Dear Labby, What’s the Best Way to Introduce a New Dog to the Family?
This is the third in our Dear Labby series on adding a 2nd (or 3rd) dog to your household. We’ve looked at the factors to consider when deciding to add another dog, tips on choosing that dog and now introducing the new dog to your current dog.
Over the past six years, we’ve had 3 dogs pass away and we’ve adopted three new dogs. That’s a lot of introductions. We’ve found that that first interaction can be critical to the ongoing success of the relationship. Here’s how we’ve done it.
When Sally passed and we wanted to adopt another dog, we choose Becca because we determined she would be calm and unconcerned with Tino’s blindness and lack of boundaries. I first went to meet Becca alone in her foster home. She was living with two other Labs and one of them was blind. It was a match made in heaven. I brought Becca home and took her for a walk. I had Steve bring Tino out and we walked together. Tino was always a ladies man, so he was very interested in Becca and gave her a good sniff. Given her training as a service dog, Becca was as cool as a cucumber and showed no interest or concerns about Tino sniff down. It was an easy and stress free introduction.
They settled into a mutually agreeable routine almost immediately. The only issue arose was at bedtime. Tino’s routine was to go out for a late night perimeter check of his yard and then wander into the bedroom to sleep on our bed. And when I say wander, he did – he no longer walked in a straight line, he was a bit like a pinball sometimes. Becca slept just inside the door and he would frequently step on her or over her to get to the bed. The first few nights, I worried Becca may react, so I built a pillow fort around her so that Tino would bounce off the pillows and not step on her. It worked like a charm.
When Tino passed, we got Jack. This was probably our biggest challenge because Jack was so big and a bit anxious, I worried he would add stress to Becca’s calm lifestyle. I went to meet Jack alone first and then the next time, I brought Becca with me. We did need to be sure that he wouldn’t try to play rough with her in any way due to her spinal issue – she needed to be left alone. We went for a walk in the shelter parking lot and down the street and Jack totally ignored her…and she him. I picked him up the next day and brought him home where we did a neighborhood walk with the two of them just as we did when we introduced Becca and Tino. All was fine – they continued to ignore each other. We crated Jack for the first few weeks until I was sure his disinterest in Becca was going to last, it did and they were fine together. Jack is not a dog with much interest in other dogs, so he was a fine match for Becca and they co-existed in harmony.
Then Becca passed and we adopted Maggie. We had no idea Maggie was as fearful as she turned out to be when we first met her. She just appeared to be a nice mellow girl, about the same age as Jack. We knew Jack was disinterested in other dogs, so we just wanted a dog who was mature enough to leave him alone. Maggie fit the bill. We brought her home and once again met on neutral territory. Jack’s initial reaction was a bit of a growl when he saw me walking Maggie toward him, but we just got in step and went for a pack walk, he gave her a good sniffing and that was it. Maggie totally loves her big brother and Jack continues to be disinterested in her. We crated Maggie during the night for the first few days, but she hated it, so we soon abandoned that. The only issue the two of them ever have is when Maggie takes over his bed…but Jack just gives it up – he’s such a gentleman.
We’ve always fed our dogs separately and continued that with Jack in the kitchen and Maggie on the back patio. We are also very careful when handing out treats. Seniority rules in our house and whichever dog has been here the longest, we treat as the elder statesman and they get fed first, they get treats first, they get in the car first, they get petted first, etc. I believe those little things send a signal to the dogs about the pack hierarchy and help keep the peace – it also teaches patience, which was important when we got Jack. I’m not a total believer in all of the behavior theory around pack mentality, but some of it just makes sense to me and seems to work for us.
I KNOW we have been extremely lucky in adding new family members and I’m grateful for that. As seniors, our dogs are more mellow and less apt to get into spats. None of them have been active playmates, only Sally & Tino when they were young, so I think that alleviates some of the potential sibling rivalry you might normally see. I know some folks struggle with getting their dogs to get along and have to work long and hard at it. I think picking the right personality to fit with our current dog as well as careful introductions and close monitoring for the weeks following has helped make our introductions go so smoothly.
Here’s a short list of some common tips when introducing new dogs. Please add your own experiences and tips in the comments.
- Met on neutral territory.
- Start with a pack walk, when the dogs are walking side-by side it eliminates the stress of a face-to-face meeting.
- Allow them to sniff each other on loose leashes – don’t have any tension or stress in the leash as it will transfer to the dog. Try to avoid a nose-to-nose greeting as they are the most stressful.
- Watch their body language carefully. You know your dog and their signs of stress, you may not be able to read your new dog as easily, so be sure to study up on dog language before you bring them home.
- If you are going to crate train, use the crate to allow one and then the other dog free in the house and rotate them as they get to know each other.
- Keep their mutual area free of toys or other potential hazards that might create a squabble until you are certain there will be no possessiveness battles.
- Be careful at feeding time. Keep them separate for a few days, or longer if necessary. As with toys – possessiveness over food can be a potential hazard.
- Give equal affection to the two dogs. Jealousy can be a real sore spot for your current dog.
- Give each dog their own private space and place to get away from the other dog whenever they need to – this may be a crate or separate room, just be mindful, especially if you have dog’s with different energy needs.