How to Choose and Introduce a New Dog to an Old Dog

From the Mail Bag: Renee asks: I have a mini Aussie a little over a year old. I’ve been thinking of getting another dog as a companion for her. I am home most of the time, so I have time for two. I play with Sierra a few times a day throwing Frisbee, etc. but she still badgers me to play at times when I’m busy. I thought having another dog may be good for her. My sister visits every once in a while and brings a much smaller dog and Sierra LOVES having the company. Sierra is a very sweet dog who loves all people and all dogs. She is very submissive around bigger dogs. I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t want her to be dominated if we get a new dog; she’s my baby doll! I’m thinking of a small (male?) dog from a shelter or rescue group. Thoughts, advice?

Dear Renee: From your description of Sierra, I think a similarly sized male is a safe way to go. Though that’s not to say that smaller dogs can’t be aggressive or dominant, because they can. We’re just looking at leveling the playing field, so to speak. Dogs similar in size and weight have less of a chance of hurting each other in play. And there is often less of an issue with compatibility when you get a dog of the opposite sex. So at least you’re starting off with the odds in your favor.

Step One: Why Another Dog? If you’re getting this dog only for company for Sierra, you might not wind up as happy with the decision when push comes to shove. Because whether you get a puppy or a grown rescue or shelter dog, there will be issues (even if it’s as simple as finding the time for training). If you just want a dog for Sierra, then perhaps you could find a friend’s dog to visit regularly. I’ve even suggested that people put an ad in the paper to find a compatible daytime companion. If you’re really excited by the idea of having another dog for you, too, then proceed to step two.

Step Two: A Second Pair of Eyes. Whether you’re thinking of getting a puppy or dog from a breeder or from a rescue organization or shelter, consider finding an experienced trainer who is knowledgeable on evaluating dogs’ temperaments, and is willing to come along on your search. A second pair of eyes (especially educated eyes) can catch things you might miss.

Step Three: Neutral Grounds. Once you’ve found a dog with whom you’ve fallen in love, find a neutral place where you can introduce the two dogs. Start by doing a quick greeting on leash: let the dogs walk up to each other and greet for the count of three, and then retreat and treat each dog. If the dogs seem interested in each other (neither is snarky or snippy or trying to get away), repeat greeting. If all goes well, take the dogs for a parallel walk and let them sniff and investigate each other occasionally as long as they are both behaving appropriately. Remember to monitor their behavior, and use an upbeat voice when talking to them. Treat to reinforce desired behavior. What you’re looking for is an overall positive interaction. Does either dog offer a play bow, a soft curvy body shape, a relaxed happy demeanor? These are all great signs and bode well. Does either dog show teeth, growl, have raised hackles, offer a hard stare, or lick lips, look away or cower? Not so good. You may be looking at some mix of aggression, dominance, and/or fear issues.

Sometimes it’s obvious from the first meeting that the two dogs just love each other. That’s great when that happens — problem solved, dog found, happy ending for all. Often it’s not immediately or completely obvious. If you really like the dog and the meeting hasn’t gone badly (just not as fantastically as you’d hoped), I’d consider setting up a time for a second meeting. Run the second meeting the same as the first: quick meet-n-greet, side-by-side walk, etc. Sometimes dogs just need time to warm up to each other, and the second meeting will afford them that time. (I had Kiera and Graidy meet three times before I decided it was a go.) If, after a couple of meetings, you can see they’d tolerate each other but would rather not have to be together, move on and find another dog. You want a dog who is nuts about Sierra, and whom she also adores. You can find that dog–he exists. Keep looking until you find him!

Step Four: Coming Home. If you decide on a puppy, I’d have a friend help you when you first get him home. You’d want to hold the puppy in your lap while you have your friend hold Sierra on leash. Let her sniff, lick and explore the puppy. If you get an older dog, still enlist a friend to have Sierra meet you and the new dog outside first. Meet-n-greet, etc, again to check how they both are on Sierra’s turf. Regardless of whether you opt for a puppy or older dog, unless it’s clear that the two dogs adore each other, I’d keep the first home intro brief as well. After first home intro remove the new dog (to another room or a crate, preferably a crate in another room) and lavish Sierra with attention and praise. Let her know that she’s still your #1 girl.

