August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Dog relationships are like people relationships. Some dogs will become playmates, others will enjoy the companionship of another dog and others just aren't interested in other dogs. Become familiar with signs of stress from this Body Language Poster before introducing dogs.


  • Follow any instructions you were given about how long to keep your new dog separated from your resident dogs. New dogs may pose a health risk to your resident dogs for a short time period.
  • If you have more than one dog, introduce each separately. Begin with your most calm and friendly dog, and make sure bones, toys and food are put away.
  • Introduce dogs in an area with lots of space, ideally away from your home, like a quiet park. If neutral territory isn't available, it's generally better to introduce dogs outside.
  • Stay calm and don't hold your breath. Your dog is more likely to stay calm if you are calm.
  • Walk the dogs near each other, keeping a safe distance of 10-20 feet between. Give them time to get comfortable, sniffing the area and walking around.
  • If they're calm and not aggressive, let them approach each other to sniff. Observe body language. Relaxed bodies, wagging tails, open mouths, and play bows are all good.
  • Keep the leashes loose and move with the dogs as they sniff each other briefly.
  • Let them interact for 3-5 seconds, praising and talking in a nice voice and then call your dog in an upbeat tone of voice, while gently pulling them apart. Take a short break and repeat. Short greetings help keep interactions calm.
  • After a few successful sniffs, take them for a side-by-side walk with one person walking each dog.
  • If things are going well, put the dogs in a fenced area, if available. Leave the leashes on, but dragging behind them, so that you can quickly pick the leashes up if you need to separate them.
  • Watch for aggressive behavior including barking, baring teeth, growling or snapping. If it happens, gently separate them. Take a break and then try again.
  • Aggression is a form of communication. It can be normal for a dog to growl a bit when establishing boundaries. Slow introductions are key.
  • If the dogs fight, distract them with a loud noise - clap, whistle and/or voice. Pick up their leashes and separate them. If it's serious and they resist separation, try spraying them with a hose.
  • Ask for help if needed. Call the shelter/rescue group, foster coordinator or seek the advice of a positive reinforcement trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
  • Keep your dogs separated when you are away until it is clear that they are getting along well.


  • Don't keep leashes tight or allow the leashes to tangle when dogs meet. This can cause tension between dogs.
  • Don't let the dogs rush up to each other. Go slowly and keep things controlled.
  • Don't yell at the dogs. This can cause tension between them.
  • Don't grab collars to separate dogs from a fight. You may get injured.
  • Don't pull on the leashes to separate fighting dogs who are grabbing each other.

In-Home Tips

  • Your new dog can drag a light leash behind them while inside for the few first days. This gives you a little control while they settle in.
  • Give each dog a 'safe zone.' A safe zone is a quiet area blocked by a gate or a crate in the home where each dog can rest without being bothered by people, other pets or loud noises.
  • Give each dog their own area for water, food bowls, and chews. You may also feed dogs separately to avoid food guarding. Pick up food bowls and chews when dogs are finished.
  • Learn each dog's personality. Some dogs are very playful, while some are more relaxed. Observe if one is more playful than the others and pay attention to their tolerance levels. Interrupt and redirect interactions if needed to give them a break.