Before you plan on bringing a puppy home, make plans for how to introduce the new puppy to older dogs that already live there. Some adult dogs will eagerly welcome a new canine buddy, while others may need time to adjust, so it's important to set yourself and your pups up for success. Introducing a puppy to another dog will involve strategies like meeting on neutral ground, sniffing through a fence, and parallel walking to give both dogs time to get to know one another in safe, low-stress situations.
It's important to remember that a resident dog may feel protective of its turf. Your puppy may feel scared and uncertain in its strange new surroundings or be unfamiliar with certain boundaries your older dog needs. Proper introductions help ensure both pets start off on the same positive paw.
Meet on Neutral Ground
The first meetings between a puppy and an adult dog should take place on neutral ground, such as a neighbor’s yard, training center, or other quiet space that is not familiar to either dog. That way, your older pooch doesn’t feel fearful, threatened, or protective of its house or yard. Instead, it can get down to the business of getting to know the puppy.
Start With a Fence Meeting
Allowing the dogs "meet" through a fence or other partial barrier is ideal at first so they can sniff each other while the barrier keeps them safely separated. This helps the "new dog" novelty wear off before a true nose-to-nose meeting. Some dogs react differently on the leash and may show signs of heightened stimulation or aggression when on the leash and encountering another dog or any situation with a lot of excitement and novelty. That’s why first dog-to-dog meetings should take place between unleashed dogs with a safety barrier between them.
It’s also important when there’s a size difference between the resident dog and the new pup. Even friendly large dogs could accidentally injure a small dog with over-exuberant greetings. And, in the event that one of the dog exhibits signs of aggression or fear during this meeting, a barrier keeps everyone safe and will allow the dogs to be easily separated so you can regroup and slow down the introduction.
Try Parallel Walking
Take both dogs for a walk, parallel to each other, with a different person handling each dog's leash. Keep the leashes loose and give the dogs room to move so they can get closer or further away from each other as they wish.
At first, keep the dogs out of the nose-sniffing range. You can use a treat or toy to keep doggy eyes focused on the humans as long as neither dog has a history of food aggression or resource guarding. This will prevent the dogs from fixating on one another and allow them to gradually warm up to being in each others' presence. You can reinforce that you want them to walk calmly near each other with positive reinforcement from the treats and/or toys. Walk them together for 5 or 10 minutes before allowing a head-to-head meeting.
Offer Sniffing Opportunities
Once the dogs show a calm, positive interest in meeting, let them come closer together while keeping the leashes loose. Choose a quiet area with open space to reduce tension. The dogs will sniff each other's bodies, including rear ends, which is proper canine greeting etiquette.
First greetings should be kept to only 10 minutes or so. It is best to end the meeting on a positive note before either dog gets too excited or irritated by each other. Make a point of calling each dog away from time to time to give them a break if tension is building or if one of the dogs is more rambunctious than the other.
Look for Positive Signs
It is a good sign if the dogs want to play together. Watch for the doggy language that signals good intentions. A classic canine invitation to play is the “play bow,” in which the tail end goes up and the head goes down. Whines, barks, and growls are used in both play and threats, so pay attention to other body language to better judge what the dogs mean.
Allow play for only a few minutes during the first meeting, then stop and end the introduction on a good note.
Move to Home Ground
Once they’ve met off home territory, repeat the introduction in your yard—off-leash if it’s fenced. Call the dog and puppy apart every few minutes to ensure they don’t become too excited. Remember, the new pup should only meet one resident dog at a time, not the whole gang at once.
Meet in the House
Finally, arrange to have all of your resident dogs outside of the house when you first bring the new pup indoors. Do this out of sight of the other canines. For instance, have your resident dogs in the fenced backyard playing while you bring the new puppy in the front door. This allows the new puppy a chance to explore and learn about its new home without distraction or intimidation from the other resident pups. Once the new pup has had time to get comfortable, bring the other dogs back inside.
Problems and Troubleshooting Behavior
It’s best for the puppy to be separated from other pets in a room alone or with a baby gate barrier when you are not there to directly supervise for the initial introductory period.
As much as you may want your dogs to hit it off right away, be sure to take things slow and stay in control of the situation. Common mistakes include letting the dogs meet face-to-face too soon and without any barriers and gradual introductions. Do your best to keep every meeting between the dogs calm and positive and let them get used to each other's scents and personalities gradually. It's important to start things off right in order to establish a comfortable doggie home for everyone.