Repeat the intro exercise a couple of times a day until you’re sure they’re better than fine with each other. Then you can keep them both on a short leash and allow them to play together on the floor with you monitoring their body language to make sure they’re both still good. At the first sign of stress on either dog’s part, end the session and try again later.

Once they’ve gotten to know each other and feel safe around each other, then they can have free reign of the house.

And don’t forget to reserve some private time for just you and Sierra in the beginning. She’ll appreciate the time with you alone and it’ll give her a break from the new dog.

Step Five: Integration. I’m a firm believer in separate food and water bowls in separate spots, along with separate crates. It’s important for each dog to feel that they have a safe place to eat and retreat to. I’d keep the new dog in his crate at night until you’re sure he’s house-trained, and Sierra’s comfortable sharing her sleeping space with him. Be on the lookout for how they are sharing toys so that resource guarding doesn’t crop up. And if you see any behavior from either dog that you’re not sure about, contact a trainer and get help right away. Problems are most easily solved right at the beginning, before they have a chance to become ingrained.

Sierra sounds like a very sweet girl, and it’s clear that you adore her. Chances are that you can find the perfect match for both of you if you give it time and patience. If it’s love at first sight for both dogs, all of the preceding steps will go swiftly. (Graidy was a free man within a few hours.) Best of luck to you. Let me know how it goes. And if any other dog folks here have anything to add, please join in!

Comments on this post are now closed. If you’re looking for help making a decision about adding a new dog to your home, please consult an experienced trainer near you, to help you make that decision. There are just too many variables that I’m not able to take into account for you by long distance, without knowing you or your dogs. You really need a trained professional who can observe both dogs together. Good luck.

18 thoughts on “How to Choose and Introduce a New Dog to an Old Dog”

  1. Hi Melissa. Of course there are never any guarantees, but you should be all right with a female from the same breeder, especially since you are already familiar for what you’ll be in for. :)

    Good luck!

  2. Hi Karen! I just found this site adn page by searching on-line and need some advice on adding another dog, surely hope someone here can help!

    We currently have a bichon frise boy (neutered) who will be one year old in september. We love him very much, although he is high energy, he has been fantastic for our family (we have two children who adore him and vice versa).

    He absolutely LOVES to play with my brother’s dogs (mini pin and rat terrior) and cries when they leave. We notice that it is a great outlet for his energy and that he is very social with other dogs in the neighborhood. I myself, would love to have a female bichon (just as a pet, not to breed) and resisted not getting his littermate only because I read it best to wait.

    We now have an opportunity to get a female pup from the same breeder. The sire is the same but the dam is not. We already know and trust this breeder so is it best to stick with her? Or is a bad a idea to get a pup that has the same sire and is the same breed? Not sure if it really matters or not but do know that he needs another small dog with as much as energy as he has.

    Thanks so much!


  3. In my experience, it’s always safer to go with the opposite sex.

    Sounds like this new puppy will be going to a very thoughtful and loving home.

    Good luck!

  4. Thanks for the quick response. With our first pup, we still use the ticking clock, hot water bottle, and even a radio on very low. He cried (more like screamed) at night for the first week and the first night with the H20 bottle, he stopped. We just didn’t want to upset the puppy we have now. If we get a second, it would be the same breed (Boston) from the same breeder, which I think may help. Do you think it would be better to have two males or male-female? Either case, they will both be altered.

