Introducing a New Dog to Your Resident Dog: Let's take the guesswork out!
Okay, so you have had your new foster in your home for at least a few days and think you are ready to introduce them to your current resident dogs. Thus far, you have been crating and rotating and have seen positive interactions through the kennel. Both the foster dog and your resident dogs have been displaying relaxed body posturing and all dogs have grown accustomed to the others’ smells. It’s finally time to let them meet!! Meeting new friends can be super stressful depending on the dog’s socialization, so we are going to navigate on the assumption that your new foster hasn’t had a huge amount of it. So, let’s grab a friend or member of the family and set aside some time to make sure this introduction goes as smoothly as possible!!
There are going to be a few things we need to set ourselves up to be successful. First, our dogs will be leashed in neutral territory, so make sure you have an appropriate leash and collar/harness. I recommend martingale collars as they are nearly escape-proof and we want to ensure our dogs are secure and safe. We are also going to need some high value rewards; so get your chopped up hot dogs and chunks of cheese ready and be prepared to be covered in doggy slobber. Throughout this process we are going to be closely observing both dogs to ensure that they are having positive experiences. This can take time. If our dogs become too stressed we are going to stop for the day and go back to our crating and rotating schedule until we are ready to try again tomorrow. The easiest way for us to gauge stress in our dogs is to regularly observe if they are taking treats. A dog who normally takes treats readily will stop when stressed and that will be our indication that we are done with introductions for the day.
Alright, let’s do this! We are going to begin with one person walking the resident dog in the street. We will use the street as opposed to the sidewalk because it will give us more room to work with. The other person will start walking the new foster dog the same direction starting about 10 yards behind. Try to keep both dogs on loose leashes as this will keep the intensity level lower. Start closing distance with both parties stopping every 15ft or so to ask for a “sit” and then deliver a treat. This will serve as our stress level check and also ensure that we are in control and have thoughtful dogs who are responsive and not emotional. You will want to stop 5-10 times with a distance greater than 15 ft prior to moving on to the next stage. If you’re having a hard time getting your dog to pay attention to you and sit, increase distance until you are able to get a sit and then begin decreasing distance again. If either dog stops taking food, you are done for the day! A stressed dog won’t have a good experience and we want happy dogs in our home!
We have successfully gotten past step one and have relaxed, focused dogs sitting and taking food while only 15 ft apart. It’s time for our next step! Both parties will begin walking again in the same direction. The person with the foster dog (aka the person in the back) will walk slightly faster than the other person to close the distance between you. While walking you will give a treat every 3-5 seconds without stopping or asking for a sit. When you are side by side make sure there is 6 ft between you and the other person. We want our dogs to be moving together and taking treats but unable to actually touch. This should be the most rewarding dog introduction EVER!! Your dogs get to go on a walk AND you're handing them consistent AMAZING treats. So, now we have relaxed dogs, taking treats, walking side by side about 6ft apart. AWESOME JOB!! It’s time to move on to the next step!
We will be heading to an enclosed outdoor area with no other dogs for this part, so your backyard will be perfect! Have the person with the resident dog wait in the street while the person with the foster takes them into the backyard. Both dogs will keep leashes on for the duration of this step. The person with the foster will go stand in the farthest corner of the yard from the entrance and have their foster in a sit while they occasionally deliver treats. The person with the resident dog will enter the yard and close the gate behind them, standing in that corner of the yard while having their dog sit and handing treats. (Please make sure that there aren’t any toys, bones, or other items that either dog may decide to guard in the yard) If both dogs seem to be relaxed and are taking treats both parties can drop the leashes. You will leave the leashes on the dogs; just let them drag them. Observe both dogs closely. If they decide to ignore each other that is okay. Don’t force them to interact. Let them take things at their own pace. If they greet each other, look for tension in their bodies. A tail held up high, even if it is wagging, is a sign of tension. Whale eyes, or a dog making their eyes very wide to where you can see much more of the whites than normal, is a sign of tension. Hackles being raised is a sign of tension. Getting VERY still like a statue is a sign of tension. Growling or raised lips is a sign of tension. If you see any of these signs, have each person retrieve their dogs (using leashes, DON’T reach for collars) and retreat back to your corners of the yard. Ask each dog for a sit and give treats. If at any point during this process either dog stops taking treats it’s time to stop for the day and return to crating and rotating. If they both sit and take treats, release them to drag leashes again and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you no longer see signs of tension.
If you don’t see any signs of tension and the dogs start to play, that’s awesome news! If the play starts to increase in intensity, separate them again and ask for sits then treat and release. Just like with rowdy kids, it only takes a moment of play that is too intense for things to escalate into a fight. Once we have relaxed body language from both dogs without any signs of stress while loose in the yard together dragging leashes we are ready to move to the final step!
Before we take our dogs inside we should make sure that there is nothing inside that they can get to that will be worth guarding. Pick up all toys, bones, food, etc. prior to bringing your dog and your foster inside. Always be aware of possible problem areas like tight spaces, doorways, narrow halls, water bowls, or on the furniture. Have one person bring the foster inside first holding the leash, and then a few moments later the other person can bring the resident dog in holding the leash. We don’t want the dogs to go through the door together because doors can be tight spaces associated with high intensity situations. Once inside, ask both dogs for a sit and treat them. If both dogs look relaxed, release the leashes and allow them to drag them. Follow the same process you used outside observing for stress and interrupting and redirecting them should any intensity arise. After about 10-20 min successfully together inside, separate the dogs and allow them time to relax and decompress apart. In the beginning we want all of the interactions between our new foster and resident dog to be short lived with plenty of time for them to relax between meetings. It’s easy for a foster dog to become overwhelmed, so we want to do everything we can to set them up to be successful. Soon you will have dogs that enjoy each other’s company and love you even more for helping them to learn!