Blending Pet Families: How to Introduce Dogs when Moving in Together

by Amanda Flores

Two people at home with two dogs on porch

We've got all the tips you need to safely introduce your dogs when moving in together to ensure your pups will become the best roommates.

Moving in with your partner is an exciting time, but moving in together when you’re both pet parents can sometimes add a layer of stress. However, with the right communication and a united strategy, blending your two pet families can be a fun experience for everyone.

Here all the tips you need to safely introduce your dogs when moving in together to ensure your pups will become the best roommates.

Find a Neutral Space for Introductions

The first introduction between dogs should be in a neutral space, says Amy Learn, VMD, DACVB, IAABC-CABC, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist. There’s a good chance your dogs have already met at some point in your relationship, but if that’s not the case—for example, the dogs are new to your families, or you’re just thinking ahead—plan for them to meet for the first time in a neutral territory like a park. (Note that it should not be a dog park.) 

“That way, the dogs are just on a walk and another random dog happens to be present—there is no territorial component,” she says. “The dogs should be at a distance from each other where they do not show any significant signs of stress, fear, or arousal.” 

It is also best not to have them facing each other but instead walking parallel. The pet parents should have treats or some other reinforcer to encourage the repetition of calm behavior. If things go smoothly, they can start to move closer but continue in a parallel formation. If things are not calm, they will need more distance and to try again later, she explains. 

Be Aware of Your Own Body Language

Our pets understand more than we think, but they may not get why they’re suddenly in a different space and living with new pets. This uncertainty can lead to anxious feelings, which can lead to stress or aggressive behavior.

Plus, your own feelings, anxiety, and attitude play a big part in how your pup will handle the transition. Dog's are in tune with their humans and pick up in any change of emotion. Negative human emotions like stress and fear can cause us to sweat, produce pheromones, or to have an increased heart rate and respiratory rate, and dogs are aware of these things, warns Dr. Learn. 

“We often fidget or have certain gestures that indicate stress, like biting our nails, twirling our hair, wringing our hands. Dogs easily identify gestures and facial expressions,” she says. 

Channel positivity and it will rub off. They will feel more comfortable and secure, making introductions easier and cohabitation more peaceful.

Understand What Might Cause Aggressive Behavior 

If dogs feel defensive, aggression could be the outcome. Aggression is primarily a distance increasing behavior, explains Dr. Learn. That pup feels overwhelmed and is asking for more space. 

This can occur with many things like, food or mealtime, toys, human attention and spaces, like beds. It can also occur when the pup is stressed for another reason, like the doorbell. This is redirected aggression, which means that the trigger is something other than the recipient but the animal that is overwhelmed needs to direct those feelings somewhere.

Ease the transition and eliminate potential incidents by monitoring body language closely. Allow the dogs to have their own space where they can get away, practice some of the obedience skills you taught them as puppies to rebuild fluency, and avoid any sort of punishment. Be sure to use only positive reinforcement training

“Keep things calm in your home,” says Dr. Learn. “There’s no need to throw a party right away. Let everyone settle in first.” 

Doggie Proof Your Home

Just like with all other aspects of blending dog families, you’ll want to eliminate anything that can cause tension or unwanted behavior. Creating safe spaces, where each dog has a spot to call their own, can help alleviate this. Even if they’re besties right off the bat, they may still need rest times or a place to retreat to when feeling overwhelmed.

Talk to your partner about their dog’s habits. While your dog may be trusted to stay home while your dinner defrosts on the counter, their pup may see that as an opportunity for a mid-afternoon snack. 

And don’t forget to take it slow. The first week after gaining new roomies isn’t the best time to leave the pups home alone together. If possible, avoid this by rearranging flexible work schedules or enlisting sitters or a doggy daycare.

Blending pet families with your partner is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of years of playful pup antics and double the snuggle time. Creating an environment where all pets feel welcome, safe, and most importantly, loved is the recipe for a happy and peaceful home. 

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