It’s a big commitment when you add a new dog into your home and it will take time and effort to ensure that both parties are comfortable and learn how to interact with each other appropriately. This may be easier for some dogs than others, so research on the breed and spending time with the new dog can help you to be aware of likely problems that may occur in this process. Below is information to help this introduction go as smoothly as possible.
Breeding and personality play a large role in how a dog will interact and communicate with other dogs. Some breeds may be hard to read (eg breeds with short tail) or some are prone to nipping (eg cattle dogs). Genetics play a role in communication style but so does previous experience and socialisation, which may be difficult to assess especially if your dog has come from a rescue place. Always have the interactions in a controlled environment so you can intervene before a situation escalates and has a negative reaction.
The first interaction is ideally at a neutral place, as some resident dogs may not like intruders into their backyard or feel they have their favourite things to protect like a buried bone or toys, which can lead to protective behaviour. Before introducing your new dog to your home, try to take your resident dog away so the new dog can explore and become familiar with the environment without having to interact with a strange dog.
The first meeting of the two dogs should occur on neutral territory and ideally in a controlled and safe environment. Some dog’s behaviour can be more aggressive on the lead, however having a lead gives you control in the greeting and interaction. If you are comfortable or you know your dog’s behaviour is more aggressive on the lead then have a long lead hang on the ground that way it can be accessed quickly if an encounter escalates.
Have toys for them to play with and food to get their attention. You want the first interaction to be short and positive, do not let it escalate if the interaction is getting more intense. Sometimes play may not happen straight away which can be a good thing as play or close up interaction means the behaviour can escalate quickly. Allow them to sniff around the area and approach each other at a slow pace, ideally they will sniff the anal region then look at each other. If one dog is over friendly and starts play too quickly or jumps on their face or body the other dog may react by growling.
If a dog gives warning signs eg snarling or growl, judge the situation before reprimanding the dogs or stepping in. If subtle body language is ignored then a dog may have no choice to escalate their behaviour so the other dog takes notice. Do not allow a dog to be chased if it is scared, any negative reactions can be imprinted and breakdown the relationship.
Growling, baring teeth, snapping are all forms of communication between dogs, which are used when a dog is very scared and feels the need to protect themselves. If you try to control the situation by your raised voice, you will be adding tension into the environment and can make the problem worse. Supervision, positive encouragement and time is key to a successful relationship.
Hopefully you have the opportunity to have another interaction before they live with you permanently. If the last meeting went smoothly, then this one should too and repeat the same process as last time. If the initial meeting was not successful then keeping them in a controlled environment is essential.
If they are showing aggression or uncertainty, then keep them at a distance away from each other where they can still take calm direction from you. If you cannot get their attention or they are out of control then the space between them has to increase. Try to distract them and let them interact with food or a toy, that way that are adjusting to a new dog within a small space and not face-to-face. If this is successful, then make the distance smaller, ensuring the whole time that you have control of the situation. Having them on opposite sides of a fence or door may help them get used to each other’s sight and smell while being less confrontational. If you have one excited or very confident dog and the other dog shy and worried, you can have the more confident dog on a lead which allows the shyer dog to explore and initiate contact on their terms, giving them more confidence.
Ideally, both dogs should be separated and interactions supervised only, do not let them be alone if no one is home to control a disagreement. Depending on your dogs, this separation can last anywhere from 2 weeks to permanent, especially if an altercation has taken place. Each dog needs a different sleeping and eating area. Also, remove any toys that the resident dog hold very valuable when they are interacting as it may cause conflict or protective behaviours.
Not every dog wants to have another dog friend or knows how to interact with other dogs. Keep a watchful eye on the interactions and intervene when body language and communication escalate to an unsafe level. Consider slowing down the progression of their interactions and they may need to be separated for longer and have very strict supervision. One negative reaction could mean the end of a developing relationship with fear intensifying with each interaction.
After what seems like an eternity you’ll begin to notice some signs of harmony between the dogs Sometimes, it can be easy to loosen the supervision, just remember that the relationship is new and they both still need guidance and alone time. Not all dogs will become best friends, some may learn to coexist in the household. The hope is that it is a harmonious relationship and negative interactions are minimal, if at all.