Article by Foster Dogs blogger and foster mom Samantha Cheirif
Hi fosters, prospective fosters, and general dog lovers!
This is a subject that frequently arises in the foster community (and one that I’ve had a ton of practice with) so I wanted to put my experience to good use. I firmly believe it’s much easier to take the time to do an introduction right than it is to go back and have to start over once things have gone badly. These simple steps may be a little time consuming, but they are important in ensuring your dogs have success in becoming friends, or at least congenial roommates, until your foster pup is adopted.
If you have a dog that is an all-star with other dogs and you are positive that the other dog is as well, you may be able to move more quickly through the steps. If you have one or more dogs that are more reactive or nervous with new dogs, it’s important to go through the steps in order and slowly—if you’re not ready to move on, that’s okay! Stay at that step until both dogs are calm—the best thing you can have while doing this is two bored dogs.
Recently I had a chance to practice this while introducing my somewhat reactive dog Penny to a new dog. We had tried to introduce them previously but tried to skip steps—the other pup got freaked out and Penny snapped and wanted distance. The next time, we made sure to go through all the steps calmly without skipping, and the dogs ended up playing nicely for hours! We were also able to take photos (see below) which I hope will help explain the steps.
Author’s Note: If your dog is aggressive, these steps will not fix it. Seek help from a certified trainer, as I am not one—all advice here compiled from experience, although this article has been approved by trainer Jason Cohen.
Before your foster dog arrives, it's a good idea to prepare your home and gather some supplies to make sure everyone is set up for success. Set up crates on opposite ends of the room, or with a little distance between them. If your pup doesn’t have a crate, then your dog’s favorite bed or resting place will work, but be sure to not let your dog free roam and intimidate or scare the crated dog. Remove all toys and especially food or high value items from the floor until you know how each pup feels about them.
(New to crate training? Read Foster Dogs' Crate Training Tips.)
Even though the introduction process will begin outside, you'll be thankful to have everything set up inside for whenever you're ready to take the next step. Plus, if the intro doesn't go 100% smoothly, you'll want a safe place to separate the dogs and give them some time to cool down. You definitely don't want to be fumbling with the crates while you have 2 dogs on leash!
Step 1: Go for a parallel walk on neutral territory
It is always advisable to have at least 2 people when introducing 2 dogs. That way, one person can walk each dog—and it’s important that each person understands they are responsible for the dog on the end of their leash. Start by walking parallel to each other—the dogs can see each other, but not sniff or stare at each other. Just keep the walk going, let both dogs potty if they have to, until they start to get bored of trying to sniff the other dog, and just settle into the walk. If the dogs are too excited, increase the distance, and then slowly decrease it as they calm down. If they’re calm enough, each dog can sniff the other’s butt. Be sure that the front dog keeps moving and doesn’t turn his or her head around and snap, and that the back dog isn’t getting TOO up in there and making the other dog uncomfortable.
Step 2: Practice parallel tricks
While still on the walk, it’s a great idea to try to get the dogs to perform basic obedience near each other. This will show both dogs that the humans are in charge, so there’s no need to feel defensive. It also helps both dogs get into a calmer mindset and ready to obey commands. If either dog doesn't know any tricks or basic obedience, then do whatever you can to reward calm behavior. If food is not too overstimulating, you can use treats to reward being calm in the other dog's presence.
Note: If Steps 1 and 2 are a disaster, that’s okay! Don’t try to force a meeting. Crate the dogs across the room, or in separate rooms if you have to. Let them stay calm in their crates, maybe with a chew or toy, and just ignore the other dog. If they are staring, toss a sheet over one or both of the crates to calm them. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until both dogs are calm and ignoring each other. This can take a few days, and that is totally fine.
Step 3: Parallel Place
If you were able to accomplish Steps 1 and 2 without issue, you’re ready to move into the home. This step is even easier if both dogs know the “place” command. Place means “get onto an object like a bed or a rug and don’t leave it until I tell you” (If they don’t know it, that’s okay! They can do sits and downs near each other). Start with each dog still leashed and each place a few feet apart where the dogs can see each other but not reach each other. Ask each dog to go to place, sit, lay down, etc. Reward the dogs for looking at each other without reacting and for performing their tricks. If one dog leaves his or her place, guide that dog back on using the leash or spatial pressure. Don’t let either dog just wander off. If there is no reaction from either dog, you can move the places closer together. Stay in side-by-side place until both dogs are bored of it and each other, not reacting at all to each other’s presence.
Step 4: Free Roaming
If you’ve gotten to Step 4, that’s great! You can now release both pups from their place, and let them wander. I recommend leaving leashes dragging so you can grab them if you have to. I like to have both dogs follow me around, practicing sits next to each other but technically free to decide what to do. I keep my Pet Corrector in hand so I can make a quick tssst sound if there is any inappropriate staring or growling, or to interrupt any aggression before it really starts. Once I’m confident in the dogs’ behavior toward one another, I will remove a leash or both, but I always keep my Pet Corrector in hand for a day or two just in case.
I keep toys and especially high value toys and treats (like bully sticks or kongs or antlers) away from the dogs except in their individual crates until I’ve had them together for a few weeks and I can see how they react. I never leave them uncrated and alone in the apartment together. Despite Penny’s initial reactivity issues at times, we have successfully fostered 70+ pups and met many others, and we’re still going strong!
Note: The original version of this blog post was published on our website in November 2016