First meetings: Introducing a new puppy to a dog

30 November 2023 - 7 min read
Two dogs playing

You should start working on your puppy’s social skills between the age of 6 and 8 weeks, up to 16 weeks. This period is key in developing your pet’s confidence: it’s when they discover new experiences, and learn what’s safe and what isn’t. Puppies that aren’t socialised properly during this time risk moving into adulthood fearing certain people or situations. 

Socialisation can be a challenge for new dog owners - but don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand the right way to socialise your puppy or older dog.

If you experience ongoing problems like fear or aggression while trying to socialise your dog, it’s a good idea to see your vet. There may be an underlying medical reason for the behaviour, and your vet might refer you to a behavioural expert. Behavioural treatment might even be covered by your puppy insurance.

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Usually puppies stay with their mothers until they’re around 8 weeks old but this doesn’t mean the socialisation period can’t begin. They’ll learn how to interact with their littermates and surroundings through play.

From the moment you take them home, it’s up to you to introduce your puppy to lots of new experiences.

Don't be tempted to think that your dog breed doesn't need socialisation. Even notoriously sociable dogs likeLabrador Retrievers need socialisation in order to help them develop the confidence and disposition they're known for.

Here are some tips from Vicky Carne, the Dog Coach.

Introduce your puppy to children and adults

If you own a puppy you should introduce them to plenty of new people as early as possible. 

Unfamiliar children and adults pose socialisation challenges for puppies. Young children can get scared or over excited by animals, while some adults may be intimidating. It’s important to use your judgement when your puppy meets new children or adults: try to pick environments and situations that you think will be most conducive to everyone staying relaxed and having a good time and be prepared to step in to calm things down, or to remove your pup. 

There are ways to make the socialisation process more enjoyable for your puppy. One useful approach is to help them create positive associations, letting your puppy find ways to safely enjoy meeting new people. For example, you could hand out treats if they’ve been well behaved when meeting someone for the first time. 

Consider the following tips when socialising puppies with new children and adults: 

  • Don’t pass your puppy to other people. Instead, let your puppy go to them in their own time. The puppy needs to feel comfortable enough to do this, and able to retreat if they want to.

  • If your pup shows any signs of anxiety, remove them from the situation and try again later. They’ll show they're anxious by holding their tail down, their ears back, and staying away.

  • If your dog runs and hides during socialisation, try doing something you know they feel positive about, like dishing up their dinner. Don’t force them to return - just let them come to you.

  • Don’t ignore any undesirable behaviour, but do reward the good. You don’t want to accidentally reinforce their fears by lavishing attention on them in an attempt to comfort them.

It's particularly important tointroduce pets and children in a positive way so that they can interact safely and happily. The benefits of meeting new people aren’t just for your puppy: children that meet dogs earlier in life are more likely to be comfortable with them as they grow up!

How to introduce a puppy to dogs

It’s important to introduce your puppy to different dogs so that they learn valuable social skills from them and realise that they have nothing to fear. Similarly, if you’re a household with another dog, you’ll have to think about how and when you can let your furry friends meet. 

How to introduce a new puppy to my dog

The problem with introducing puppies to dogs is that it’s unlikely your puppy will have completed their full course of primary vaccinations until they’re around 12 weeks old. This means that they’ll be at risk of catching diseases off other dogs. 

Under certain circumstances, it’s possible to start their socialisation before 12 weeks. For example, you could let your puppy meet friends’ dogs that you know are fully up to date on their vaccines. The best place to do this is in a private garden or yard where you know there haven’t been any unvaccinated dogs. You should also avoid areas where there's likely to be dog waste in case your puppy attempts to eat it - which could result in them ingesting parasites and becoming sick.

Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, and after they’ve made their first friend, you could take their socialisation further by going to training classes and meeting fellow puppy playmates.

How to deal with aggression

You may find your puppy is a little too excited when meeting new dogs and that energy can be unsettling. In these circumstances, it’s worth keeping an eye on your pup to make sure it isn’t bothering or upsetting the other dog, and be ready to separate them if it looks like there’s any aggression building. Keep an eye out for dogs turning their face away or licking their lips since these are good signs that their temper is wearing thin. 

