How to acclimate two dogs

Dogs are territorial animals, so when acquainting two dogs in the home, it’s important to be allow them to familiarize themselves with each other in a safe, productive way. If already have a dog and you’re bringing home a new canine chum, acquaint them in stages.

Before the Introduction

Step 1

Bring a piece of bedding belonging to the new dog to the house and introduce the established dog to the scent. As you do this, praise the dog and give him a treat. This way, the scent will be familiar when he finally meets the new dog. He’ll also associate the scent with the positive feeling of receiving praise.

Step 2

Take a piece of bedding belonging to the established dog and introduce it to the new dog.

Step 3

Put two crates in the same room, but at the other end. Position both crates so the dogs can see each other.

Step 4

Put the established dog in his crate and give him a toy to chew on. Crating the dogs before full introduction is useful because the crates provide a feeling of familiarity and security.

Step 5

Have a friend or person known to the new dog bring the dog to the house and put him in the crate. Leave the dogs in their crates for about 20 minutes.

Step 6

Remove the new dog from the crate and take him for a walk around the house on a leash. Then have your friend take him a for 10-minute walk around the block.

Step 7

Let the established dog out of the crate and allow him to sniff around where the new dog has been.

Step 8

Remove both crates from the room.

The Physical Introduction

Step 1

Arrange furniture and leave doors open so that both dogs can exit the room easily. Introductions can be stressful for dogs, so it’s important they can remove themselves from the situation at any point. This is most important when unleashing the dogs.

Step 2

Make the first introduction. Have your friend return with the new dog on a leash. The established dog should be on his leash too. If the dogs strain at the leashes, growl or otherwise show aggression toward each other, gently pull the dogs apart and allow them to calm down. Allow the dogs to investigate each other for a period of 20 minutes while on leash.

Step 3

Separate the dogs. Take the new dog into another room and close the door.

Step 4

Reintroduce the dogs. When you feel the dogs are happy in each other’s presence, remove the leashes and allow them interact more freely. Do not leave the dogs unsupervised. Monitor their body language in order to preempt any aggressive behavior by separating the dogs. Look out for ears tucked back, staring, lip licking and still tails. As the dogs become acquainted, they’ll gradually become calmer and more tolerant of each other. Repeat the controlled introduction once or twice every few days.

How to acclimate two dogs

In many instances, dogs and cats can learn to happily coexist and live together in harmony. You can successfully acclimate dogs and cats by using baby-steps to slowly desensitize the animals to each other. Introductions should be slow, safe, and encourage respectful interactions.

Avoid unneccessary stress and injury

You should not let the felines and pooches “work it out” on their own. Why not? First, dogs and cats do not speak the same language. Second, size and speed differences between the species could lead to an injury if the interactions are not calm. Third, many dogs have a natural prey drive to chase anything small that’s moving; thus, we need to help train the dog that the cat is not something fun to chase.

Before introductions

What should you do to prepare before starting the introductions? Be sure your dog has some basic obedience skills, such as “sit,” “stay” and “leave it.” Need extra help? Read this blog about finding a dog trainer. For the cat, recommends having an isolation room for that cat that contains the litter box, food, water, and bed. You can spend time in the isolation room with the cat, but do not let the dog peek into that room yet! This room is also the location where you keep the cat – until the dog and cat are fully integrated and no longer require supervised interactions – when you’re not home or sleeping. You can also have a room or location for the dog; however, cats are easier to isolate because they use a litter box and normally require less physical exercise than dogs do.

Steps to introduce cats and dogs

Last summer, my sister-in-law Sarah worked with a local dog trainer in Wisconsin and researched online to determine the best game plan for acclimating puppy Bishop and kitten Ripley. Sarah provided these steps for successfully introducing the animals:

1. Scent acclimation

Introduce each animal to the smells of the other animal by showing each pet toys and the bed of the other pet. For example, show the cat the dog’s bed and dog’s toys. Reward the cat with cat treats and verbal praise for smelling and being near the dog’s items. This will allow the cat to positively associate the dog’s smell with yummy treats. During this smell introduction, the dog is put away (e.g. crated) in another room. Do the same thing for the dog with the cat’s scent.

