another pup you meet. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, if you stop to greet every dog and person in your travels, that will become what your dog expects. One day, when your dog doesn't read the room right, or you don't want to interact with the person at the end of a leash, your dog may get very frustrated and act out because they feel they are being denied what they've been conditioned to expect — to say hello to all people and dogs while out on walks. 

Secondly, repeatedly interacting with other dogs and people when your pup isn't feeling social can accumulate, leading your dog to become anti-social or aggressive to other dogs and humans they don't want to interact with.

Evaluate the Temperament and Behavior of Each Dog You Meet

Dog fights can be brutal and deadly, but they don't necessarily start off looking that way. This is why reading dog body language and setting aside our impulsive human wants is necessary to protect our furry best friends.

Before introducing your pup to a new dog, you should ensure that both dogs exhibit compatible temperaments.

Start by asking yourself if you know the history of the dog and dog owner to whom you are interested in introducing your pup. Have you seen them interact with others? Has the other dog or your dog been involved with other dog-to-dog altercations? Does the other pet parent seem to have control of their dog, and does their dog seem very responsive to their person? Does your dog have any reservations about meeting strangers since that can affect how they feel about meeting a new dog, too? These are all things to consider when deciding whether or not to stop and say hello.

Next, if you don't know the person at the other end of the leash, don't simply take their word for it when they say their dog is friendly or wants to say hello. Reading behavior as it is happening and changing in front of us can sometimes be complicated for professionals who do it for a living. The average loving pet parent may not know how to detect subtle but essential communication signs.

A dog that is experiencing anxiety and highly aroused who sees your dog as a potential threat can look like a dog very excited to say hello and get right into playing. It's best to assume that not all pet parents are body language savvy — even when it comes to their own dogs.

Identifying Potential Compatibility Issues

Sometimes, evaluating whether a dog has the right temperament to meet another dog can be challenging. Here are some red flags that can signify compatibility issues to help you avoid unnecessary conflict. 

Resource-Guarding Behaviors

Is your dog or the other dog a resource guarder? Resource guarding falls into several categories, such as food or possessive aggression, but all stem from a similar behavior pattern. Resource guarders can cause fights where fights would otherwise not exist due to being defensive or possessive of objects, people, spaces, and food. Even when there isn't something obvious to guard, elevated stress levels can quickly turn a slight misunderstanding or disagreement ugly. A stressed dog who is typically only aggressive around toys may become aggressive around a water bowl or park bench in the dog park

Size

We all love seeing those furry friendships between giant dogs and little puppies, but you shouldn't assume that your big (or little) pup can safely play with a dog of a different size.

For example, while some small dogs like Miniature Pinschers mimic the play styles of bigger dogs, other small dogs like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may find the same rough-and-tumble play style offensive or scary. Start your introductions with dogs that are similar in size, and avoid casual physical hellos to dogs considerably smaller or considerably larger. 

Age

With age comes age-related ailments such as arthritis, degenerative diseases, and other underlying processes that slow our pups down and lead to discomfort in situations they were previously perfectly comfortable in. It's common to notice social changes as dogs enter their senior years. Take signs from your dog: protect their space if they are more apprehensive, and give them plenty of room to exit a social interaction if needed.

Health Conditions

As with aging, underlying medical conditions can also make dogs more defensive or protective of themselves and their boundaries. If you notice a change in your dog's social behaviors, schedule a physical exam with your veterinarian to rule out discomfort or pain caused by a medical condition. 

Energy Levels

Have you ever met a person that you just vibe with? You click from the start and know this is one of your people. On the flip side, have you ever met someone you just cannot vibe with, no matter how hard you try? It can be the same with dogs. While two dogs may initially seem like willing participants in a social interaction, it can quickly become upsetting to one or both dogs if their energy levels don't match. 

Two dogs run together in a park, one of them holding a toy in its mouth.

Should These Two Dogs Even Meet?

To introduce or not introduce — that is the question. First, consider what the reason for the greeting is. Some dogs don't need to meet in person — at least not at first. Let's look at common reasons for greetings to delve deeper.

Socialization

If you want to socialize your dog with others, you should first know that physical contact isn't always required. In fact, socialization is more like "social exposure," by which puppies and dogs learn and have social experiences from safe exposure to various smells, sounds, and sights. Your dog or puppy has a social experience with each new dog they see, hear, and smell - even at a considerable distance. 

