How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other: 8 Steps for Success

Bringing new dogs together can be stressful. Find out how to smooth the transition and help your pups get along right from the start.

Updated January 23, 2023
An Irish wolfhound and a white Poodle are face-to-face

Introducing dogs is an important process. Whether you have a dog and are bringing home a rescue, or you've decided to introduce a new puppy to your family, starting off right will help them build a strong bond. It can take several days or weeks, or even months, for dogs to become comfortable in each other's presence. Don't rush it. Patience is essential. Remember, you are helping two (or more) dogs build a new relationship. It's different for every dog, so you'll need to pay close attention to your animals' behavior and body language as you get started on the road toward long-term harmony.

Step 1: Understand Both Dogs' Backgrounds

Introducing dogs can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you're introducing an older, established dog to a puppy. You're bringing a potentially feisty, high-energy pup into your established dog's territory. You're disrupting their routines.

Some dogs have a difficult time sharing their time and attention with other dogs. If you're bringing home a puppy, they're going to need a lot of attention and love. A rescue, on the other hand, may be anxious and unsure. And your establish dog is probably going to be at least a little annoyed. The good news is that, by understanding each dog's needs - and working to make sure these needs are met - you can make this process easier for both parties.

Start by considering each dog's age and temperament. If your dog is young, playful, and curious, they may be more than willing to accept another canine companion into their home. If they have already had some training or experience with other dogs, they will be less likely to feel threatened by the presence of another dog. And if they have a good temperament and aren't aggressive or fearful, it will be much easier for them to get along with other dogs. If you have an older dog who is set in their ways, get them out of the house, give them some exercise, and make sure you are still socializing them. Let them know you love them, too.

Step 2: Learn Their Body Language Cues

Next, make sure you know what each dog is telling you with their body language. You'll need to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn't during this process so that you don't inadvertently encourage any bad habits and inappropriate reactions. You need to be able to read their body language before you make introductions. Spend some time with each dog, so you can figure out what cues they're giving off. You need to know if your established dog is territorial, and if your new dog is anxious or likes to challenge other dogs.

Step 3: Introduce Them on Neutral Ground

Never bring a new dog into an established dog's home territory on their first meeting. Have them meet each other in neutral territory. This could be a park or a friend's house where the dogs are comfortable being around new people and other animals. This will aid in preventing territorial behavior, such as territorial aggression or resource guarding.

Step 4: Give Them Chill Out Time

The first thing you should do when introducing dogs is keep them separated from each other until they're ready for their first face-to-face meeting. This helps ensure that neither acts aggressively or gets uncomfortably close. This is chill out time: bring the dogs close enough that they can tell another dog is close, but out of a sight and away from one another. Let them smell each other, but don't let them build up agitation or bark. Redirect unwanted behaviors with training. You might need a partner for this step, but don't go past it until both dogs are relatively calm while being aware of each other's general presence.

Step 5: Let Them Meet Under Controlled Conditions

Have one person with each dog so that they both feel safe and secure. Each person should hold their own dog's leash and stand facing them about 6 feet apart. Let them sniff each other on-leash until they seem comfortable with each other (but be aware that if one or both dogs displays on-leash aggression, you need to try another method for introductions). This will probably take about 5 minutes for them to feel comfortable enough to interact with each other without feeling threatened.

Do not let them play together until they have bonded! It's important that they feel like they are being accepted by their new pack member before being allowed free rein in interacting with each other; otherwise, there could be some serious issues down the road when tension arises between these two individuals because of feeling left out or ignored. Dogs can feel jealousy, and your established dog might be OK at first, but become possessive of you or territorial later. Go slow, and allow your dogs to forge strong bonds themselves.

Step 6: Let Them Play Together

After they seem comfortable with each other, let them play for a few minutes. You might need to replay this step a few times before taking them home together. Watch each dog's body language. Do they appear stressed, aggressive, or fearful? If a dog is acting stressed, stop the introduction immediately and try again another time.

