By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmann
Whether you’re adding a new dog to your family, watching a friend’s pet for a couple of weeks or passing other doggy friends on your morning walk, your dog has plenty of opportunities to make new acquaintances. Friends are good right???
The difference between those meetings going pleasantly or possibly turning aggressive lies, to some extent, with you and how you approach these delicate dog-to-dog introductions.
Unlike people, who walk right up to one another, look each other in the eye and shake hands upon first meeting, dogs prefer to greet one another in a more roundabout way. A direct frontal approach may cause tension or even aggression among two dogs, especially unfamiliar dogs.
Further, while dogs are social animals, they also have a defined hierarchy within their own packs. Adding a new dog to your family will disrupt this hierarchy until each dog learns their new place in the pack.
The first meeting is incredibly important and can set the stage for the rest of the relationship. In order to help your dog make friends, not foes, here’s what can help, according to Karen B. London, Ph. D., a certified applied animal behaviorist.1
10 Top Tips for New Dog-to-Dog Introductions
- Meet One-on-One
Your dog should meet new dogs one at a time, as group meetings can be overwhelming. This is one reason why some dogs don’t do well at dog parks.
- Meet on Neutral Ground
Avoiding setting up the meeting in your dog’s (or the other dog’s) territory, which may make the dogs feel an intruder is coming in. A neutral location is best. Choose a park or a completely neutral place –neither of the dog’s back yards!
- Let the Dogs Meet Outside
Sometimes a dog will urinate when meeting a new dog, and then walk away to help diffuse tension. The other dog can then sniff the urine and get to know the other dog this way before coming into closer contact.
If the meeting is indoors, housetrained dogs will probably avoid urinating and therefore miss out on this important method of introduction.
- Give the Dogs Room to Roam
Holding an introduction in a tight space can be stressful for the dogs, who will prefer room to move freely. This doesn’t mean you should let your dog run loose, but rather use a leash (with some slack) and hold the meeting in the middle of your backyard as opposed to near a fence or doorway.
If you can safely do so (such as in a fenced backyard with two non-aggressive dogs), drop the leash and let your dog approach the other dog as he wishes. (Leave the leash on, however, in case you need to grab it to diffuse tension). Ensure the leash does not get tangled on anything that would cause your dog to feel trapped or vunerable!
- Avoid Hovering Over Your Dog
You may want to stay close in case something goes wrong, but hovering over your dog will add to his tension. You should give the dogs space to say hello, and if the situation seems to be getting too stressful, move away from the dogs to lower arousal.
- Try a Moving Introduction
If you walk purposefully during the introduction (such as between two dogs on a sidewalk), it helps prevent the meeting from getting overly intense.
- Stay Calm
Your dog will sense your emotions about the meeting and respond in suit. If you’re nervous, stressed or overly excited, your dog may be too. A better option is to stay calm, breathe slowly and portray a relaxed attitude to your dog.
- Avoid Bringing Toys or Food
Meeting a new dog is stimulating enough — add in treats and toys and the situation can quickly escalate out of control. Plus, your dog may feel possessive about the food and treats, leading to issues between the dogs.
- Keep it Short
A few minutes is long enough for an initial interaction between two unfamiliar dogs. It keeps the meeting fun and interesting while leaving less time for things to get tense. For dogs that are easily stressed, a short meeting will be essential to keep your dog from feeling overwhelmed.
- Introduce Your Dogs Ahead of Time
It’s possible to let dogs become familiar with one another before they actually meet. This can be done by letting your dog smell the other dog’s urine or by keeping them in close vicinity without an actual greeting (such as walking two dogs side-by-side, but a few feet apart). Smelling clothes that have the other dog’s scent is a great way to introduce your pet to a new friend ahead of the actual face to face!
Bringing Home a New Pet? Plan to Take a Few Days Off Work
The first week your new dog spends in your home is a crucial time of building new relationships, between you and your dog as well as your dog and any other pets. I recommend taking at least a few days off of work — and ideally about a week — so you can stay home and focus on your new addition.
This is the time you can introduce your dog to your daily routine, which will give him a sense of security, as well as take time to slowly introduce him to your other pets.
If your dog has been rescued from a shelter, keep in mind that the transition may take more time. I recommend using Bach Flower Essences to assist in your rescue’s adjustment to his new home.
You should not force any new introductions on a dog that’s not ready; allow him to get to know his new housemates at his own pace. Senior pets may also need additional time and attention when adjusting to a new pet in your home.
A separate space for both pets to retreat to where they feel safe is the ideal atmosphere. Do not force them together rather let they come to it naturally and watch the toy and food sharing. I recommend feeding in same room but not next to each other, rather place food bowls far from each other and have two separate water bowls.
Watching all new pet associations carefully to diffuse any aggression. New friends are great –we all love them and your pet will too if it is approached in a safe way.