2. Closed-door introductions

Introduce the dog and cat through a closed, solid (not see-through) door. You’ll need a human on each side of the door to praise and give treats to the pet on his or her side of the door.

3. Crate introductions

Have each pet in a crate (at least a few feet apart) and allow the pets to look each other. Praise and treat both pets.

4. Leashed dog and loose cat introductions

The dog in on leash with a human at the other end of the leash and the cat is free (no leash). Often the cat is the smaller animal, so ensure that the cat has an escape route, such as leaving the room by running under a baby gate. The dog shouldn’t be able to follow the escape route. Praise and treat both pets for calm behaviors and for looking serenely at each other. If needed, use the “leave it” command with the dog.

5. Loose pets with a feline escape route

Start with two humans and have each human tranquilly holding one of the animals. Allow the pets to look at each other across the room. Then give the pets freedom (put them down on the floor) to move about the room. Again, the cat is able to exit without the dog following the cat.

6. Loose, supervised pets when the humans are home

This means the dog and cat may be home together when supervised in the same room, but when you leave, you must separate the pets so they cannot interact. For example, put your cat back in the cat room and the dog in a dog room. When the dog and are together, continue to praise and give treats for good behaviors. Behaviors that are rewarded are repeated and then can then become the default – the new normal – behavior.

Helpful games

While you are in steps 3-6 above, you may also want to play the “look at that” (LAT) game by Leslie McDevitt. This game will teach your dog to stay relaxed when he sees the cat. McDevitt describes this exercise in her book “Control Unleashed”.. Instead of asking your dog to look away from something stimulating – the cat – you reward your dog for peacefully looking at the interesting item. When your dog is serenely looking at the cat, say “yes.” Your dog reorients to you (looks in your direction) to get his treat! Treat your dog. Your dog learns that he is allowed to look at the kitty, associates looking peacefully at the cat as something positive to do, and builds up stamina to look at the cat for longer periods of time.

How long will it take to introduce your cat and dog?

How long will it take? It could take a week or several months. Sarah spent 3 days each on steps 1-3 above and then spent even more time on steps 4-6.

Things to remember

Cats and dogs can learn to be good friends, but introductions are key to forming a loving relationship. Remember to be patient and give both of your pets lots of love! Consider enrolling in pet insurance to ensure both pets can receive the best veterinary care without you worrying over the cost of keeping them healthy!

How to acclimate two dogs

About the Author
Jasey Day

Jasey Day holds the Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) credential through the University of Tennessee. She is a member of the Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam – a team of compassionate canine fitness instructors who actively teach others and continually expand their own knowledge. Since 2004, Jasey has taught a variety of workshops and classes on the following: Puppy, Canine Good Citizen/Family Pet, Advanced Family Pet, Canine Fitness, Canine Swimming, Rally, and Agility. In addition, Jasey has earned over 60 titles in Dock Diving, Agility, Rally, CGC and Trick Dog. Jasey has worked full time for the American Kennel Club since 2007 and teaches at Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Jasey’s Labrador Retrievers spend their free time hiking, training, and snuggling with Jasey.

PetPartners, Inc. is located at 8051 Arco Corporate Drive, Suite 350, Raleigh, NC 27617.

Before adding a new dog to your household, the first thing to consider is whether you really want another dog just for the sake of having another dog. Although sometimes a new dog may work out to be a great companion to the dog you already have, there is really no way to know in advance if that will be the case. Dogs with separation anxiety frequently remain distressed even if there are other dogs in the house with them, and if the dogs turn out to be incompatible the new dog will introduce new problems.

Once you’ve decided to get another dog, you’ll want to make the introduction with a minimum of stress. Here are some suggestions.

How to acclimate two dogs

Give some thought to choosing a new dog who can be compatible with your present dog. In our experience, conflict is least likely to occur between a male dog and a female dog. Male with male is the next best combination, female with female is the combination most likely to result in conflict. When you choose a new dog, consider your present dog’s needs. For example, try not to bring a very active young dog into a home with an older dog who already has health problems such as osteoarthritis. If you do get a puppy or young dog, be prepared to “protect” the older dog from her. You will have to spend plenty of time with the new dog and offer distractions to keep her from harassing the older dog.

