Introducing a New Puppy to Your Dog

Kate Basedow, LVT

Recently succumbed to puppy fever? Introducing a new puppy to your dog isn’t hard, but it does take some time and patience. After all, your resident dog probably wasn’t consulted about adding a new family member!

The key to how to introduce dogs is to start on neutral territory and go slow, letting the dogs tell you when they are ready to interact more closely. Plan ahead! 

I have been training and showing dogs for over 20 years, and am about to add a new puppy to my pack of three adult dogs. Two of them have been through this before, and I know one will largely ignore the pup while the other will be delighted by a new playmate.

My third resident dog, on the other hand… is going to have her nose out of joint. Puppies have cooties. And SHE is my baby! I am planning to let them get to know each other with some boundaries and space at first and will make sure that my princess gets lots of one-on-one time with me so that she doesn’t feel shortchanged.

Let’s go over some of the ins and outs of adding a new pup, from how to handle the first meeting to working up to the pup being one of the gang.

Will my dog accept a new puppy?

Usually, yes. But it may take some time. 

Dogs are social animals, so living in a group is built into their DNA. But if your resident dog is used to YOU being his only packmate, he may not be too thrilled about an interloper stealing away your time and affection.

And just like us, dogs are individuals. Some adult dogs absolutely love meeting other dogs and spending time with them. Others are more solitary and prefer to be left alone. Most adult dogs fall somewhere in the middle and enjoy the company of some dogs who have appropriate manners but dislike others. 

There is also a difference between meeting another dog in a public space and that dog coming into your dog’s home. His home is his castle, his den. While playing with a puppy at the park might sound like the perfect day to your dog, he might not be so keen to share his favorite beds and toys.

How long does it take for a dog to get used to a new puppy?

How long it takes for a resident dog to get used to a new dog varies widely. 

Rarely, a dog might take to the puppy immediately. In most cases, there will be a transition period where your resident dog and the new pup work out the terms of their relationship. This can take days to weeks.

In some cases, your older dog may never accept the puppy, but most adult dogs at least tolerate pups once they realize the newcomer is a permanent addition. 

How do I get my older dog to accept a new puppy?

The key to getting your older dog to accept a new puppy is to respect your older dog’s feelings and boundaries and take the introduction at her pace. There are a bunch of ways to do that.

Make sure both dogs are vaccinated

Okay, so the dogs probably aren’t asking about each other’s vaccination status, but this is an important detail to take care of before letting them get up close and personal. 

The American Animal Hospital Association has vaccination guidelines that include “core” vaccines that all dogs should get and “non-core” vaccines that may be beneficial depending on your dog’s lifestyle and where you live. The core vaccines that all dogs should receive are rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus, plus or minus parainfluenza. 

The rabies vaccine is standalone and can be given after 12 weeks of age. Distemper, parvo, and adenovirus are often combined into a single vaccine. This combination vaccine is extremely important for all puppies! The diseases that it protects against are highly contagious and can have permanent effects on affected puppies, including death.

Having seen puppies die of parvo in my work as a veterinary technician, it is not a fate I would wish on any pup. For the ones who survive, their owners are still saddled with a huge veterinary bill. 

Depending on how old your puppy is when you pick her up, she may not be fully vaccinated yet. To protect her, your adult dog should be up to date on vaccinations before you bring the puppy home.

If one of your older dogs has a health condition that interferes with her ability to be vaccinated, wait to add a puppy to the house until the pup is fully vaccinated. This will prevent the puppy from potentially exposing your older dog to a contagious disease.

Introduce on neutral ground 

Even the sweetest dogs can be protective of their house and belongings. Choose a neutral location, such as a park or friend’s yard, for the initial introduction. This will allow the dogs to get acquainted without the pressure of your older dog protecting her stuff. 

Outdoor locations are ideal so that the dogs meet somewhere with plenty of space and neither of them feels cornered.

Tip: Choose a location that is fairly quiet so that both dogs will be calm. Also, do not use a dog park. Parks can be a wonderful opportunity for our canines to cut loose, but dog parks can also harbor a variety of diseases that you don’t want to expose your new pup to.

If your existing dog is unvaccinated, sick, or has parasites, stay away from dog parks to protect other dogs – this is part of responsible dog ownership.

How to introduce dogs

Remove resources

Resource guarding is a common issue in dogs. This is when a dog guards something he considers a resource – it could be food, a favorite toy, or even you. 

Even if your older dog has never shown resource guarding behaviors before, put away his favorite toys and his food bowl before introducing the new dog. Having them out of the picture will prevent the puppy from accidentally touching something that your existing dog considers off-limits and might snap at her for. 