In addition, if you interact with your puppy in the presence of other animals, you are conditioning your puppy to focus on you first rather than potentially conditioning the puppy to ignore you when the environment is full of stimulating distractions. This doesn't mean you won't let your puppy explore new things physically or lead the way at times. Still, what you practice the most is what your puppy will do, so keep that in mind when choosing when and what to give in to with your pup's excitement and curiosity. 

Short-Term Relationships

When it comes to greetings, puppies and adult dogs are different. Puppy-to-puppy greetings and playdates with other puppies can be fun for young puppies. Similarly, interactions with adult dogs that are behaviorally sound and fully vaccinated can also help your puppy improve their communication and social appropriateness. However, short-term greetings can be dangerous if you don't know the other dog or the pet parent. A traumatic experience — anything from your puppy being attacked to your having a fearful response to the other dog — can have long-lasting effects on their personality and developing social skills.

When adult dogs physically interact with each other while out and about, the risks significantly outweigh the benefits. Adult dogs are generally not as accepting of all personalities and types as puppies are and may take offense to various personalities in their personal space. If you may never see the other adult dog again or are not interested in developing a long-term relationship between the dogs, forego the introductions or keep them super brief before moving on.

Long-Term Relationships

The best friendships don't happen overnight. Consider this when setting your pup up for long-term success with another dog. Pet parents often toss their dogs together and expect they'll be best friends or get along well. Even "friendly" dogs can have disagreements, be emotionally dysregulated, and be picky about who they want to be friends with. 

If you want long-term success, play it slow. Take the dogs for walks together, have separate play activities within each other's vicinity, and practice downtime together on separate placemats in the same area while socializing before having physical introductions. 

If you need help introducing two dogs where first impressions matter for long-term results, consider working with a positive reinforcement-based accredited dog trainer. They are skilled with dog integration and relationship building and can take the angst out of the "what-ifs" in the process for you. If either dog in this budding relationship has any pre-existing behavior concerns, such as aggression or resource guarding, a behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist can provide advice before you attempt to introduce the dogs.

Preparing for a Successful Introduction

So you've decided to introduce your dog or puppy to another dog or puppy. Now what?

Start with energy! Natural energy levels can make or break an interaction, but you can also affect how a dog-to-dog introduction goes with some prep work. Before introducing your pup to another dog, have a short play session with your dog, including a physical activity that gets their heart rate and respiration rate up. Then, spend five minutes working on skills and getting your pup clicked into you. This short and simple practice can help get the wiggles out and put them in a better frame of mind for thinking during new interactions. 

The second energy box to check off before an introduction involves gauging their arousal level. Arousal refers to their level of excitement and alertness. If a dog is "all jacked up" with excitement and displaying behaviors such as jumping, lunging, pulling, barking, or whining at the other dog, there's a higher likelihood of an altercation occurring. On the flip side, if a dog is overly tired and showing avoidance signs or is disinterested, the introduction could make the tired dog more agitated and likelier to be snappy.

Fit your intros in when your doggie dependent is well-rested. Interact with your dog before their intro and ensure they are in a state of mind to easily follow your cues and break focus from the other dog before sending them into the party.

On-Leash Meetings

Having a leash attached to your dog is like wearing a seat belt. It may not serve a direct purpose 99% of the time, but it can be a lifesaver when something goes unexpectedly wrong. 

Avoid on-leash meetings if your dog has any leash reactivity or if the dog you are looking to introduce your dog to is lunging, pulling forward hard on the leash, or barking at your dog.  

Meeting other dogs on a leash can allow you to say a quick hello with sniffs of body parts and exchanges of behaviors with the ability to safely pull your dog away. Ideally, you should be able to call your dog away from other dogs, people, or objects with no pressure on your leash, but the leash is a safety belt if they do not cooperate for any reason.

Three dogs on leashes meet for the first time and sniff each other.