How to acclimate two dogs

Congratulations! You have just rescued a new shelter dog and brought him into your home. The following steps will help make his transition into your life as seamless as possible. These guidelines are focused on helping a new adult or adolescent dog become accustomed to his new home. The rules are somewhat different if you have adopted a young puppy.

Top 6 Tips To Acclimate Your Rescue Dog

1. Do not assume he is house-trained

Even if you’ve adopted an adult dog, you need to take him out often to the area you want him to eliminate and praise him enthusiastically every time he goes. If he has an accident in your house, do not scold or punish; clean it up and get on with your life. Be more diligent about taking him out. Use the same door if possible, and the same leash if you do not have a fenced yard. If your yard is fenced, go outside with him and be sure to praise when he goes, even if you are praising him from some distance away.

2. Take him for walks in your neighborhood

He needs to learn where your home is. Even a small walk can help elevate some stress and help your dog relax.

3. Watch out for escape routes

A new dog in a new place may want to run away. This is no reflection on you, but it happens often and your new dog will not yet have learned his way home. Make sure you securely close doors and gates to your home or yard.

4. Establish a schedule as quickly as possible

Your dog will adjust more easily into your life if he knows what to expect. Try to feed and walk him at the same times each day. Dogs love a routine!

5. Avoid having many newcomers to your home the first couple of weeks

Although you are proud of your newest family member and want all of your friends to meet him, have one or two people over at a time for the first several weeks until he has had time to get used to his new immediate family. This rule does not apply to new puppies who are under 16 weeks old – you should have several gatherings with lots of people if your puppy is a youngster; this is really good for socializing your new puppy.

6. Slowly add outings to the park or going for a ride

Try to keep it rather boring for the first week or two so you don’t over stimulate or stress out your new dog. Allow them time to become comfortable in their new surroundings.

If you run into problems during the first couple of weeks, seek help from a professional. It takes a good three or four weeks for a new dog to get used to a new living situation. Change is difficult for dogs, these tips will ease some of the tension for you and your companion.

How to acclimate two dogs

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Adopting a rescue dog brings excitement, stress, and worry all at the same time. You may be wondering what the phases of a rescue dog are… how long does it take a rescue dog to adjust to your home? What can you do to help them through the transition of coming home with you? What is the 3-3-3 rule of dogs?

The list of questions can go on forever. Lucky for you, you are in the right place. Rescue Dogs 101 has everything you need in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog.

How to acclimate two dogs

BEFORE You Bring Home Your Rescue Dog

If you haven’t brought your new rescue dog home yet, here are 4 things you should do before bringing any new dog home:

  1. Dog/puppy proof your house and make sure no electrical wires are hanging on the floor, pick up small items a dog may find enticing to chew, gate off areas of the home you don’t want the puppy to have access to.
  2. Walkthrough your yard and make sure the fence is in good shape with no areas the dog may squeeze or dig under the fence. Check the gates to make sure they are closed and latched.
  3. Purchase a crate and set it up in a quiet place, such as your bedroom. A crate will give your dog a safe place to decompress.
  4. Purchase necessities such as food, food/water bowls, collar, leash, and ID tag. Of course, a few toys and a bone would be nice too.

Most of our dog food, toys, and supplies I buy online at and Amazon. Here is my Amazon shopping list for my recommendation dog products.

How to acclimate two dogs

Bringing Home a Rescue Dog Advice

We have adopted seven dogs and fostered many more over the years, so to say I’ve gone through this phase many times is an understatement.

These steps work and will make your life easier and your dogs transition into your home much smoother.

Many people do not give two dogs time to adequately adjust to one another before deciding that having two dogs will simply not work. It can take up to one month for an old dog and new dog to really settle in and accept each other’s position in the pack. If you want a second dog, you need to be ready to commit to this process and not panic. Below is info to help you decide whether this step is for you and if so, how to make it successful. Often, after an adjustment period, the old dog and new dog will truly enjoy each other. You’d be surprised at how two dogs who appeared to really dislike each other can become best friends after a short while.

