The Do's And Don't's of Dog Introductions

Lea Jaratz

How to introduce dogs

In my early days as a foster parent for shelter dogs, I once brought home a 250 lb. Irish Wolfound (let’s save the story of him fitting into my small car for another day.) I brought him into the house, letting him approach my 60 lb. Shepherd mix, Lyger, in the kitchen. Lyger made a grumbly defensive noise. The Wolfhound responded with a long, low growl that was probably heard for miles. My husband and I looked at each other, wondering what we should do if a fight broke out.

Fortunately, Lyger took the hint and everyone calmed down. But, that was the last of my overly optimistic dog introductions. I’ve had dozens of fosters since and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned, from trainers, shelter staff and others.

Things I did wrong with the Wolfhound:

  • Introduce the new dog on home turf: Never have a meet where your resident pup is set up to feel defensive or protective of his space. Instead, have an informal meet up on neutral territory. Go for a walk together or introduce at a park, shelter or even just down the street.
  • Introduce dogs off leash: Dogs should be on a loose leash. Don’t pull or keep the leash taught, but it’s important to have a means of restraint, just in case.
  • Introduce dogs face to face: Pointing two dogs at each other face to face sets a confrontational tone. It’s fairly logical: don’t point the parts with the sharp teeth at each other right from the get go.

Introduction Best Practices

Work on appropriate leash behavior before intros and pick a time when both dogs are calm. Then, two people should be present to handle the dogs, ideally taking both dogs for a walk. Positioning is key, however, and both dogs should be walked to the same side of the two handlers, parallel to each other. Try to avoid letting one dog rush ahead of your neat little row and prevent them from sniffing each other at first. After about 15 minutes of being present with one another, allow them to sniff each other calmly and politely. Continue about your walk.

Above all, stay calm, relaxed and confident. Keep verbalizing to a minimum, but offer calm praise or corrections when needed. Your energy sets the tone for the introductions and if you can go slow and steady, you’re much more likely to have a successful introduction.

Things to watch for during intros:

  • growling or lip curling
  • raised tails
  • hackles raised
  • putting the head over the shoulders or body of the other dog
  • mounting
  • staring
  • being perfectly still

Once the Intros are Done

  • Remember to separate dogs when they are unsupervised. For how long is up to you, but remember that it’s better to have a dog in a crate for a few months than a scuffle when you’re not watching.
  • Remember that the foster or new dog may not have the same pet peeves as your dog. Different foods, sounds, toys or actions may make them uncomfortable and defensive. Supervise play time and feedings, so your dog doesn’t have to learn any tough lessons.
  • Give breaks. It’s okay if the dogs are separated even when you’re home, so that everyone can get a chance at one-on-one attention.

Take your time with introductions. Whether it’s a short-term foster or a long-term adoption, a successful introduction can set a positive tone for future canine relationships. 

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