Considering adding another dog to your home? First, consider the dogs you already have.
“In my opinion, when you are looking to add a second dog to your home, first and foremost, you’ve got to look at your dog’s personality,” says Brad Phifer, CPDT-KA, director of pet behavior services for Broad Ripple Animal Clinic and Wellness Center in Indianapolis. This includes knowing your dog’s play style, energy and socialization level, and playmate preferences.
Before you decide to add a second (or third, or more) dog, here’s what you need to know to make all your dogs feel comfortable.
For starters, Phifer tells WebMD that there are no set rules about good dog matches because all dogs - even within the same breed - are individuals. So it's not necessarily true that female dogs match well with male dogs, younger dogs or older dogs make better second dogs, or that two puppies always do well together.
Dog Introductions: What to Do
Dogs use body language to communicate, even when they are not directly interacting, says Lindsay Wood, MA, CTC, director of animal training and behavior at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, in Boulder, Colo.
She recommends walking your dog and the potential new dog together. Called parallel walks or proximity walks, these low-key activities allow dogs to get used to each other while doing something fun in a neutral space. This requires that:
- Both dogs are on a leash
- There is one person per dog
- You keep the leashes loose, especially if/when the dogs choose to interact
- You keep the first meeting brief (several seconds)
- You praise both dogs constantly and in a light-hearted tone
Have your dogs sit or lie down to practice self-control, especially if one dog seems nervous or excited. Phifer says jittery energy can lead to frustration or aggression. “First impressions between dogs are really important,” he says.
While walking, allow one dog to sniff the other. Phifer recommends letting your current dog sniff first, while feeding the potential new dog some treats. Then, switch.
If the walk goes well, Phifer suggests taking the dogs to a safe, fenced-in area to relax and interact.
What Not to Do
Avoid doing these things when introducing your new dog:
- Don’t throw two dogs together in a car, house, or yard and assume they will work it out. Even social dogs that seem to get along need supervision or separation (via baby gates or crates) at home for a few weeks.
- Don’t keep the leashes tight when dogs first meet. The pressure from pulling only increases tension between dogs.
- Don’t let the dogs rush up to one another.
- Don’t use a stern voice, telling the dogs to “Be good!” or “Be nice!”
- Don’t immediately introduce competition or conflict over popular toys, food, or bones.
Good Signs, Bad Signs
Wood tells WebMD that watching both dogs’ body language reveals much about how they feel. Look for these signs that it’s going well:
- Loose, relaxed body movements
- Open mouths
- Wiggling bottoms
- Wagging tails, low and sweeping motions
- Play bows (where one dog puts their elbows on the ground and their bottom in the air) or other bouncy movements that invite play
Some dogs that feel at ease may also ignore each other after the initial hello.
Phifer says that some barking is OK, if it’s happy barking, and he says, “Some mounting is normal.”
Watch for these signs that dogs feel uneasy:
- Closed mouths
- Tails held high, with a tic-tic-tic motion
- Prolonged body stiffness
- Forward ears
He says it's normal for dogs to ignore each other somewhat, but "what I don’t want to see is avoidance. I don’t want to see Dog A trying to get away from Dog B.”
Fearful dogs can appear either grumpy or completely tucked up and worried, with tails clamped to their stomachs and ears flat against their heads.
If either dog shows any of these stress signals, pleasantly call them apart, then ask them to hold a sit-stay or put them back on leash.
Wood says she typically knows within two minutes if dogs make a good match. If it goes well, she lets the dogs hang out. If not, she moves on to another possible playmate.
“We don’t spend 30 minutes with two dogs that don’t seem compatible because we don’t want either dog feeling overwhelmed or stressed out,” Wood says.
Puppies and Multiple Dogs
Phifer says the friendly nature of most puppies makes introducing a youngster easier. He says dogs learn best from other dogs, so the average puppy is going to get quick, clear lessons from the older dog(s) about what’s allowed.
If the puppy pesters too much, expect corrections -- in the form of little snarls and snaps -- from the older dog. Brief, controlled lessons that do not cause the puppy any injury are fine. If the puppy doesn’t get the hint, Phifer suggests stepping in so that the older dog doesn’t escalate the correction.
Introducing a new dog or puppy into a multiple-dog household is done much like single-dog introductions. Simply bring out one or two of the current dogs at a time to meet the new dog. “I’m not going to let all five of my dogs rush the new dog,” Phifer says.
Fast Friends, or Not
You can help dogs avoid conflict and make good connections by doing these two things:
- Give each dog its own food bowl and eating space, water bowl, bed or sleeping area, and plenty of rest.
- Continue walks together and other fun activities. Wood says this helps dogs learn to like each other because good things happen when they're together.
There isn’t research for dogs, as there is for cats, that show how long it takes dogs to adjust to each other. Phifer, however, says that two to four weeks is usually enough time to know if dogs can be friends.
During the adjustment period, you want to see these behaviors:
- Fewer grumpy moments
- More frequent play or interaction
- Mutual grooming or cuddling
But if the dogs merely tolerate each other or avoid each other, then that reflects a bad match. "Just existing together, but sitting on opposite sides of the room, isn’t a good relationship," Phifer says.