How to Introduce Dogs

Alex Seilis
How to Introduce Dogs

Not all dogs play nice. That’s why … whether you’re introducing dogs on a walk, or introducing a new puppy to your dog at home, it’s critical you understand how to introduce dogs to one another. 

To learn how to make the perfect introduction, let’s look at what dogs’ body language says about how to introduce them. Afterwards, we’ll cover best practices for a few specific scenarios, like introducing dogs on a leash, or introducing dogs to cats. 

Understanding Dogs’ Body Language And Signs

Dogs have their own unique body language and cues that they use to communicate. Learning to read some of this body language can be very helpful when you’re introducing two new dogs. 

Positive Dog Body Language

Here are the body language signs of a polite and positive introduction for dogs:

  • Dogs approach each other in a calm, relaxed way
  • Approaching in an arc or from the side, rather than head-on
  • Avoiding eye contact, or making “soft eyes”
  • Lots of sniffing!

The key thing to watch for is relaxation. During a positive introduction, both dogs’ body language will be relaxed. 

Negative Dog Body Language

Since relaxed body language hints that an introduction is going well, you might be able to guess the biggest sign of a negative interaction: tension.

Here are a few other things to look out for:

  • A stiff tail, slowly twitching at the top. Or a tail tucked between the legs.
  • Raised hackles along the spine
  • Yelping or growling
  • Leaping, biting, etc

Rushing or making a beeline straight for another dog could also be an early sign that the interaction won’t go well. We’ll cover what to do about an aggressive dog below. 

How To Introduce New Dogs

The best way to introduce new dogs is off-leash, and outdoors in an open space. This way the dogs can move around or get away from each other if they choose. Once the dogs are outside and near each other, they’ll likely greet each other naturally. Watch for the body language signs above so you can get a read on the interaction. Dog greetings are naturally short, so you should quickly get a sense for whether or not the dogs will get along.  

Tensing up, holding your breath, tightening the leash, or crowding the dogs can all signal to your dog that he’s in a tense situation. Instead, it’s best to diffuse any tension rather than make things worse. You can lighten things up by staying calm and speaking to your dog in light and happy tones. 

How To Introduce Dogs On A Leash

Introducing dogs on a leash can make some dogs feel trapped or forced. An off-leash meeting is ideal, but you can also keep the leashes loose if they can’t be dropped altogether. Again, it’s best to keep the introduction short and sweet if this is just a quick greeting. If the interaction is going well and the dogs want to play, you can always remove the leash, as leashes tend to get in the way during play. 

How to Introduce A Dog To A Puppy

If you’re bringing home a new puppy to introduce to an adult dog, start by putting away toys, food bowl, and bones, before the dogs come inside. Dogs are territorial animals, and these things can be sources of conflict. It can also be helpful to separate or crate he dogs while they eat, at least for a while.

After some time has passed and the dogs are friends, you likely won’t have to worry about these things, but it’s best to play it safe to begin with, because just one altercation can make it difficult for the dogs to get comfortable with each other in the future. 

On that note, it’s also best to keep the dogs in separate rooms or crate the new puppy when you’re not home to supervise them. 

RELATED: A guide to bringing home a new puppy ...

How To Introduce Dogs When One Is Aggressive

Ideally, you don’t want to introduce dogs at all when one is aggressive. You may be able to avoid the situation entirely by looking out for some of the negative body language signs above and keeping your dog moving. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “Let's walk!” or “This way!” with a light and happy tone, as you move away from the aggressive dog. Keep walking and encourage your dog to keep moving too. 

If it’s your own dog that’s being aggressive, that can make things trickier. Some dogs are merely selective, meaning they get along fine with some dogs and not others. Other dogs do fine with an off-leash introduction, but get aggressive or reactive when they’re introduced with a leash on. Take some time to observe and figure out your dog’s temperament. If he’s truly aggressive toward all dogs, you may need to consider working with a trainer or certified dog behaviorist.. 

How To Introduce Dogs To Cats

Introducing dogs to cats is best done with a very specific strategy. Letting them both meet off-leash without any kind of plan is unlikely to be successful.

Instead, you want to separate the animals in the home for a few days before they even meet. During this time, rotate which animal has freedom and which is confined. The dog should be confined to a crate or another room to let the cat investigate the scent of the dog, and vice versa. This will allow each animal to get used to the other’s scent. 

Obviously, the two of them must be separated while no one is home to avoid any negative unsupervised interactions.

Once both animals have calmed down, you can make a leashed introduction. Allow both animals to be in the same room together, but make sure the dog is securely leashed. Ideally, even your cat would be secured in a harness with a leash if he’s used to that. (You may need to involve another family member or friend to help you.)

Watch body language carefully. If your cat pins his ears back or swishes his tail, he’s showing he’s uncomfortable. Watch your dog for signs of prey drive towards the cat, like stiffening, staring, barking or whining. Keep him away from the cat if you see this behavior. You want your dog to look relaxed around the cat. 

You may have to make multiple introductions like this before the dog is finally calm and ignores the cat, and the cat is also calm (including eating and using the litter box normally). If there is any fear or aggression from either animal, you may have to go back to keeping them separated in the home for a while.

Continue these introductions until both animals are relaxed around each other. During this time, both animals should still be kept in separate areas when nobody’s home, so unsupervised interactions are not possible.

Once the cat and dog have been supervised around each other for an extended time (at least a month), and you’re confident they won’t hurt each other, you can let them spend time together.

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