Normally, if a dog doesn’t want to play, they'll let your pup know with a bark or a growl, or by lunging or snapping. When this happens, you should separate the dogs and give them both time to calm down before they interact again. 

Socialising older dogs

If you have a rescue dog or an older dog that’s missing a few social skills, it’s never too late to start putting things right. However, older dogs can be territorial, so you need to proceed with care during their socialisation. Think about the following older dog socialisation tips: 

  • If you’re taking an older dog for their first meeting with another dog, keep both dogs on leads

  • Meet in an open place, such as a park, rather than in one of the dogs’ home or garden.

  • It’s important that you don’t let the dogs touch or sniff each other during the initial meeting since there will be a lot of tension in the air. If they attack each other, that negative interaction will establish the grounds of their relationship.

  • Go for a walk with both dogs, with one dog in front of the other. This will focus their energies on the walk, and not each other.

  • As you’re walking, allow them to sniff each other’s behinds – which is a normal dog behaviour.

  • If one of the dogs has a poop, allow the other dog to sniff it. Again, this is a normal behaviour that helps to establish bonding.

Once you’ve finished your walk, the two dogs should be a little more comfortable around each other.

This approach to socialisation isn’t set in stone. If you find the dogs get on well from the very beginning, you may not need to follow the steps above so closely. With that in mind, make sure your dogs don’t begin to show aggression towards each other and, if they do, move to separate them and try again later. Socialisation is just as rewarding for older dogs, and you could even get behavioural treatment covered as part of an older dog insurance policy.

Dogs meeting in the home

It’s important that dogs know how to behave - in your home and in other people’s. However there are a few things to think about before bringing them inside:

When to introduce a new puppy to a dog’s home

To deal with territoriality, it’s a good idea that initial introductions between dogs are always away from the home (see our advice for older dogs above). Once two dogs are more comfortable with each other, you can introduce the new dog to your home.

If you have a garden, try allowing the dogs to meet there first. You may need to remove any of the resident dog’s toys or bowl items from around the home or garden to avoid any conflict over them. As a next step, you can try an ‘in home’ introduction: keep the resident dog in the garden while the new dog enters your home, then bring the other dog in.

Don’t let the dogs spend too much time together at this stage, just allow them enough time to say hello, and be comfortable with each other. If either dog shows signs of aggression, separate them.

Before you start a home introduction, you might want to take some steps to child and pet proof your home with barriers and stair gates to keep everyone safe in the new situation.

How to introduce a puppy to an older dog

There’s no reason puppies and older dogs can’t be friends! However, to make sure every dog - old and young - stays safe and happy, you should keep a few things in mind when introducing puppies to their senior citizen pals.

Introduce your puppy to an older dog on neutral ground, like a park, in order to avoid territorial behaviour. The process of introducing puppies to older dogs is very similar to introducing older dogs to one another: don’t let them smell each other at this stage, and instead take them on a walk, where their energy and focus can be directed into their own activity, rather than each other. 

Once the puppy and the older dog have become accustomed to each other, you can begin the home introduction process which is, again, similar to the process we’d use for introducing other unfamiliar dogs to a house.

Puppies are very boisterous and don’t understand adult dog communication methods. They’ll likely jump on your older dog and try to get his attention. If it doesn’t like that behaviour, your older dog will tell your puppy off by growling, baring its teeth, or staring at them. This tells the puppy ‘stop it, this isn’t normal grown-up dog behaviour’.

If your older dog gets physically aggressive with your puppy, this should be stopped immediately. Separate the dogs and provide them with a place they can retreat to by themselves. 

You should also feed both dogs in a separate space and supervise them carefully when they’re playing.

Finally, you should also spend some time with each dog individually. Research by the University of California, suggests that dogs do get jealous, and that this instinct has evolved to protect their social relationships. If you feel your older dog is getting jealous, spending time with them should help to prevent feelings that they are being ‘replaced’ by your new arrival.

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Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.