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Dog-to-Dog Introductions

While adding another dog to your household can bring lots of fun and companionship for both you and your current canine, it can also bring on uncomfortable feelings for your pup as they learn to share their space, favorite toys, and your attention. In the long run, things will probably work out fabulously, but in the beginning, it is necessary to take a few extra steps to make sure everyone feels comfortable with the new arrangement and is set up for success. We recommend the following guidelines for smooth and safe introductions to help ensure that your dogs’ relationship gets off to a strong start!

Maximizing the potential for a great bond between your new dog and your resident dog is a two-step process. It involves the actual introduction process and then managing the new dog in your home. If you already have more than one dog in your household, you will need to introduce the resident dogs to the new dog one at a time. Two or more resident dogs may have a tendency to "gang up" on the newcomer. It will likely take several weeks for your resident dog(s) and the newcomer to be completely integrated into your home. Take your time and move through the introduction process slowly. Going too slowly will not be harmful, but if you rush the process, it could lead to negative interactions that can set everyone back or even damage the chances for a successful relationship between the dogs in the future. 

Setting up your home

Before the newcomer arrives, set up your home for the new dog’s arrival. This will include putting up gates or determining which doors to shut to provide your new dog with their own space where they can be completely separate from your resident dog. If either dog is likely to jump over baby gates, you will need to purchase extra tall baby gates or plan to have the dogs separated by solid doors. Be sure that the separate spaces have the essentials set up for each dog, including a water dish, food bowl, comfortable bed, and toys. Having a plan in place for how you will create separate spaces before bringing home your new dog will allow for a smoother, less stressful transition into your family. 

The Introduction

Choosing an appropriate location

Introduce the dogs in a neutral location so that your resident dog is less likely to view the newcomer as a territorial intruder. Each dog should be handled by a separate person. With both dogs on a leash, take them to an area with which neither is familiar, such as a park or a neighbor’s yard. If you frequently walk your resident dog in a park near your house, they may view that park as their territory, so choose another site that’s unfamiliar to them. Ideally, the space will be fenced in, though this isn’t necessary.

Be prepared

  • Research and familiarize yourself with dog body language. Our canine companions can’t talk, but if you know what to look for, they are always telling us exactly how they feel – and a wagging tail does not automatically mean happiness. Once you’re aware of the subtle cues in their posture, how they’re holding their mouth, the way they’re using their eyes, or even whether or not they’re licking their lips, you’ll gain a lot of insight into their current emotional state and can better guide their interactions with other pets or humans. 
  • From the first meeting, you want both dogs to expect "good things" to happen when they’re in each other's presence. Bring a treat pouch or pocket full of high-value treats to use during the introduction. 
  • Have at least two people present who are able to handle a dog comfortably. Having a third person to help observe the dog’s body language is also beneficial. 
  • Talk through your plan with the other dog handler prior to bringing the dogs out so that you are both on the same page and understand the process you will be following.

Allowing the dogs to meet

During the introduction, it is vital that you avoid putting tension on either dog’s leash while they are interacting, always doing your best to leave some slack. When a dog has tension on their leash, they can feel trapped and start to emotionally escalate with growling, barking, etc.

Observe both dogs’ body language throughout the whole process, starting when they first see each other. Ideally, as you approach the other dog, you’ll see tails wagging at spine level, soft and wiggly body postures, play bowing, ears back, squinty eyes, and no extended direct eye contact. These are clear expressions of a non-aggressive social invitation. If, while at a distance, both dogs are showing relaxed body language, give your dog a treat when they look towards the other dog (and have the other handler do the same). This will begin to build up a positive association for them when seeing the other dog. 

Behaviors that are more concerning include stiffness in the body, standing tall, ears pricked forward, growling, hard direct eye contact, stiff/raised/fast-wagging tails, lunging on the leash, and aggressive barking. If you see these warning signs, stop your approach and do not have your dogs meet at this time. Enlist the help of a professional trainer for a one-on-one behavior consultation before moving forward.

