The decision to add a new dog to your family is a big one. Whether it’s a squishy puppy or a sweet-eyed shelter dog, this exciting time is one that you need to properly prepare for.

Outside of the normal preparations like buying supplies (bowl, leash, bed, collar, toy, etc.) you need to prep your family members. This can include talking to young children about the new dog and how to interact with him. Slightly trickier is getting any existing pets ready to meet their new “sibling”.

Take it slow
Bringing a new dog directly into the home to meet the family is a risky move. Sure, it may work for some but there’s a lot that can go wrong when you rush acclimating a new pet with existing pets and family.

Consider how overwhelming it is for a puppy to go from his litter to a brand-new environment with people and animals he has never seen. Similarly, it’s tough for a dog used to being in a shelter to decompress and adjust to being in a home. And none of that accounts for existing pets being forced to share their space with this dog.

To keep things as peaceful as possible, focus on slowly introducing the new dog to the home and family. Set up a room or corner off a section of the house where the new dog can be isolated and have time to relax. Have any pets and family members interact with the dog through a barrier (like a cage or fence) first and keep the intro brief. This will help to prevent any bites and allow the new dog to feel secure.

Have a meet and greet
Many rescues and breeders are adopting the idea of allowing people to bring family and other pets to meet the new dog before he is taken home. Meeting on neutral territory prevents existing pets from being too territorial.

Again, slow introductions (done on a leash or through a fence) are key for quick resolutions should a disagreement occur. If everyone interacts well, that’s a sign it could be a solid match.

Learn dog body language
Dogs communicate a lot with their bodies. Non-verbal cues like tail wagging, bowing, and rolling over are all signs that a dog is happy and/or not looking to start any trouble.

If either of the dogs displays stiff posture, staring, or a tucked tail – you should intervene and remove the dogs from one another. It’s best to err on the side of caution and prevent a flare-up before it occurs. Remember, the goal is to set the dogs up for success. If that success is on the verge of being compromised, separate them and try again another time.

Have patience
Above all else, take a deep breath and be patient. All dogs are different, and all families are different. Things take time and not every new addition settles in immediately – but some do! Be patient and put the best interests of the dogs first. Remember there is no shame in asking for help from veterinarians or trainers should you feel uncertain about anything.