Whether you are wanting to socialise your pooch or you are considering bringing another fur baby into the family, the initial introduction (much like our first impressions) matter the most. A new dog can mean you are bringing home a foster or a new family member, or someone is visiting with a dog. How the dogs interact in their first few encounters can set the tone for their entire relationship, this can be very stressful for the dogs and the owners. But to help alleviate this stress, we must understand why the introduction is difficult for our dogs and help them make a safe and stress free meeting.
Territorial instincts will tell the first dog that he is to defend his home when another dog is to enter, whether he is a sociable dog or not. These territorial instincts are the reason why having your first dog meet another dog must be done carefully and appropriately.
Let them get to know each other slowly and carefully. Throwing them together in the back yard and letting them work it out can lead to heartbreak, and possible serious injury. Dogs rely on their keen sense of smell to introduce themselves to their surroundings, with this in mind, the home must be set up in a way that separates the two dogs so there is no visual contact. Visual contact creates posturing (a cold stare, growling and hackles raised). Dominant or submissive posturing immediately triggers a reaction in the other dog and often leads to stress and tension between the two.
Meeting on a Neutral Ground
The face-to-face meeting should not, for territorial reasons, occur on your property. Keep this meeting on neutral territory like a neighbour’s yard, a training centre, or a dog park, but at quiet times so no other dogs will interfere. Have both dogs on-leash. Start by having the first dog enjoy a play and run around in the area, out of sight and scent of the dog you are going to introduce. Then switch dogs and allow the new dog to have a run around the area. Using smell, they will have picked up on each other’s scent in the area and will now be formally introduced via each other’s scent. With this stress-free and safe routine, it is now possible to allow the dogs to meet face to face.
Start by taking the dogs for a walk together, keeping 10 feet between them so that they can’t greet each other or stare. The idea is to familiarise them to each other’s presence without causing tension. The more room they have to move, the less tension there will be. Wait two minutes while they sniff each other, then call them away. If they start to play and it seems to be going well, let them play for a few minutes and then end the session. End each initial session on a good note!
Next meeting watch as the dogs approach each other, watch their body language closely, paying attention to the entire body. The dogs may need to do a little posturing or make a little noise, but if you don’t know how to tell the difference between dogs getting to know each other and dogs who don’t like each other, have someone there who does.
If the dogs have shown no signs of hostility toward each other up to this point, take them to an enclosed area, drop their leashes, step back and give them space to get to know each other. We have a tendency to micro-manage these interactions, but in general it’s best if we allow the dogs to work it out with minimal interference. Humans hovering and getting too involved can be frustrating to the dogs, which can make them tense and spoil the interaction.
Work to prevent conflict
While dogs can settle minor disputes with each other (such as growling the other off of a toy or their own food bowl), they shouldn’t be limiting each other’s access to you, your family or common areas of the home. Reward polite behaviour and manage the environment to prevent conflicts from developing. At home, let them settle in, but make sure you’ve put away your dog’s toys, bones and food bowls first, since these items may be sources of conflict.
Factors that may influence how well dogs interact
If you know that both dogs are very social with a variety of other dogs, the meeting should be easy. However, some dogs don’t get out and mix with other dogs that much, or may have only had one or two dog friends in their lives, so introducing them to new dogs may require more care and effort. Another factor to consider is whether or not the dogs have been spayed or neutered; if not, the meeting may be more difficult.
Giving dogs verbal feedback
For the most part, dogs will usually listen to their owners in this situation and respond well to verbal feedback from humans. For example, if the dogs are getting too tense around each other, saying something in a soothing tone of voice can help them to calm down a little bit. If one dog is getting too overbearing and the other isn’t correcting her, we can often help out by saying something to address the over bearing dog. If the dogs do shake off their tension and engage with each other in polite, appropriate ways, we can reward them for those behaviours and encourage more of them by speaking in a happy tone. In most cases, that kind of verbal guidance is all the interference they need from us.
Finally, if you are not confident or comfortable at any point, please seek help from a relationship-based trainer who has ample experience with dog to dog interactions.