Retreat and re-approach

If you continue to see relaxed body language, let the dogs sniff each other briefly. Sniffing is a normal canine greeting behavior and they may circle each other as they do so. While they are sniffing, it is important to continue to keep the leashes loose so there is slack. 

Keep the initial greeting short and only allow sniffing for up to three seconds. Both handlers should then redirect the dogs back to them using happy voices and reward them with food or praise. When separating the dogs, you should move so you are 10-20 feet apart from each other. Don’t allow them to investigate and sniff each other for a prolonged time or put tension on the leashes to separate the dogs, as this may escalate to an aggressive response. 

If both dogs remain frontal with squared shoulders and neither dog turns away to move around and sniff the hind end, redirect both dogs with your voice and high-value treats, as it is likely that the behavior will escalate. When offering treats in this scenario, wait until the dogs are facing away from each other to offer the food. Some dogs will guard edible items from others, so it is important for there to be distance between the dogs before offering food. 

Once separated, you can give treats for calm behavior or for following a cue such as "sit.” If both dogs remain relaxed and have soft, loose body language, give the dogs the choice to approach each other again. If they don’t readily choose to do so, that’s ok – do not force further interaction. If they do approach each other, continue to keep greetings short and sweet by redirecting the dogs away after a brief sniffing. After several short, successful approaches, you can increase the time the dogs interact. Always watch both dogs’ body language for signs of increased body tension, stress, or fear. If one dog attempts to avoid or move away from the other, allow them to do so and do not let the other dog approach or follow. If either dog is unable to respond to a basic cue or is not taking their favorite treats, those are signs that your dog’s stress level has risen. Give yourself some additional space before attempting another greeting. You may not be able to do a second approach if one or both dogs are showing signs of stress, reactivity, or fear. If this occurs, it doesn’t mean your dogs won’t be able to coexist or even become playmates, it just means you will need to slow down the introduction process and keep the dogs separated initially. 

If the dogs’ body language remains loose and no signs of aggression are seen, take the dogs for a walk and let them sniff and investigate each other and the environment. Continue to give high-value treats throughout the walk. Be aware of where both dogs are when you are giving treats. Don’t feed the dogs treats when they are right next to each other, as this could result in one or both of the dogs reacting and guarding their resource.

If you are in a fenced space and both dogs are showing signs of soft, loose, social behavior, you can drop leashes and allow them to drag behind the pups while they play/interact. Continue to carefully observe the dogs’ body language during play. If play begins to escalate and arousal levels increase, calmly interrupt the play by picking up the dogs’ leashes and separating them while offering high-value treats. Signs of escalation include an increase in how vocal the dogs are, rapid body or mouth movements, excessive panting, or the pigmentation around their eyes and mouth becoming red. Especially in the beginning, err on the side of caution and give your dogs more breaks rather than risking a scuffle. 

If you’ve ever seen your dog “shake off” without being wet or having just woken up, that is how they hit their own reset button after a stressful situation, releasing some tension and pent-up stress. Play can escalate to a scuffle if the dogs’ arousal levels increase and they don’t choose to take a break on their own and shake off. There is a higher likelihood of this when two dogs are just getting to know each other’s play styles. Luckily, you and at least one other person will be closely monitoring the interaction and can assist the dogs in taking a break when needed. Not all dog-dog introductions will lead to play during the first introductions, and that is okay. It does not mean you won’t see play behavior in the future. Some dogs live very comfortably with other dogs and enjoy their companionship, but rarely, if ever, play with their housemates; that is still a wonderful relationship! Your goal should be for your dogs to feel safe, relaxed, and comfortable in each other’s presence, so don’t be discouraged if they aren’t interested in actively playing with each other or don’t interact in the way you may have imagined. Just like us, some dogs take time to be comfortable with a new acquaintance, and with time, you will see the relationship grow. Even if you see play behaviors during the first introduction, you will still need to re-introduce the dogs at home and continue to manage their interactions. Behavior changes as environments and stimuli change. You may initially see different behaviors in the home than you did during the introduction in an open, neutral space outside.

