Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KA
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!
Great article! I have used the ‘drive-by’ technique with great success to introduce new dogs to my dog, or foster dogs with unknown history with other dogs. It takes some patience, but it’s excellent, safe, and people I introduce to it are always fans.
Christine Hibbard says
Your success rate with your dog and foster dogs is outstanding. We loved having you and your foster dog in Reactive Rover. Thanks for reading Behind the Behavior!
Julie Pitt says
This is pretty much what we did over the weekend when Muddy met Nola, Kili and Pip in Idaho. Grant it, he was re-meeting Nola, but it had been almost 3 years and you know muddy’s history…. All the dogs got along perfectly in part because there was so much space, no resources to guard and all the dogs could just move around. It brought tears of joy to my eyes!
Christine Hibbard says
I saw the pictures and video of you and your girls hooking up with Muddy Waters and his new owners. I was with you in the tears department. That was one awesome match!
Really great post and a subject that is neglected by many trainers. A lot of people I’ve talked to feel greetings are so risky that they won’t address it at all.
I find your suggestions work great when you’re working with other motivated dog handlers. But I’d love to see a post on impromptu greetings with strangers.
I live in a neighborhood where other dog people will frequently ask “Can we say hello?” as they walk by with their dog. It’s a much trickier thing to handle than a planned greeting.
Great article, simple advice!
I own a dog daycare and we are very careful when introducing new dogs. When it comes to more than two dogs, My preference is to add one new dog to a group at a time and wait for things to simmer down before adding the next new dog. this way I can monitor new dogs closely and reduce stress all around!
Christine Hibbard says
Hi Pamela, I agree that impromptu greetings on the sidewalk are tough to negotiate. I wrote this article titled Tips for Greeting Other Dogs On Leash: https://companionanimalsolutions.com/blogs/tips-for-greeting-other-dogs-on-leash. I generally recommend just saying “no” to on leash greetings but if people are going to do them anyway, I want to give them some ideas. Thanks for reading Behind the Behavior!
Christine Hibbard says
I would love your feedback on our article about Evaluating Dog Daycares Ayoka: https://companionanimalsolutions.com/blogs/how-to-evaluate-a-doggy-daycare. Thanks for reading Behind the Behavior!
Elena Nikolaenko says
thanks a lot for the article!!!!
With my dog it is off leash meeting that works OK. He is very reactive and confident on leash and quite opposite without leash actually being very friendly and companionship liking by nature (mix of collie and german shepherd) and usually ends up standing by my side or walking near me or trying very politely to get acquainted with the new dog.
Quite often I see the following situation when we walk outofdoors by the riverside – many people put their dogs on leash as soon as they see us and I know that it can end in our dogs’ leaping and grumbling at each other so I ask them to let their dogs off asking also if their pet is usually agressive or not.
And I also prefer to say “no” when meeting strangers on leash!!!!
Amber looking for dog boarding says
This is great information for putting two dogs together! Smart way to ease into the introductions and determine whether or not there will be a problem with interaction!