Facilitating Safe & Successful Dog-to-Dog Intros

Whether you are fostering or looking to bring home a new furry family member, how you handle initial introductions between your dog and her potential new flatmate is important. When fosters ask me for advice on how to introduce their resident dog to their new foster dog, here is what I tell them.

Both dogs should meet in a wide, open, and neutral area on leash.

Meeting in your home or yard could elicit territorial behaviours from your resident dog, and we choose a wide, open space to avoid putting either dog in a situation where they feel trapped. It’s ideal if you can find a location that is relatively quiet with low dog and human traffic to avoid adding any unnecessary stress or distractions to the meeting.

One handler per dog please and thanks!

You are going to need one person per dog. The introduction process should start with 20-30 feet between each dog. Give them even more space if they are giving off any stress signals.

Each handler should be giving their dog high value treats as they move closer to the other. Stop at about 5-10 feet away, and proceed to walk them parallel to each other. This allows your dogs to acclimate to one another without the pressure and stress that can go along with greetings. If one dog seems nervous, you can either create more distance between the two dogs, or you can position the nervous dog behind the one who appears less nervous. Don’t allow sniffs or greetings just yet. Walk them on leash for a few minutes, and if you see loose, relaxed body language from both, you can then set them up for a greeting.

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Proceed with brief greetings (1-3 seconds)

We are going to cross paths briefly, and as the dogs meet, it is so important that leashes are nice and loose. Pulling back on the leash or allowing tension on the leash can evoke defensive behaviour. Allow a quick greeting, and then continue moving them forward and away from each other using praise, and lots of high value treats.

Stress signals and body language to watch for.

When dogs greet one another, it’s appropriate for them to glance away after eye contact is made. Even  more preferable is if they avoid nose-to-nose greetings all together the first few times, and sniff each other’s genitals, moving around each other in a circle, and offering loose and relaxed body language. Remember to provide positive verbal feedback for appropriate greeting behaviour.  If you see any body language that suggests tension, diffuse the situation using positive interrupters and moving the dogs away from each other for a shake-off, or break. 

I’ve included an example of two dog-to-dog greetings. The first clip shows a very polite greeting between Mya and Vida. We move with the dogs to ensure that leashes don’t get tangled, and keep the leashes very loose. The second part of the clip exemplifies a somewhat tense greeting. Mya (lighter dog) was exhibiting some reactive behaviours towards Budha, so we turned Budha away from her to allow for a rear sniff which is less confrontational and scary for a reactive dog. We didn’t expect laid-back Budha to pop around to face Mya. Nose-to-nose greetings can be perceived as threatening, and their stiff body language tells us that they are both feeling uncomfortable. We use a positive interrupter to move Mya and Budha away from each other. 

Interrupt the greeting when you see any of the following:

– Stiff body language
– Closed mouth
– Puckered lip
– Hard stare or fixation on the other dog

You can go back in for another 1-3 second greeting once both dogs have had the opportunity to shake off.

Keep intros light and positive.

It is so important that both handlers stay calm and positive, regardless of the behaviour your dog is exhibiting towards the other dog. Your mood really matters. If you are feeling frustrated or stressed, your dog will most definitely pick up on that and it will impact her reaction towards the other dog. If taking a few deep breaths doesn’t help to calm your nerves, then you should end the greeting for the time being until you are feeling calm, or until you can get assistance from a confident handler.

Our aim is to create a positive association between both dogs. If they are reacting in a way that we don’t like, we are still going to use positive redirection to move them away from the situation.

Discipline, frustration, coercion, and yelling have no place in dog-to-dog introductions.

I’ve seen this story play out all too many times: Jasper growls and lunges at Maggie, which prompts his owner to yank his leash, and let loose a stern string of ‘No! Hey! That’s bad, Jasper!’ What are some likely outcomes based on what we know of the laws that govern behaviour?

– Jasper learns that Maggie’s presence predicts bad or irritating things happening to him.
– Jasper learns that the presence of any dog predicts bad or irritating things happening to him. Thankfully, dogs are pretty bad at generalizing; although, they always seem to generalize the things we don’t want them to.
– Jasper begins to develop escape or avoidance behaviour responses toward his owner.
– Tension is added to an already tense situation.

Use positive redirection, a pleasant tone of voice, and high value treats to call your tense dog away. Even if he is being a jerk. You can call him a few choice words if you want to, so long as you use a pleasant sing-songy voice.

If you have a reactive rover like Jasper on your hands, there are some training exercises you will want to work on, and you may want to seek the assistance of a professional trainer to help work through those exercises.

Moving into the Yard and Home.

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After a few greetings, you can continue with each dog walking parallel to one another before moving greetings into the backyard. Things can get a bit trickier in the backyard – here, territorial behaviour is more likely to surface. If we continue to see relaxed and happy body language, we can drop the leashes, and allow for brief sessions of play – remembering to monitor body language closely so that you can continue use verbal feedback to encourage any good behaviour you observe, and positive interrupters to diffuse any tension. End on a positive note, pick up the leashes, and take one dog into the house. Give them a minute to clear the entry way before having your helper bring your other dog in. 

Here is where things get truly tricky.  It can take weeks, even months, for dogs to acclimate to each other. Peaceful co-habitation can take time, and spats over territory, jealousy, and hierarchy are to be expected. Your new dog should be kept separate from the rest of the pack for the first few days when inside the home, using a baby gate or ‘crate and rotate’ system. There are activities that you can implement to promote a good relationship between your pack and your new addition, while still keeping them separate.

Thanks everyone for stopping by, and I am excited to hear about how you helped create a peaceful pack of your own! 

Love, Sammy & Bear
Xx