Put food bowls down at mealtimes, and feed each dog in a separate area. Side-by-side crates are a great option so that each dog has a secure space though they are still close and can associate the other’s presence with mealtimes. Separate rooms will also work.

Reintroduce toys in the house and yard once your dog has met the puppy and relaxed some. If one dog or the other is showing resource guarding, only allow them to have toys one at a time to prevent fights.

Use a loose leash or a barrier 

Both dogs should be under control for the first greeting, but try to keep it casual. Many dogs become reactive when restrained on a tight leash, and you want your dog to feel calm and relaxed around the new puppy!

Leashes are an easy option. Both dogs should be on leashes held by two different people so you can control how close they get to each other. Especially if there is a large size difference, you want the dogs to walk up to each other, not charge (this can be scary).

If your dog tends to be leash reactive or if the puppy hasn’t been on a leash before, use a physical barrier that they can see each other through instead (this is also a great option for dogs who have a tendency to be rough or aggressive when meeting new dogs).

Have the dogs on opposite sides of a fence or gate if you have access to a securely fenced area, or put one in a crate.

Using leashes and/or a barrier lets your dogs see and smell each other but prevents any fights.

Provide sniffing time

Let the dogs sniff and observe each other from afar, then if both of them are calm and have loose, relaxed body language, allow them to approach. 

Give both of them a chance to sniff each other. If one starts to get overexcited or overwhelmed, separate them and let them calm back down before trying again.

If your older dog is really reactive about strange dogs, start by rubbing the puppy with a blanket and then letting your older dog smell it. This gives them a chance to process the pup’s scent without the stimulation of the other dog’s actual presence.

Try parallel walks 

With both dogs on leashes held by different people, go for a walk together. Start out far enough apart that the dogs can’t reach each other, then gradually get closer together if they are being good.

Parallel walking is a great option because walking lets the dogs burn off a little energy, and sniffing the environment provides a distraction from the other dog.

Once the dogs have relaxed and are walking well together, it is a good sign and you can walk them to your yard and then into your house.

Pay attention to dog body language

Watch your dog’s body language to tell if she is ready to meet the new dog or not. Canine body language can be complex, but you can figure out the basics pretty easily.

A happy dog has loose, relaxed body language. Her tail wags in loose arcs, and she moves around freely. A dog showing this body language is ready to meet the new dog, and a play bow is a classic canine invitation!

A dog that is on the offensive is tense and rigid, looking at the other dog with a hard stare. She may have raised fur on her back, and her tail either held up and rigid, or wagging stiffly. A dog showing these postures may act aggressively and is not ready to approach the puppy.

A dog that is fearful or anxious may also appear tense, with eyes darting from side to side. She will likely cower down trying to make herself appear smaller. She may also back or turn away from the other dog. A dog showing this body language is stressed and needs more time to acclimate.

This video is an excellent example of dog body language during a dog-puppy introduction! Note how the adult dog is a little tense but gradually relaxes, and how she snarks at and corrects the puppy when the puppy is too pushy.

These little corrections are a completely normal part of dog communication:

Let your dogs set the pace of introduction 

Don’t try to rush the introduction – let your dogs set the pace. 

If one dog is over-exuberant and coming on too strong, keep her back and try a parallel walk to get her to relax. Treats and asking your dog to do basic tricks is another good way to refocus your dog and calm her down.

If the puppy seems fearful, don’t force her to approach. Let them greet each other at their own pace.

Your dogs may not warm up to each other right away, and that’s okay. Do small, controlled meetings a few minutes long every couple hours, and let them have space in between.

If your adult dog is used to being an only dog or if he doesn’t usually like other dogs, it may take a couple of days or a few weeks before they can be off-leash together.

Supervise at home

For the first few weeks, always separate your dogs when you won’t be in the house to supervise them. Puppies don’t always have the best manners or communication skills and can irritate even the most patient older dog with crazy antics. 

Crates are your friend! Crate training is a critical skill that your puppy should learn anyway, so put her in her crate when you need to go to work or while you sleep. This will keep her out of trouble and give your older dog a break.

Supervise them when out in the yard together. Dogs can get overstimulated when chasing squirrels or barking at passing cars, and misunderstandings can happen when they are in that high-energy state. Quick intervention will calm everyone down and prevent a fight or your puppy from getting scared.

Be patient

Introducing your current dog to your new puppy might be as simple as some tail wags and instant best friends. But in most cases, it takes a little time for your adult dog to warm up to the newcomer.

Introduce them in neutral territory, without any toys around. Watch their body language to make sure they are loose and relaxed, not tense, and about to spring. Take them for parallel walks, walking side by side to give them something else to think about (and keeping your dogs active will burn some energy!).

When in doubt, crates are your friend!

With a little care and patience, you can integrate your new dog into your little pack within a few days or a week or two. Good luck!