  5. Hi,

    I have two dogs, a 6 year old female poodle and a 5 year old male shitzu (sp?).
    The Shitzu has a terminal brain disease and although we are doing chemo therapy, the long term prognosis is bad. Our poodle has been very lonely when Barney has gone for chemo. And our vet suggested we get a third dog soon, so that when Barney is gone, Roxanne (the poodle) will not be alone.
    We have found a 3 1/2 year old Lasoaps (sp?) that needs a home after her owner died of cancer. I really want this to work for all the dogs. Any suggestions?
    Thank you.

    The first suggestion I’d have is to find a neutral place ( backyard of a friend’s house?) and have them meet to see how they like each other. If you don’t know how to observe dogs’ body language, it would be worth it to pay a trainer to come and observe and advise. Good luck.

  6. Lab/pointer mixes are usually fairly low on the dog/dog aggression scale. That should work in your favor.

    But you don’t mention how old the dog is that you’re thinking of adopting. Or if Bella and Gracie share one kennel or have two kennels next to each other. Or what the dimensions are (space is an important factor for influencing how dogs behave). Or if you leave food in the kennel.

    I’d recommend you speak with a local trainer who could make a home visit, take a look at your setup, make recommendations, and perhaps be there to help introduce the new dog.

    You sound like a very conscientious dog owner who any dog would be lucky to call her own. Good luck.

  7. Karen,

    My husband and I currently have two female lab, pointer mix and are seriously entertaining the idea of adopting another from a friend that just doesn’t have time for her. Funny thing is she is the same mix as Bella and Gracie, same markings she actually looks like Gracie.
    We love our dogs very much and want to give Malley that same love.

    We have taken her a couple times and they all seem to get along great. She has not been alone with them though and although Bella and Gracie are sweet tempered dogs (there can be up to 4-5 dogs in our yard sometimes and have never had a problem) I just don’t know how they will treat her. Bella and Gracie are sisters and we have had them since they were 10 weeks, they are now 2.

    When we are not home the girls are in the kennel in the yard. When we are home they get to run in the yard and sleep in the house.Luckily I work close enough that I go home and let them out every day at lunch.

    What are your suggestions as far as introducing Bella and Gracie’s kennel to Malley without upsetting Bella and Gracie?


  8. Hi Karen,

    This is a great post, not only on things to take into consideration when people are considering a new dog, but also on ways to make the introduction between those two dogs more likely to succeed.

    I wrote an article on my blog that details the “walking introduction” a bit more thoroughly – I thought that I’d leave a link to it here as it might be helpful to your readers (if you don’t mind).

    Keep up the good work, and hope that your writing project is going swimmingly!

  9. Neil, Thanks for sharing the link. The more good information people have at their fingertips, the better for the dogs.

    At the moment, the writing is going very well, thankfully. :)

  10. Thank you for this great post! I’ve never read your blog before, but read it during a google search.

    My “puppy” Puckers, is a 14 year old, 70 lb hunk of love. I have been considering the idea of getting a new dog. I know Puck very well (I’ve had him since he was six months old) and I know that he gets along best with females of the same size or smaller than he is. I would like to have another dog, and I believe Puck would like the company. I would like to adopt an older dog from a rescue or shelter.

    I have one main concern: my cat! I don’t know if anyone can help with this, but I’ll try. My cat, Zoe, and Puck get along quite well. She was only four weeks old when I found her, and she used to sleep on top of Puck or under his tail when she was a baby. She even tried nursing from him! He loved the attention and was very patient. However, Zoe does not respond well to other dogs when they come over. I do not want to increase the stress on her – are there specific ways to introduce dogs to cats?

    If you have any advice, thanks!

    Lindsay, read my post on How to Introduce a Kitten to a Dog. It will give you some suggestions. Also, ask if the dog you’re considering has been tested on cats. If not, ask if the shelter would be willing to test to see how she does. Introducing a new dog to a cat is doable. It just requires some initial management and time.

    Good luck. I know Puck will be happier for the dog companionship.

  11. Definitely having a dog that’s already trained helps the new puppy get the hang of things faster. That doesn’t mean the older dog will train the puppy for you, just that your training will usually go faster.

