A full report on how to introduce new dogs to your pack exists here. In addition to the instructions and precautions discussed in that article, here are some additional things you can do to increase your potential for successful introductions between dogs.
Here are some general suggestions on how to introduce dogs to each other:
1. Exercise the dogs before initiating introductions. Happily tired dogs are more likely to interact well than those who are bursting with energy.
2. Have tools within easy reach in case you need to interupt an aggressive interaction (for more on breaking up dog fights, see “How to Safely Break Up a Dog Fight“.
3. Be sure to remove toys and other high value chew objects from the introduction area to minimize potential for guarding incidents.
4. Use extra caution when introducing a puppy to adult dogs to avoid physical injury or psychological trauma to your pup. While many adult dogs recognize the importance of being gentle with baby dogs, some do not. Some will play too roughly, and some will be actively aggressive. A bad experience with an overly exuberant playmate or an aggressive dog can have a significant negative influence on a pup’s future social behavior.
5. Be careful, too, when introducing a new dog to senior members of your pack, especially if the new dog is an adolescent or a puppy. Protect your senior dog from being physically damaged—bumped, bruised, body-slammed, or knocked over by a rambunctious pup. Keep your pup on leash in the presence of Granny or use a baby gate to keep them separated until he learns to modulate his behavior around your fragile, sometimes grumpy senior. Your geriatric dogs shouldn’t have to defend themselves from the overwhelming attention of fractious youngsters.
6. Consider size. Jean Donaldson, director of the San Francisco SPCA’s Academy for Dog Trainers, recommends no more than a 25-pound difference in size between dogs in a household or play group. More than that, she warns, and you risk predatory drift, where the larger dog suddenly perceives a small running dog as a prey object, such as a bunny or squirrel, and shifts from play to food-acquisition mode, sometimes with tragic results. Know that if you choose to introduce a new dog to a situation where there is a large size disparity, you may be taking additional risks with your dogs’ safety during introductions and thereafter.
7. Be sure to reinforce both/all dogs for calm, appropriate behavior in each other’s presence. Your reinforcers should be calming: treats, massage, and verbal praise are good choices; tug and fetch are not. You can use tethers, if necessary, to create calm, and follow Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas’ suggestions to have dogs approach each other in a curving line rather than directly, allowing them to sniff the ground and do other displacement and appeasement behaviors such as looking away, as they choose.
Note: Turid Rugaas coined the term “calming signals” for many of the social behaviors dogs display when interacting with each other and with us. You can learn more about her work through her book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, and her “Calming Signals” DVD.
Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is Whole Dog Journal’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Hagerstown, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also the author of The Power of Positive Dog Training and Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog.