Introducing a Second Dog into the Family

After careful planning and consideration, you’ve decided to get another dog. If your first dog has been well trained and will model good manners to the new dog, taking care of two dogs can be as easy as taking care of one. However please keep in mind that adding a second dog to the family is financially more and also requires more time and may reveal underlying behavioral problems with your current dog.

Like dogs, animals that live in groups establish relationships, through the individuals they interact and live with. The roles that these individuals play within the relationship can change with each new day or situation. These relationships also take time to build, so proper introductions are important to help the dogs adjust to one another and start to build on their relationship.

I’ve put together some tips that will make introducing a second dog into the family successful but first there are two important factors you must consider before choosing to add additional dogs into the family.

Is Your Dog Ready for a Playmate?

Before adding a second dog, deciding whether or not your dog is ready for a playmate is of upmost importance. Determine if your dog has any underlying behavioral issues that need to be addressed, such as: aggression towards humans, dogs, or other small animals, leash-reactivity to dogs or humans, pulling excessively on leash, separation anxiety, excessive barking, house-training accidents, or destructiveness. New dogs can and will mirror your other dog’s behaviors, both good and bad. One dog’s behavior problem can suddenly turn into two and require twice as much work. Two badly behaved dogs can not only make life miserable for both your family and the dogs, but more importantly can be a safety issue.

Selecting the Right Dog

You want your second dog to be compatible with your current dog. Think about these common dog traits:

  • Is your dog older or a sofa bum? Bringing in a high-energy breed or young puppy could be very annoying to your current dog. Instead, find a dog whose energy is most like your current dog.
  • Is your dog assertive? Adding an additional controlling dog to the family can be the recipe for disaster. Instead think of adding a slightly more submissive dog.
  • Is your current dog fearful or have low confidence? Adding a slightly more assertive/confident dog can help your current dog become more confident.
  • Does your dog prefer playing with males or females? If you know this preference, consider adopting that gender. In most situations, it is easier for a male to live with a female. However, with proper leadership, females can peacefully coexist with other females, and males with males.
  • Think about the size differences when selecting the second dog. If you have an extra-large dog, a toy breed may not be the appropriate choice. During play, a large or extra-large dog can unintentionally cause serious damage to a small dog (stepping or sitting on the smaller dog, etc.). It is possible to have canines of vastly different sizes, but it will take careful monitoring and management of play on the owner’s part.

So now let’s talk about the tips on successfully introducing a second dog into the family.

Introduce on Neutral Territory

It’s best to let dogs become familiar with each other on neutral territory (the park or a friend’s house with no dogs). Each dog should be walked separately on a leash, and each walker should have a bag of high value treats or food broken into small pieces. At first, walk the dogs at a distance where they can see each other but are not too provoked by each other’s presence. If the dogs are not showing any negative behaviors, reward them with treats just for seeing each other. For example, when the dog you’re walking looks at the other dog, you can say “Good boy!” in a happy, friendly voice and give him a treat. Repeat often. If adopting a new dog from a shelter, I recommend bringing your resident dog with you to the shelter and introducing the dogs before adopting.

Introduce One Dog at a Time

If you have more than one resident dog in your household, it may be best 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.

Let the Dogs Determine the Pace of the Introduction.

It’s possible that the dogs will just want to play with each other. It’s also possible that it will take more time before the dogs are completely comfortable with each other. The most important thing is to take the introduction slowly and let them determine the pace. The more patient you are, the better your chance of success. Do not force the dogs to interact.

Pay Attention to Each Dog’s Body Language

Watch carefully for body postures that indicate a defensive or wary response, including hair standing up on the dog’s back, teeth baring, growling, a stiff-legged gait or a prolonged stare. If you see such postures, either when the dogs are at a distance or near each other, immediately and calmly interrupt the interaction by interesting the dog in something else. If the dogs seem relaxed and comfortable, you can shorten the distance between them. Again, offer treats to the dogs any time they look at each other in a relaxed manner.

One body posture that indicates things are going well is a “play-bow.” One dog will crouch with her front legs on the ground and her hind end in the air. This is an invitation to play that usually elicits friendly behavior from the other dog.

Other appropriate investigative behaviors might include sniffing the air in the direction of the other dog, looking at or walking toward the other dog with a tail that is low and loose and wagging in a large arch.

