New Dog Introductions

New Dog Introductions


Question: Doctor Mark, what’s the best way to bring a new dog into the family?

Answer: Getting a new dog is an exciting time for the family. However, too much excitement can create issues with new dog introductions. Be aware of what you are doing and saying and try to remain calm. You should set aside ample time for the initial introduction. Do not rush! Set aside the entire day if you have to. It is best to have two people involved.

Dr. Mark Nunez, DVM

It would be preferable to get both dogs used to a Gentle Leader face harness before the new dog introduction. This training tool gives you much better control over the muzzle of your dog. It makes it easy to guide your dogs gaze either towards you, or away from an over stimulating situation.

The very first thing that should be done is to have both dogs adequately exercised. A vigorous walk (at least an hour) and playtime are a must. Running around in the backyard does not count. Your dog will be much calmer once it has released excess energy.

The introduction should take place on neutral ground. Never just bring a new dog directly into the territory of another. Doing this can decrease the chance of the residence dog accepting the new comer. Have both dogs on a leash and have them meet on a walk. Have treats handy to reward your dog for good behavior. Watch your body language. If you are anticipating problems, or are nervous about the introduction, your dog will pick up on that and it will affect his behavior. Do not start to wind the leash up in your hand and place tension on the leash. Tension on the leash will create tension in your dog. Try to remain relaxed.

Start on opposite sides of the street, on the sidewalk. If/when there is no reaction by either dog, reward the good behavior and start to close the gap, IE move one or both dogs from the sidewalk onto the street. Don’t get too close too fast. Close the gap slowly and reward non-reaction. If your dog reacts negatively, go back to the distance at which there was no reaction. DO NOT tell your dog that it is “good” or “it’s okay” and pet him if he is barking, lunging, or otherwise showing aggression or nervous/anxious behavior. This will only serve to reinforce the state of mind that the dog is in at the moment, essentially telling him that you want him to react this way.

Once you are able to have them walking together, keep them walking together for about 20-30 minutes and head back home. Once home, head straight to the back yard and drop the leashes. Leave them attached in the beginning just in case you need to separate them. Watch for pushy behavior, such as nose-to-nose greetings with a stiff body posture. This can be a challenge and lead to a problem if one dog decides not to back down. A nose-to-butt greeting is much more appropriate. Don’t forget to reward good behavior. Once things are settled in the yard, move indoors.

Expect a period of adjustment and transition. Some dogs will readily accept others. Some may just avoid any interaction. If the latter is the case, do not force the issue. Avoidance is a better outcome than a fight. The dogs may bond, but they may also just sort of tolerate each other’s presence. Let them decide how intimate the relationship is going to be. Do not project how you think things should be.

If one, or both of the dogs, seems nervous about the situation, do not give in to attention seeking (barking, pawing, jumping up on you, etc.). Reaching to him, even looking at him, at this time will only serve to reinforce his anxious state of mind. Ignore that behavior and give attention to him when he stops.

Even if the introduction goes well, the new friends should be kept separated when not supervised. The original dog should be given access to all the areas of the house that it had previously. The new comer should have access restricted at first. It is important that the new comer is not placed in a highly valued area, IE bedrooms and the area your dog chooses to stay when he is alone.

Be on the lookout for subtle behaviors that may indicate things aren’t going well. These behaviors include piloerection (hair lifting on the scruff, neck, or back), staring, snarling, stalking, side-by-side posturing with growling or lip lifting, and pinning the other dog by grabbing his neck. If these happen it is best to separate them. Having them on leash with a Gentle Leader make separating them easy.

NEVER PUT YOUR HANDS OR OTHER BODY PARTS BETWEEN THE DOGS. If you can identify the aggressor, banish that dog to neutral turf. If you cannot identify the aggressor, all dogs get banished to neutral turf. If there is any question as to whether aggression will be an issue, use a muzzle (either fabric or basket).

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Mark J. Nunez, DVM
The Balanced Canine
Westbury, NY 11590
(516) 414-2084

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