Have someone else meet you on neutral territory with your current dog. Let them sniff each other and then consider taking them both for a walk around the block. Watch for signs of dislike or aggression. Don’t allow one or the other to snap or bite at the other one. After it looks like they are OK around each other, you can have them meet off leash. Keep in mind that many dogs are fine together off leash. Often, when a dog is on a leash, he/she can show aggression, which is simply a way of trying to establish dominance or trying to protect you, the owner. Don’t immediately assume that they will not get along when you see this behavior on leash. However, be cautious about introducing them off leash if there is a lot of aggression shown. It is usually a good idea to introduce the dogs with one other person and to leave the leashes on, letting the dogs drag them. It’s much easier to break up a dog fight by grabbing leashes than by putting your body between two fighting dogs.

After you introduce them in neutral territory and they seem to be okay, you can introduce them inside your house. Once inside you could still have territorial disputes over toys, attention, etc. Keep in mind — one dog will become the alpha dog and you can’t help decide which one that will be. This may develop over time but at some point only one will be the alpha. Do not immediately break up squabbles unless one or both dogs is fighting aggressively. Snapping, barking and herding are ways that dogs show dominance over others and establish the alpha position. Keep one or both on leashes initially so that if a dispute develops you can stop it by pulling them away using the leashes.

Make it clear to both of them that fighting is not allowed behavior (you may not even have to deal with this problem — but you never know). If you have to break up a fight — give them both a “time out by confining in a crate or separate area for a few minutes. After a while you’ll be able to recognize when one “sibling” wants to pick a squabble with the other one and stop it before it starts. Watch for one dog staring at the other one and the one being stared at acting uneasily or getting “huffed up”.

Don’t leave new/old dogs alone together when you are not thereto keep an eye on them. Don’t take a chance that a dog fight won’t occur while you are gone. It’s not worth an injured or dead dog. Crate them both, or if the “old” dog is used to being free in the house, crate the “new” dog in another room. Leave the door closed so the uncrated dog can’t taunt him through the bars. (Yes, it does happen. Dogs will act just like kids sometimes). This can be relaxed to separate only with a baby gate eventually and if behavior warrants.

Feed them in separate areas- for example, put one dog in the laundry room off the kitchen with a baby gate closure, and feed the other one in another part of the kitchen where they can’t see each other eat. Food is a great fight starter, especially if you have one that gobbles and one that picks through every bite. Once alpha dog has been established, you can help prevent spats by recognizing the alpha dog as alpha. Give the alpha dog treats first, let the alpha dog out the door first, etc. Helps keep order in the pack. You, of course, will be alpha over both of them.

Jealousy can be a problem when another dog comes into the household. Be sure to pay attention to both and not baby the newcomer. He’ll fit in eventually. The “old” dog may need reassurances that you still love him. It’s a good idea to give each one some separate attention without the other one around to try to horn in.

Don’t change sleeping arrangements for the current dog. If she sleeps on the bed with you continue to let her, but we suggest putting the new dog in a crate in your bedroom or somewhere else if that is what you choose. You’ll also want him crated until housebreaking has been reestablished and is very reliable. Whatever you prefer for an arrangement do it from the start. We don’t recommend having the new dog sleep on the bed right off the bat. This could cause a territory dispute (territory is you) and cause some stress for the old dog because her world has changed.

Working with a trainer one-on-one is ALWAYS a good way to go. It helps both dogs recognize you as the alpha and it can help you recognize triggers of fighting and ways to handle it. It will also help you bond as a family and get to know each other in a firm, but positive way. Training is one of the best things you can do when entering into a partnership with any animal!

Shelters and rescues are popular places where many families adopt rescue dogs. The time following adoption is called the “decompression” phase—which is the amount of time dogs need to unwind and get into a relaxed frame of mind. This phase is paramount for the success of your relationship with your canine friend.

Why does a dog need to decompress?

Shelters are stressful environments for dogs. Katie Shipman of Paulding County Animal Control says that the stress a dog experiences in a shelter can greatly impact his mental state. "The sounds, smells, and noise in the shelter are very intimidating to pets who have lost their homes," says Shipman. "Some dogs walk in the door and shut down completely while other dogs quickly show aggression or cower when they are walked through the kennels."