How to Introduce Two Dogs on Leash

  1. Before meeting up with the dog you're introducing your pup to, have a short one-on-one physical play session such as tug of war while practicing your "drop" cue or playing fetch with skill drills between throws. 
  2. Meet at a neutral location, such as a park or greenway.
  3. Start in the parking lot with your car door open and plenty of space between your car and the vehicle the other dog arrived in. Allow both pups to smell and observe the area and give a treat here or there for staying in the car and observing their surroundings. After a few minutes, release them from the vehicle, let them independently sniff around the car, and take a potty break if needed.
  4. Walk the dogs in a parallel fashion with both handlers and dogs in the following arrangement: dog, handler one, handler two, dog. Start with plenty of space and two people in between both dogs. 
  5. If the dogs are walking with the handlers nicely after a few minutes, switch to one person in between the dogs with the arrangement: dog, handler, dog, handler. 
  6. Move the dogs next to each other after a few minutes, but give them at least a leash length of distance apart to where they will not physically interact. 
  7. After walking for a while, select a spot to relax with the dogs in close quarters with one another but not physically interact. 
  8. End your session — your dogs have been introduced! 

Repeat these steps while monitoring both dogs' body language for any signs of stress, and work your way to incorporating shorter and longer play sessions. Don't rush the process.

Look to build solid first impressions for lasting relationships. If you've repeated these steps a few times and both dogs can follow cues from handlers, are loose-bodied and wagging, and seem to be relaxed, build up your physical interactions, starting with sending them in for a quick sniff (10 seconds), then calling them away to continue walking. Then, send them in for 30 seconds before calling them away to walk. Reward both dogs every time they follow the handler away from the other dog with a treat or a quick tug on their favorite tug toy.

Once the dogs have worked up to physical play or interactions, you can start relaxing more with the time they spend together and move them to a fenced-in off-leash area to have fun. 

In playful interactions, look for signs that both dogs exchange behaviors such as chasing, sniffing, and play-bowing. Watch for quick breaks and that both dogs give the other dog space during a pause in the game. These are all signs that things are going well between the two dogs. 

If you notice a lot of piloerection (hair between their shoulder blades standing up), stiff body postures, or a lack of behaviors being exchanged, such as one dog always chasing the other or one of the dogs avoiding the other dog, it's time to bring that interaction to a close.

How to Introduce Dogs Together Off Leash

So long as neither dog is leash-reactive, begin with the steps outlined above. A gradual progression from on-leash to off-leash interactions can help the dogs warm up to each other and get to know one another before benign in each other's physical space and navigating personal boundaries. 

Ensure a safe and open space for off-leash introductions with plenty of room to take a break if needed. Clear out toys, food, and water bowls to avoid arguments over objects. If the dogs play in a small or tight area, such as between or under outdoor furniture, call them out of those areas into a more open space to avoid conflict from one dog feeling trapped or defensive.

Always supervise playtime and watch for signs of exhaustion or stress. Practice initially calling your dogs out of play, rewarding them with a treat, and then sending them back into play several times. You'll want to know that your dog will reliably follow your recall instructions if you need to safely separate them for a break or to avoid an escalating issue.

As a safety precaution, if the two dogs are newer friends or playmates, always have at least one person per dog present during playtime. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to help you watch for behaviors that indicate things are going well or be there to assist should the dynamics change. Remember that even if two dogs get along the majority of the time, there's always a possibility that a negative interaction can occur. 

Signs of a Successful Introduction

You've done all the things, and you've introduced your dog to another dog. Now it's time to determine whether you'll repeat an interaction with that dog or even maybe a new dog

Look for signs of success, such as loose and waggy bodies with soft mouths and no tension in the forehead or body. If both dogs exchange similar behaviors and respect short breaks, chances are, you've had a successful introduction.

If you notice one dog avoiding the other, it may be a sign that the dog is not really interested in interacting with the other one. If you see stiff body posture that does not relax, extended piloerection, one dog constantly jumping up on the other dog, growling, pinning the other dog, and standing over the pinned dog - these are all signs that this may not be a good match and one dog is getting the short end of the play stick. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Introducing Dogs

When setting two dogs up for success, that success depends on how the pet parents read and handle the language of their own dogs. There are some common mistakes to highlight, some of which we've covered already and some of which may be less intuitive.

