Summary Pulse hydraulic fracturing technology can greatly improve the effect of fracture propagation in rock and form complex fracture networks in reservoirs. The interaction mechanism between hydraulic fractures and pre-existing fractures under pulse hydraulic pressure is unclear. The induced laws of pre-existing fractures on the propagation direction of hydraulic fractures under different pulse frequencies and pulse hydraulic pressures are revealed in this work. We have carried out traditional hydraulic fracturing (THF) tests and pulse hydraulic fracturing tests with rock-like specimens. We compared the interaction between hydraulic fractures and pre-existing fractures in the two hydraulic fracturing tests. Acoustic emission (AE) characteristics of the interaction between hydraulic fractures and pre-existing fractures during pulse hydraulic fracturing are analyzed. The results show that pre-existing fractures in the rock-like specimen can induce the direction of propagation of hydraulic fractures. The influence of pre-existing fracture tips on hydraulic fracture propagation is greater with low pulse frequencies than with traditional hydraulic pressures and high pulse frequencies. When the pulse frequency is 1 Hz, hydraulic fractures are easily induced by pre-existing fracture tips. With increasing pulse frequency, the hydraulic fracture propagation direction gradually moves away from the pre-existing fracture tips and extends perpendicularly to the direction of the minimum principal stress. Under pulse hydraulic loading, more hydraulic fractures are generated around the wellbore than under THF and extend to the pre-existing fracture, and more hydraulic fractures around the wellbore are created with low-frequency pulse loading than with high-frequency pulse loading. Compared with traditional hydraulic pressures, hydraulic fracture propagation with low pulse frequencies (1 and 3 Hz) is more complex than hydraulic fracture propagation with traditional hydraulic pressures and high pulse frequencies (5 Hz). Under high pulse hydraulic pressure and pulse frequency, hydraulic fractures easily extend along the direction perpendicular to the direction of the minimum principal stress like propagation under traditional hydraulic pressure. The study of the interaction mechanism between hydraulic fractures and natural fractures under pulsating hydraulic pressure can provide a method for the formation of fracture network systems in large-scale fracturing and may improve the fracturing efficiency.