Dr. Marcus Smith, DVM of Chattahoochee Animal Clinic, says, "A lot of behaviors you see from dogs that have not been properly decompressed are fear, occasional aggression, and submission. Sometimes they will inappropriately urinate any time someone comes near them or tries to touch them, or they will hide."

How long does it take to decompress a dog?

Younger dogs, especially puppies, will take less time to decompress than adult dogs. "I usually tell folks you can expect to see the dog coming out of their shell and getting used to their environment and routine within four to six weeks," says Dr. Smith. "The first week is usually just them being almost self-protective." Every dog is different; some may take longer to decompress. Make it a smooth transition with these professional tips on how to decompress a new rescue dog.

1. Forget expectations

No matter how much you plan, you won't know how a dog is going to react in their new environment until after you bring him home. "The first 24 to 48 hours will be a learning experience for all," says dog foster veteran Shannon Quinn Lewis of Angels Among Us Pet Rescue. Leave your expectations at the door. Your situation is unique, so don't compare it to others.

2. Take your time

It can take on average four to six weeks for your new rescue dog's personality to surface. Lewis says, "Don't expect to get a lot of sleep, don't expect the pup to be perfect, and don't expect them to come into their new home exhibiting their true personality. It all takes time." The best thing you can do is go slowly. Your dog and your family will be happier in the long run.

3. Keep calm

A newly rescued dog needs a calm environment to acclimate. Dog foster mom Leigh Hodes of Angels Among Us Pet Rescue says, "Bringing a new dog to your home takes a lot of trust on both parties." Keep things quiet and calm in your home as much as possible. Every sound, movement, and smell will be new to them. Keep toys and affection to a minimum. "Let the dog come to you," advises professional dog behaviorist and trainer Khalvin Kuczynski at Tenasity. "Less is usually better at the beginning." Resist the temptation to shower your dog with affection and toys. "The real idea is you want to establish structure," adds Kuczynski. "You want a relationship that's founded on respect first and foremost, as well as love and affection –those things should weigh evenly."

4. Give them space

Dogs are den animals and need a space to feel safe. To help with the transition, give them a space that is quiet, comfortable, and cozy. "You're allowing the dog to be comfortable," says Dr. Smith. "They're going to be a little self-protective at this point." Give your dog a spot to let him emerge out of his shell of his own accord.

5. Keep them on a leash

A leashed dog is a must for the safety of your pet and will help keep you stay in control. "The leash should essentially become your best friend," says Kuczynski. "The idea is if the dog jumps on the couch, you don't have to grab the dog by the collar. You just simply grab the end of the leash and pull the dog off the couch." This keeps you safe, and it doesn't run the risk of harming your relationship with the dog.

6. Crate train

A crate is an easy and effective way to create a safe haven. Crate training is one of the quickest and least stressful ways to encourage desirable behaviors in dogs. Some new dog owners are not fans of using a crate; however, Kuczynski strongly recommends implementing crate training as soon as you bring a dog into your home. A crate satisfies a dog's instinct to be in a den while alleviating many behavioral issues like resource guarding, separation anxiety, and house-training issues.

7. Slow introductions

For the first week, keep your dog at home and limit visitors. When it comes time to make introductions to people and other pets, do it slowly. If you have other animals, it's best to let them get acquainted with the new dog outside your home. Take them on a walk and let them meet on neutral territory; an established dog may feel more territorial in the house. Advise your friends (especially children) to give your new dog "face space." Ask them to resist the urge to touch or get in their face. Let your dog go to them, and pay close attention to how they communicate comfort or discomfort.

8. Exercise them every day

The adage "a good dog is a tired dog" is true for a reason. Dogs are active creatures. They need a daily exercise routine to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Get the leash and take them for a walk every day to improve you and your dog's health while establishing a positive bond.

9. Keep a routine

Dogs are creatures of habit. Their happiness depends on their environment. Dogs need a steady routine so they know what to expect from their owners and their lives. Their behavior will reflect this accordingly. Once they have a solid structure, they can handle occasional changes like a pro. Feeding, walking, playing, sleeping, and other daily activities can all be a part of your dog's regularly scheduled routine.

