The Best Way to Introduce Dogs to Each Other
“They’ll work it out.” Ouch. Not every time, unfortunately. So, when introducing dogs, why not take a few extra moments to assure they have the best chance at making a new friend. Here are a few key ingredients to a successful dog-to-dog introduction recipe.
Know Your Dog’s Personality
Dogs speak to each other primarily with their body language and scent. Giving them the space to read each other’s communication signals is where to start. Marching them directly toward each other, dogs tend to magnetize to one another excitedly. Rushing in like this doesn’t give them that much-needed time to read each other that a little distance affords.
Each dog has a different personality too. Some are the party animals while others are wallflowers who take time to bloom. Think of it this way. You arrive at a party. Do you mingle or hang back and take it all in before deciding who you want to socialize with? Neither approach is wrong. To have the most fun, you need to go at your own pace and find connections with those you, well, “connect” with. Our dogs need that same chance to have the most fun at the party.
Knowing your dog’s party personality is super helpful! Have an outgoing dog? Maybe you can move through these steps with more ease. Take it slower if your dog is shyer, generally reserved, or even tends towards stress when meeting new dogs. And let’s not forget to be respectful of the dog they are meeting. Keep your expectations level-headed. Know that maybe the best we can hope for is that they will accept one another’s presence, but not become best buddies. Or maybe several meet-ups together will be needed before they can form a bond. Let’s not ruin that chance by rushing through the process where miscommunications can happen and, indeed, a possible lifelong friendship is prevented.
The Set-Up for Success
Above all, meet on neutral territory! Decide ahead of time on location neither dog calls their own; a roomy fenced in park, another friend’s fenced yard or outside a dog park at off hours when absolutely no one else is present. You want them to have room to move around and not feel crowded or trapped. If you want to introduce a new dog to the family and you have several dogs at home, only introduce one dog at a time to each dog family member. This is crucial and worth it.
Start On a Loose Leash with Distance.
Walk your dogs at a distance from each other, a large distance! Let them sniff along the perimeter of the area, so they are not hyper-focused on one another but can check each other out. Sniffing is a great calming activity.
PRO TIP! Use earbuds and call your friend during the walk, so you can keep in sync with each other about how you feel things are going and what your next moves should be.
Slowly, Gradually Move Closer
Once they’ve seen each other, keep walking and check for relaxed body language; loose bodies - not in a line pointing at each other, sniffing, checking in with you occasionally with eye contact, looking away from each other after seeing each other.
Do not head straight toward the other dog! Move in circles getting closer and further away as you approach. This allows them to stay calm while seeing more of each other. It also gives you the chance to see if there are any body language changes that may be red flags. If that leash gets tight with pulling toward the other dog when they see each other, move away for a little longer. They need more time. A tight leash only increases excitability and frustration, which usually causes mishaps in communication.
Close Up and Personal
Once you’ve reached about one hundred feet between you, and both dogs are still able to sniff, look away from each other and their bodies are also still loose, it’s time to try a greeting. Inside a fenced area for safety, enter separately and keep distance. Move about this area as you did before.
Still looking good? Move closer in the same patterns.
PRO TIP! Stay behind your dog with that leash as loose as possible. Being behind your dog allows you to call and move them away quickly if needed.
Still doing well? At a little distance from each other, with their leashes still on, drop the leashes from your hands at the same time. Allow the leashes to drag on the ground. This allows you to step on or grab the leash to separate them should things go sideways or you simply want to give them a break at some point, which you will want to.
Be a Good Party Host
Allow them a moment to sniff each other. Immediately use an upbeat, friendly voice to praise your dog for politely greeting. Then place yourself in your dog’s line of sight near them and excitedly call your dog away to get their attention as you move away in opposite directions. Praise and grab the leash loosely once at a distance.
We want this initial meeting to be brief and positive. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you are certain each dog is fully relaxed and enjoying the other dog’s company. Remember, watch for body language changes; bodies getting very still and stiff, holding their breath, placing paws or upper body over the other dog. When dogs first meet, these can be unwelcome signs of tension. We should see mutual signs of play such as play bows, sniffing and exploring together and each dog switching back and forth to take turns leading the play.
Seal the Deal
Once your dogs are comfortably mingling and enjoying each other’s company, it’s time to share one of life’s other dog joys together. At a moment when they are both full leash lengths apart, each pick up your dog’s leashes in hand, and take them for a walk. This last step can solidify compadre status as they sniff and explore areas of interest together.
It’s just as important to know when to stop the process and call in a professional dog trainer for assistance. After several repetitions of the above steps, most dogs will have gathered the information they need to be relaxed together. However, it’s perfectly fine to stop if you aren’t sure you’re seeing positive results or you see any concerning behaviors such as aggression or anxiousness. It’s always best to err on the side of safety and prevent a bad experience for your dog. There’s no shame in taking a step back and reconsidering your next best action for forward progress.
For instance, when unsure if your dog is social or will do well with other dogs, taking the time to teach them to wear a comfortable muzzle, such as our favorite, the Baskerville muzzle, will ensure a safe experience for all. In fact, your dog being used to wearing a muzzle is a great skill for all dogs to have before it’s needed. In an emergency, if your dog is ever injured and needs to be handled, placing a muzzle on them to prevent reactive biting, will make handling by you and a vet team much easier.
Expectations and Exceptions
Again, if you're having difficulties and there’s a stronger need to acclimate dogs to more than a party, say, a life together in the same home, call in a professional to help. They can assess the situation as to the likelihood that your dogs can acclimate to one another. Please do this right away. It may not be possible to know what the outcome will be, but the behavior consultant can give you the tools to make your best efforts. The process will likely take time and management, so think hard about how much you can commit to this.
We hope you take these steps seriously and give your dog the best chance at a new friend. Bad experiences are harder to unravel than the few extra steps it takes to ensure a good one. It’s perfectly fine if your dog just doesn’t like the dog you want them to. Maybe another dog will be a better match. Perhaps your dog just isn’t social with other dogs. Just like us, dogs have their own personalities and preferences, and they deserve the same options we have to decline the invite to the party.
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