    As far as nighttime and crates, not all puppies cry in a crate. If yours does, you can try adding a ticking clock wrapped in a blanket, with maybe a hot water bottle. Or try putting the crates next to each other so the puppy can see and smell your other dog right near by.

    Even if the new puppy does cry, it’s usually only for a short while before it gets comfortable with the routine.

    As with everything with dogs, patience and consistent training from the beginning are the keys.

    If you have the time and energy for another dog, whatever inconvenience your dog may initially suffer will be far outweighed by having a best bud and playmate for years to come.

  12. My wife and I are also thinking of adding another puppy to the household, primarily for our current puppy to have a companion. Great advice, so thanks are in order for all. I have a question–Does having one dog who is crate trained, house trained, etc. make it easier to get the other into the routine? For instance, will the new puppy be more likely to take to his crate at night without crying simply because that’s what the other one does? Just wondering because we don’t want to upset our current dog by forcing him to listen to crying all night and making his crate uncomfortable?

    Thanks in advance.

  13. Excellent advice.

    I used to think multiple dogs were just for hunters and drug dealers, but I wouldn’t have any other life. I like to do positive reinforcement in training dogs and it’s easy with more than one; praise one and the others are like, “hey, I can do that.” There are so many advantages, but people have to be committed to the idea before getting into it.

  14. Jan, you are too funny! I agree with the positive reinforcement–it makes most training a snap. And it’s fun for both trainer and dog.

    I know there are so many advantages to having two dogs. In so many ways, it makes life a lot easier. Not sure I’ll ever get past the two-dog mark though. Not if I want to stay married anyway. ;)

  15. Good points, Sunshine. Thanks for the additions.

    From my experience, getting two puppies together is the hardest way to start. It’s much easier when you’ve had one dog you’ve trained and bonded with before adding another. I found bringing two puppies home on the same day sort of like giving birth to twins. WHEW – A LOT OF WORK! LOL! And perhaps not as much time in the beginning for each one individually (which is sometimes why those dogs may bond more with each other than you–though not always).

    Sunshine, from what I know of how you raised your two, I don’t think you could have done a better job! But, indeed, it’s an adventure…

    Loved your point about resource guarding the human.

    Renee, if you do decide to add another dog, you probably will experience at least a little of this. Sunshine gave great advice there, as well as remembering to spend enough time with each individually. Mine get separate walks and separate play periods, as well as separate cuddle time. But most of the time we’re a free-for-all, all loving each other up, moving as a threesome most of the day!

    It does sound like you have the time, the room, and the heart for a second dog. It would be great if some little guy gets to come and share all that with you and Sierra.

  16. Wow, I learned alot with this post and I raised my two dogs, who are siblings from 8 weeks old, together. I hope that no one considering adding an additional family member as Renee is will skip over step one. We may be an impulsive species but we are not the only ones that will have to live with the consequences of our actions in this situation.

    Step Five:
    When it comes to “Integration” one thing that may be important to consider in a multi-dog household is that “You” may become the prime target in resource guarding. It was my experience that the more intune I became with my dogs needs (especially during adolesence) the more I realized that when I was giving out affection to one the other would try to push them out of the way to get at me. I had to set up strict boundary commands and used a word they were already learning “Wait”. That meant, “stop, and wait for me to invite you to get some affection”. It was amazing how this improved the over all emotional health for both dogs. Nutmeg became less “needy” and Shelby began to demonstrate better “self-control” even beyond affection time.

    Despite how flattering it is to have not only one but two dogs clammering for your attention don’t loose site of their needs in the process.

    Another thing that helped build self confidence and anchor my dog’s bond and trust with me is seperate training, play, and affection time with each dog. I don’t know if this element is as important when bringing an older dog into the picture but I can’t see why it wouldn’t also hold ture, at least on some level.

    On a side note: I love my two dog household, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I do however wish that I had known from the start what I know today. That being said there is a lot of truth to “experience being the best teacher”.

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