Introducing New Dogs Into Multi Dog Households

Helen St. Pierre, CPDT-KSA, CDBC, CFDM, OSCT​


July 26, 2022

When you have a multidog household, introducing a new dog into the family can feel like a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper management, training, and tools, don’t forget some patience and a sense of humor; it can go relatively smoothly. Here are some ways to help facilitate integration.


Firstly, I always encourage people to look at two dogs becoming “friends” the same way we make friends or develop relationships in our lives. It takes time, multiple positive experiences, activities we both enjoy, and trust to start feeling close to someone and consider them friends rather than just acquaintances. The same goes for dogs that are living with each other. One of the reasons reality TV shows like the Real World were so popular was because it was thrilling to watch the drama that unfolded when you threw seven strangers in a house together. New place, lots of excitement and stress, some hormones are thrown in – what could go wrong? So why do we think it will be any different with dogs if we don’t give them time to build relationships first?


It would help if you then tried to take into consideration each of your current dogs’ personalities, characteristics, and needs. Like us, our dogs can have an easier or harder time making friends. There may be one dog in your family who may take months to build a solid relationship and another who is ready to share his whole dinner with his new best friend within a day or two. The other variable is whether the newcomer is an adult or not, and depending on your household, that may make things easier or harder.


This is why it’s so important to have environmental management ready to go. The tried and true management tool many people love is the crate, but I like to use gates, playpens, tethers, and sometimes even basket muzzles when integrating a new dog into a household. The phrase “crate, gate, tether, and rotate” is often used because using these tools allows us to give multiple dogs exposure to a new dog without throwing everyone in the deep end of the pool! For example, the new dog can hang out in a penned-off space while the household dogs get the rest of the house, or the resident dog with the least tolerance can be behind a baby gate while the other dog/s hang out with the newcomer. The options become endless for different combinations and allow for a much more peaceful transition that reduces stress and increases the chances of success. You may need to use this for a week, a month, or even longer based on the new dog and the current crew! But more options are better than none!


Once you’ve set up lots of management and ways to combine dogs slowly, you must also look at home areas and spaces that may cause conflict. Water bowls, feeding stations, and even some beds or areas that could be deemed a resource for resident dogs must be considered before putting dogs together. “Neutral” spaces, areas without major resources, etc., are better suited to initial meetings and longer time spent together. Feeding your dogs should be done separately, and it may be a good idea to remove all toys and bones unless you can manage everyone using gates, tethers, or more. A couple of extra water bowls may be helpful, and if you have a dog who gets rather grumpy being bothered on their favorite bed, you may need to remove it for a bit until a relationship has developed with the new dog. Arousal and excitement can create tension, too, especially when combined with resources or tight spaces in the home. Examples of that are doorways that are crowded as the dogs try to go outside, or everyone trying to climb onto your lap for a bite of your popcorn. It may seem like no big deal with resident dogs who already have a relationship with each other, but we all know how we feel being squished next to a stranger on a bus or trying to disembark an airplane… Tensions can rise quickly, and our tolerance levels are lower. Keep this in mind in these scenarios and use management like tethers, rotation, or training to stagger dogs going through doors or getting to greet you etc.


As I mentioned earlier, our best relationships with our friends, coworkers, partners, and spouses come from repeated positive experiences, no matter how short. In my experience, the same goes for dogs getting to know one another. Short, sweet, encouraging experiences with
the new dog help build trust and understanding between resident dogs and create a positive experience bank account balance so that should a conflict arise at a later time, it will not be the end of the relationship entirely. The positive interactions should always outweigh the bad,
which is why in the initial stages, using management and tools to help it go smoothly makes a big difference.


Some activities I like to do with new and existing dogs together like playing in the yard together, go for a walk together, and work on skills or tricks together (I will often tether one dog in the room and rotate the dog I’m working with to make it easier) I will absolutely allow new dogs and current dogs to engage in play and chase and fun together. Still, I always referee and don’t wait for them to have to “sort it out” themselves.


Many people think that muzzles only need to be used in cases of dogs who have aggression or get into fights with other dogs, but I’ve utilized them many times when integrating dogs for other important reasons. I will use them to prevent rough play that can escalate and also to build confidence with my resident dogs or the new dog. Muzzles can also be the last tool used when you are ready to remove gates and do less environmental management but still want to make sure everyone is set up for success and can’t have a conflict that could be detrimental.


The most common mistake people make in introducing a new dog into a multidog household is going too far too fast. Forcing dogs into spaces or interactions that they aren’t ready for can cause behavior problems that aren’t always a reflection of either animal, and it’s important to give them time to adjust to one another and help mitigate problem areas by offering proactive environmental management and refereeing and supervising interactions closely at first.


As the dogs get more familiar with one another, remember that some conflicts can be normal. Just as we argue with our friends or partners, it doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. What matters most is how well both dogs argue. If things aren’t going well, contact a local
qualified and professional trainer to help identify problem areas or offer support based on the situation and case. Sometimes it’s as simple as going back to crate gate tether rotate and then reintegrating again, just as we sometimes need to do with our relationships.


Keep going, and good luck!


About the author:

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