Taking the dogs home

Even if the dogs interacted with soft, loose bodies in a neutral location, you will still need to be prepared to separate the dogs inside the home and revisit short, sweet approaches. Each environment is full of different stimuli which affects their behavior in varying ways. When transporting your dogs home, the dogs will need to be kept separated by a physical barrier, such as a crate, or ride in two different cars. 

If the introductions went smoothly in the neutral area, you can do another short, sweet greeting outside the home. Once inside, keep the dogs separated by a physical barrier. Allow the new dog time to decompress in their “safe space” that you set up prior to bringing the dog home. This decompression time should last for a few hours, at a minimum. If the new dog seems tired or disinterested in the resident dog through the barrier, wait until the next day to allow them to physically interact. They will still be acclimating to and learning about each other as they watch one another through the barrier and as scent passes back and forth.

To help the dogs settle once in the home and in separate spaces, provide each dog a high-value enrichment item (ex. peanut-butter-stuffed Kong). Giving the dogs something to engage with will help decrease the focus on each other. During the first few days to weeks, while the dogs are separated (how often and for how long will vary based on comfort level), it will be helpful to keep several different high-value enrichment items at the ready. Give these to the dog who is confined. Dogs have different levels of experience and comfort when confined to a separate space and the enrichment item will help them learn this is a positive part of their day. 

Always observe body language

It is very important to continue watching both dogs’ body language throughout their interactions with each other and when seeing each other. Watch carefully for body posture changes, including increased body tension, a prolonged stare, teeth-baring, or deep growls. If you see such postures, interrupt the interaction immediately by calmly and positively getting each dog interested in something else. For example, both handlers can call their dogs to them and reward each with a several treats. The dogs will become interested in the treats which will prevent the situation from escalating into aggression. If you see signs of aggression, consult a professional on how to best move forward. 

All dogs react differently to seeing another dog from behind a barrier, and you may see an escalation in their behavior. For example, if they were soft and loose during the introduction outside, they may bark or growl from behind a barrier when seeing the same dog inside the house. If this behavior occurs in your home, use barriers that the dogs cannot see through. For more information on behaviors from behind barriers, check out our resources on barrier reactivity.

The first weeks at home

  • Have both dogs drag leashes while interacting with each other for the first few days or weeks. This will allow you to quickly use the leash to separate them if it becomes necessary. Grabbing a leash is a much safer option than attempting to grab a dog’s collar. Many dogs find collar grabs aversive and stressful.
  • Continue providing the dogs with short, sweet interactions and build up the time they spend together slowly. It will depend on the individual dogs how long this process will take. Always pay close attention to their body language throughout interactions. 
  • It’s crucial to avoid scuffles or any negative interactions during the early stages of your dogs’ new relationship. Remember to pick up all toys, chews, food bowls, and your current dog’s favorite items. These items can be reintroduced after a couple of months, once the dogs have started to develop a good relationship. Some dogs may never be comfortable sharing items of value such as toys, bones, etc., and you will need to manage this throughout their lives by keeping resources picked up and only providing the items when that dog is alone.
  • Feed the dogs in completely separate areas with a physical barrier between them. Pick up bowls when feeding time is over, as some dogs will compete over bowls that previously contained food.
  • Confine the dogs in separate areas of your home whenever you’re away or can’t supervise their interactions. 
  • Spend time individually with each dog. Give each of them training time with you and playtime with other dogs outside your home. 
  • If your dogs are very different in age or energy level, be sure to give the older or less energetic one their own private space where they can enjoy rest and down time. In addition, you will want to give the younger or more energetic dog increased physical and mental exercise. 

Dog-to-dog introductions can be a challenging process to navigate, but your patience and commitment to a gradual process is the key to success. If the dogs are not getting along, it’s important to reach out for support. Contact the Wisconsin Humane Society behavior department at or 414-431-6173 with any questions or concerns.