Here are the top five things to avoid when introducing new dogs together:

  • Allowing your dog to pull you to the other dog or introducing your dog to a dog actively pulling their owner towards you - tension on the leash can create tension in the body and the situation. Instead, work towards a relaxed leash to be able to have access to the other dog. If your dog cannot offer a relaxed leash, forego the greeting and enlist the help of a positive reinforcement-based accredited dog trainer. 
  • Expecting that dogs will just "work it out" - unfortunately, with so much human intervention in breeding, selection, and rearing dogs, intervention is often required in some social settings. While some dogs are very skilled in canine communication, it does not mean the other dog will read those signs or respect that language. Be ready to call your dog out of an introduction, and if your dog will not listen to you, enlist the help of a professional dog trainer
  • Rushing the process. Be patient, take your time with introductions, and incrementally increase physical time together. When things are going well, you want to keep it that way!
  • Jumping in on minor scuffles. Sometimes, even the best of friends can get into a minor disagreement. A fuss breaking out can sound and look scary for dogs that generally play well together and don't typically have altercations. So long as there are no punctures or wounds and the dogs separate to respect each other's boundaries, there's not necessarily a reason to intervene or be overly concerned. Yelling or rushing in at the dogs can elevate their arousal and further spark an altercation. 
  • Thinking your dog needs phsyical interactions with other dogs. Some pups are social butterflies and have a blast with their favorite playmates, but this isn't true for all dogs. Remember that your dog is unique, and try to understand and respect their likes, dislikes, and needs. 

Be Careful Introducing Your Dog to Multiple Dogs

When introducing a dog to multiple dogs, the most important thing is to avoid introducing them all together simultaneously. Matching the moods, interests, energy levels, and personalities of two individual dogs is a challenge enough; throwing extra dogs in the mix can quickly turn a fun and exciting encounter into a scary or dangerous situation.

You might be thinking about dog park interactions and how that is introducing multiple dogs at once. You'd be correct; dogs get seriously injured and traumatized at dog parks daily. Multiple dogs can get overwhelming quickly, and the dynamics are entirely different as dogs in a group may feed off each other, leading to behaviors they wouldn't necessarily exhibit one-on-one. Additionally, multiple moderately stressful events can add up and create social fears and anxieties even when a dog isn't involved directly in an altercation. 

Introducing a New Adult Dog in a Multi-Dog Household

So what about introducing a new dog to a household with multiple dogs already living in the home or a foster situation?

First, give the new dog a couple of weeks to adjust to you, other human family members, and their new routine before introducing them to other dogs. The first couple of weeks is the honeymoon period, where a dog may exhibit apprehension about displaying all of their emotions or behaviors outright. During the honeymoon phase, let your dogs hear each other and smell where they have been.

When it is time to introduce the dogs, take it one at a time. It's much easier for dogs to get to know each other individually rather than all at once, which can be overwhelming. If there are more than three dogs in the house, after individual introductions have gone well at least a few times, incorporate two housemates with the new dog, then the other two housemates with the new dog, and finally, bring all of them together. 

In the beginning, until you've had the opportunity to practice preventive positive exercises to reduce the likelihood of food aggression or other resource guarding, keep food bowls and high-value items such as chewing bones and treats separated. Use caution with dog toys and always supervise to ensure everyone's safety. 

A woman sits on her sofa with two dogs.

Introducing a New Puppy to a Multi-Dog Household

Introducing a new puppy is easier, and you can move through the honeymoon more quickly. With a new puppy introduction, the older dog in the home often needs breaks, additional enrichment to combat added stress (even good stress), and adequate rest to have the energy for the new young whippersnapper in the home. 

When you bring a new dog home, remember it isn't just the new dog or puppy that has to adjust; your current furry family members will also have an introductory adjustment period. Remember to give your current dog or dogs plenty of attention and fair opportunity for your affection. For long-term success, give each dog and puppy adequate one-on-one time, physical activity, play, adequate rest, and mental stimulation through dog training and enrichment. Fulfilling the needs of each dog in the home contributes to a well-balanced pack.

When dogs meet for the first time, the thought of little fur babies making new best friends can be exciting to pet parents. Remember that some dogs will be equally as excited, but some pups will need more time. A safe and gradual approach to any introduction with a new dog or puppy is imperative to their mental and physical well-being. Part of being a responsible dog owner is learning to listen to our dog's needs and respond in a way that will benefit them most in the long run.

A strategic approach to building long-term social relationships can create balance, increase trust in human companions, and lead to a harmonious relationship among dogs in a multi-dog household. 

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