Raised hackles, or hair standing up on the dog’s back, may indicate that the dog is concerned and needs more space from the other dog and time to acclimate. It is not necessarily a concern but is something to notice in conjunction with other body language.

It is best to walk with the dogs on a loose or soft leash so that there is no pressure of tension on the leash from the handler. Pressure or tension on the leash can lead to a change in the dog’s body language that can be misinterpreted by the other dog.

Introducing Puppies to Adult Dogs 

Puppies usually pester adult dogs unmercifully. Before approximately the age of four months, or sometimes older, puppies may not recognize subtle body postures from adult dogs signaling that they’ve had enough.

Well-socialized adult dogs with good temperaments may set limits with puppies with a growl or snarl, never hurting the puppy although the puppy may yelp out of surprise. This communication is healthy and should be allowed.

Adult dogs that aren’t well socialized, or that have a history of fighting with other dogs, may attempt to set limits with more aggressive behaviors, such as biting, which could harm the puppy. For this reason, a puppy shouldn’t be left alone with an adult dog. Crating the puppy when alone will keep everyone safe and benefit housetraining.

Be sure to give the adult dog some quiet time away from the puppy, and perhaps some individual attention. When you help the adult dog have some space away from the puppy, the adult dog will likely be happier when it is time to be with the puppy.

Home Time 

Now it’s time to proceed with the introduction inside of the home. Remember that introducing your new dog into the house has to be done gradually, allowing both your existing and new dog to get comfortable with one another. Dogs live as packs, so the introduction of a new member to the pack is ultimately up to the pack leader (you), however by slowly introducing the new dog, you allow for them to know the pack rules and hierarchy leaving a greater opportunity for them to be welcomed in.

When first introducing the dogs in the home, use a sturdy, tall baby gate to separate them. Observe how they interact through the gate. Reinforce positive behavior by providing high value treats to the dogs for positive interactions.

Make sure that there are no toys, food or treats left around the home that the dogs could potentially fight over. Also, be aware of situations that could lead to conflict—for example, when the dogs get overly excited. Closely monitor the dogs when they are together, rewarding them with treats, until you are 100% confident, they are comfortable and safe with each other. Also start off feeding them in separate rooms.

With a new dog, everyone wants to fuss over them and give them all the attention. Make sure that you give your existing dog just as much attention and affection in order to not make them feel left out and alone. If you follow these guidelines and there is still a bit of hostility, it is best to let them work it out for themselves without jumping in too soon. What may look or sound bad can just be a way of them getting to know one another so just keep an eye on them while they familiarize themselves.

As they begin to know each other better and are no longer competing for your love, you can bring their toys back and feed them together. However, it is imperative to supply numerous toys to decrease the chance of a fight.

When the dogs seem to be tolerating each other without fearful or aggressive responses and the investigative greeting behaviors have tapered off, you can take them home to your backyard or to a friend’s neutral backyard. Bring both dogs into the yard and, when they are ignoring each other and perhaps sniffing around the yard, drop the leashes. Allow the dogs to investigate the yard and each other without interference from the handlers on the ends of the leashes.

DO NOT LEAVE THE DOGS ALONE, UNTIL YOU ARE CONFIDENT, THEY ARE GETTING ALONG

This means observing their behavior toward each other when the doorbell rings, when a squirrel is seen outside the window and other such exciting circumstances. It is okay to crate your new dog when you cannot supervise, even if the resident dog is allowed free roam. It is best to place the crated dog in a room behind a closed door away from the other dog so they cannot “talk” to each other through the crate door.

Take your time to observe their interactions before choosing to leave them alone unsupervised. Consider getting breakaway collars for safety for crated dogs and when two dogs are playing to avoid any accidents.

When To Get Help

If the introduction of a new dog to a household doesn’t go smoothly; it’s time to contact a professional trainer for help. Dogs can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Conflicts between dogs in the same family can often be resolved with professional help. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for all of your training needs and behavior concerns.

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Aaron Jones

Certified Dog Trainer. Dog lover first, and a dog trainer second. I’ve witnessed firsthand the tremendous difference that dog training makes in the relationship between dog and owner. I have been working with dogs and their owners for many years, and there is nothing that satisfies me more than to see a happy dog and a happy owner!