If the dogs are behaving calmly and relaxed with each other during an introduction, continue allowing them to get to know one another. However, if you notice any sort of aggression from one dog toward the other, including growling, barking, or snapping, then it's best to end the introduction and reassess their behavior. You can start from Step 1 and try again later in another place when both can be more relaxed and calm around each other.

Let your dogs guide you. Yes, it can be inconvenient to introduce dogs this way, but you're more likely to have a successful introduction if you go at their pace. Once they make friends outside of your home, they're more likely to accept each other inside it.

Step 7: Steer Clear of Food

Resource guarding is a common behavior in dogs. It's the act of protecting a resource from others. While many people think that resource guarding is something only puppies do, there are plenty of adult dogs who guard resources, too.

The most common signs of resource guarding are growling and snapping around feeding time near food bowls or toys, but some dogs will actually bite if they feel threatened enough. Dogs may also bark when they are guarding their resources. That's why it's not a good idea to introduce dogs near food. It can be a major trigger for aggression, and eating is a very sensitive issue for most dogs. If you have a new dog or puppy in the house, don't feed them near your established dog's dish or feeding area.

Also, when introducing a new dog to your home, it is important not to feed them near your dinner table or in the kitchen when you are cooking. This can lead to territorial disputes over food and can cause stress between dogs. It is best if you feed them separately, in different areas of the house, away from each other so that they do not have to share their meals or fight over them. You can keep them apart by placing them in separate rooms or using baby gates if they are small enough. This will also prevent them from getting into trouble while no one is watching.

Step 8: Don't Push the Bond

Your dogs will likely be wary of each other at first, so don't push them to interact. Give them some time to get used to the idea of sharing space with a new dog. They'll sniff each other from a distance and may become more comfortable over time, but if you want your dogs' relationship to work out well in the long run, always supervise their interactions and remove them if they start fighting or show signs of aggression toward one another.

Continue observing each dog's body language in case either dog becomes uncomfortable. Also, make sure you are giving each dog a fair amount of interaction, play, and affection. An older dog will notice if you give all your time to a new pup, for example. Make sure everyone in your expanded family unit knows they are loved and cared for.

Introducing an Adult Dog to a Puppy

The process of introducing an adult dog to a puppy is a bit different. A puppy is going to have a lot of energy and no real understanding of boundaries, so it's your job as an owner to show them what's OK and what's not OK. Adult dogs can also be territorial and protective. However, both can bond with one another and become the best of friends if given the right opportunity.

Before you introduce your adult dog to a puppy, you should first ensure both are up-to-date on their vaccinations and deworming. Once that step is complete, you can bring the puppy home and keep them in a separate room away from the adult dog. This allows the puppy to have a sense of where they are without being overwhelmed by an immediate introduction.

After 24 hours have passed, allow them to sniff one another through the door and see how they react. Wait another 24 hours before allowing them to interact with one another, especially if your adult dog seems unsure of the new member of the family.

Bring home new toys and treats for your puppy so they have something else besides you to play with when they see each other for the first time. Then, you can allow them to meet face-to-face the following day, following the same instruction as introducing an adult dog to another adult. Remember that your established, older day may become jelous of the amount of attention the puppy is giving, so make sure to spend extra time and attention on them. They need to know you love them just as much as the new upstart pup.

Patience is Key

If you follow these steps, you're more likely to have a successful introduction. Remember that it takes time and patience to introduce dogs to each other, and if you try too hard or don't give your dogs enough time, things can get stressful for everyone involved. If you're patient and consistent, your adult dog will develop a bond with a newly arrived dog or puppy over time. Don't get discouraged if your dogs don't immediately share love for another. Keep repeating the introduction process while gradually increasing the amount of time they're spending together. Eventually, they'll catch on, with safe introduction procedures, and lots of love and understanding.

How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other: 8 Steps for Success