For social dogs, making a new doggie friend can be easy and fun. For more cautious dogs, the right introduction may mean the difference between friends and foes. Taking the time to make a good first impression can get the dogs on the path to a great relationship.
Should You Introduce Them?
Before starting an introduction between two unfamiliar dogs, think about whether that meeting is likely to go well and if it’s necessary. Many dogs have a hard time meeting other dogs when on leash because the leash gets in the way of their normal behavior and makes them feel trapped. If this is the case for your dog, don’t force them to have uncomfortable or negative greetings on the street. They will be happier without them. For your dog’s sake, learn to say “no” when other people approach you with their dog.
Meeting a dog that your dog will interact with in the future is different, of course. If you are hoping to bring a new dog into your home or would like your dog to be comfortable with a friend’s or family member’s dog, you should take the time to do a slow introduction that allows the dogs to meet more naturally and comfortably.
The first meeting between two dogs can set the tone for their future relationship. If one of the dogs has a history of trouble meeting new dogs, find a trainer to help you right from the start.
- Choose a neutral space where neither dog is too overwhelmed by the environment. Outdoor spaces are usually best.
- Each dog should be on a leash held by a calm, confident adult. Remove any training collars that may cause discomfort or pain during the meeting or get caught if the dogs start playing.
- Walk together in the same direction with enough distance between the dogs that they notice each other but aren’t too focused. Continue walking in parallel while slowly decreasing the distance between the dogs.
- As long as both dogs are relaxed, let them approach and sniff. Try to keep the leashes loose.
- Let the dogs sniff each other briefly, then encourage them to take a break by calling them away (try not to just drag them away). If they are calm, they can return to sniff each other again.
- Keep walking until the dogs are relaxed enough to explore the environment together.
Understanding How It’s Going
While the dogs are checking each other out, you will be watching to see if things are going well or if there are red flags. Most people can identify fights and major problems; here are a few others things that can help separate the good from the bad:
- Both dogs are quiet with loose, relaxed bodies.
- Taking breaks from sniffing one another, without your prompting.
- Sniffing and investigating the environment together.
- Playing with play bows (lowered front legs), quick starts and stops, and/or light mouthing.
Understanding Corrections: A “correction” is one dog asking another to back off. This can include growling, barking, showing teeth, lunging briefly but stopping themselves, or lightly biting. While it can look like scary aggression, corrections are a normal part of dog communication. A correction is short and doesn’t need to be stopped or broken up. It is given when a dog feels its companion is being too rude, rough, or annoying. The dog getting the correction should pause and move away to show they understand. If you see this, the dogs are learning about each other and it likely isn’t a cause for concern.
If you see one dog correcting the other over and over again, especially if the corrections are getting bigger or louder, that is a sign the dogs need a break from each other. They may need more help to get along.
- A dog who can’t walk calmly next to another without barking, lunging, or showing teeth.
- One dog responds to a correction by getting tense, growling or snapping back, or starting a fight.
- Dogs that are stiff, staring at each other, or completely ignoring each other, rather than sniffing, even after an extended walk.
- Snapping, lunging, biting, or fighting that isn’t part of a correction.
If you see any red flags it’s best to involve an experienced trainer in the introduction to help you.
Taking It Home
If the first meeting went well, you can move into your home. You’ll still want to be careful to set the dogs up for success as their relationship develops. Do this by:
- Removing all high value resources like food, bones, toys, etc from shared spaces. Until the dogs get to know each other, save these things for times the dogs are apart or when you are supervising.
- Supervising and separating the dogs. When you aren’t able to watch them, set them up in separate safe places. This way you are able to ensure there is no bullying, rough play, or other conflict that can damage the dogs’ relationship and lead to fights.
- Giving the dogs lots of breaks from each other. This is especially true if one dog is much younger or higher energy than the other. It’s easier for dogs to become friends if they have many short, positive interactions than if they have a long time together that ends in a conflict.
- Training for politeness. Teach each dog to wait for things they want, to be polite around doorways, and to come when called. These skills will help you manage the dogs together and stop one dog from annoying the other. Because you want the dogs to develop positive associations with one another, train using positive reinforcement, rather than punishment.
If You’re Still Struggling
Not all dogs want to be social with other dogs. That’s okay! Let your dog enjoy other activities and leave them at home when going places where there will be other dogs. If you are struggling with dogs living in the same home, a dog who barks and lunges on leash, or other dog-dog conflicts, involve a professional trainer who is experienced with using positive-reinforcement to address these issues.
If you’re struggling with your dog’s behavior toward other dogs, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.