First impressions count. This is as true for dogs as it is for us. Taking some time to think through how to introduce dogs appropriately can mean the difference between dogs learning to be friends or ending up in a situation where you’re trying to overcome distrust and fear when the dog/dog greeting goes wrong.
Off Leash Introduction
I prefer off leash greetings if at all possible since all dogs are more reactive on leash than off leash. Off leash introductions alleviate two potential problems:
- When dogs are confronted with a situation, person or other dog they don’t know and even the most minor thing goes wrong, they have two options: fight or flight. Leashes take a dog’s flight option away which makes an aggressive display much more likely.
- Barrier frustration is a form of behavioral thwarting. When a dog sees another dog, they want to investigate. The leash makes this impossible. See my article What Is a Reactive Rover?
I recommend finding a location that is neutral to both dogs. Don’t conduct the greeting in one of the dog’s territory. If both dogs have a good history of interacting with other dogs, just find a safe, neutral location, get the dogs as far apart as possible and turn them loose. If either of the dogs has a spotty history of meeting other dogs, put the dogs on 20 or 30 foot draglines, do not hold onto the leashes, let them drag. That way, if either dog gets snarky, you can grab the draglines at the same time and reel both dogs in. Once the dogs are either playing or sniffing around, you can take the off draglines.
On Leash Introductions
If finding a safe area to introduce the dogs on draglines is not an option, here is how I like to do it:
Again, find a neutral location. Start with the dogs on opposite ends of the street and on opposite sides of the street. Walk towards the other dog. Every time your dog looks at the other dog, mark it with a click or “yes” and give the dog a treat. If at any point, one of the dogs begins to react, u-turn and move further away. Once you’ve completed two or three “drive bys” with neither dog reacting, have the handler with the less confident dog, walk behind the more confident dog. If one or both of the dogs just can’t walk by one another, even with a street in between them, you’ll need to find a safe location where the dogs can greet off leash. I would also recommend fixing the dog’s leash reactivity.
When everyone is calm and ignoring each other, gradually move into position for a parallel walk. Make sure there’s as much space between the two teams as possible and then move gradually closer to one another. Once the dogs are walking together, either find a safe location and drop the leashes or walk to your fenced yard and drop the leashes. Use the leashes as draglines so that if a scuffle breaks out, you can grab the draglines off the ground and pull the dogs apart. If you have a scuffle, end the session and separate the dogs. If butt sniffing breaks out, wait for the introduction to end or for play to break out. When both dogs have had enough, walk into the house together.
What other ideas do you have for helping dogs greet one another? Have you tried any of my suggestions for introducing dogs? What happened? I know there are as many techniques for introducing dogs as there are owners and dogs. We’d love for you to share your ideas and experiences!