10. Establish positive associations

It's your job to help your dog form positive associations in their new environment. You want your new dog to feel like their home and all the sights, sounds, and smells that come with it, are the most wonderful things in the world. Keep treats on hand to praise and reward your dog if you're getting ready to vacuum or there's a fire truck blaring sirens. Your dog will soon associate any unpleasant experiences with that of comfort, affection, and yummy treats.

The Takeaway

Decompression is a key step toward ensuring a successful home transition for your new pet. Time spent getting to know your rescue pup will be well worth the love they give you in return.

Despite the stereotype, many dogs and cats learn to live together peacefully. Be patient and take the introduction process slowly, but know that whether or not your pets get along will also depend on their individual personalities. Follow these steps to maximize the chances of success.

  • Make sure the cat has access to a dog-free sanctuary at all times.
    • Sanctuary rooms can be any size but must have a secure door and ceiling.
    • The space should include a litter box, scratching post, water, food bowl, and toys.
    • Make sure to cat-proof the space by removing any poisonous plants, medicines, fragile knick knacks, and hiding or tying up cords.
    • You might also set up some hiding places or tunnels to help the cat feel safer.

    Keep the pets separate for at least the first 3-4 days. Prevent any contact until your new pet has had his vet checkup and been cleared of illness. Confine your new pet in a sanctuary room with the door closed or a separate floor of your house. The goal is to allow the pets to get used to each other’s presence without face-to-face contact. Even if they can’t see each other, they can hear and smell each other.

    The idea is to teach them to associate the presence of the other pet with pleasant things, such as food. With each feeding, move their food bowls a little closer to the closed door. Continue this process until each pet can eat calmly right next to the door.

    If your new pet is a dog, start teaching him basic obedience cues, such as “sit” and “down.” Keep training sessions short, pleasant, and rewarding for the dog. Learn more about training with Animal Humane Society’s Training School.

    Once your pets can eat their food calmly right next to the door, conduct meet and greets in a common area of the house. Don’t use either animal’s sanctuary area. Keep the first few sessions short and calm. Keep the dog on a leash and let the cat come and go as he wishes. Do not restrain either pet in your arms, as injury could result if either pet behaves aggressively. Ask the dog to sit and reward him with small tasty treats for calm behavior. Give your cat treats as well. If either pet demonstrates aggression, calmly distract and redirect them. Toss a toy for the cat to lure him from the room, or call the dog’s name and reward his attention. Return the pets to their confinement areas.

    Repeat these face-to-face sessions daily. Save your pets’ favorite treats for when they are together. If the cat attempts to leave the room, allow him to do so, and do not let the dog chase him. Try to end each session before either pet shows stress or aggression.

    When the animals appear to be getting along well, allow them loose in the room together, keeping the dog’s leash attached and dragging on the floor so that you can step on it and prevent him from chasing the cat if he gets excited. If tension erupts, go back to the earlier introduction steps and repeat the process. Make sure the cat has access to a dog-proof sanctuary room at all times.

    How to acclimate two dogs

    It can take weeks or even a few months for a dog to get used to a new home. It takes some dogs longer than others, and pets who have spent time being shuffled around between homes and shelters may take longer to settle in. The good news is that in time and with the right guidance from you, your dog will learn to be comfortable with his new family.

    The Sad Truth: Many Dogs Are Quickly Returned

    Shelter and rescue employees will tell you that one of the frustrating things about the work they do is the number of dogs that are returned within a week or two because the adopter says they aren’t fitting in.

    It’s unrealistic to expect a dog to walk through the door and instantly know all the rules or understand what behavior is acceptable. When a dog has lived in several homes, like occasionally some shelter/rescue dogs have, the challenge can be even greater.

    It’s your job as the pet parent to teach your new dog how to behave in the home and to teach him what is and what is not acceptable.

    Most shelters will provide instructions on how to properly integrate a dog into your home. It’s extremely important to follow these guidelines in order to facilitate a smooth transition for you and your new pet.

    These instructions will often be customized based on what the shelter or rescue organization knows about the dog’s behavior and background. If a reasonable amount of time goes by, you’re following the instructions, and still not seeing progress, talk to someone at the facility where you got the dog for additional support.

    Most dogs are going to take a while to acclimate to a new home, but with patience and the right guidance, they’ll be a wonderful addition to your family in no time!