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How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other, Part I

First impressions make a big difference! You can up the odds that dogs will get along by introducing them the right way.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
Episode #034

“Parallel Walk” Dogs You Want to Introduce

Whether you know the other dog’s history or not, the safest introductions are slow and careful. A parallel walk enables the dogs to learn about each other at a distance: before they do a close-up meet-and-greet, they can read each other’s body language and become familiar with each other’s smells. Nervousness and excitement have time to dissipate. That goes for the dogs and you.

How to Parallel Walk

You’ll need two people, one to walk each dog on leash, and ideally a large outdoor space such as a park. Walk in the same direction, at first with 20 or 30 feet between you. The people holding the leashes position themselves between the dogs. As you walk, gradually angle toward each other, but never turn to approach head on.

Let the Dogs Tell You When to Get Closer

How quickly you close the gap depends on the dogs. They may be excited about their walk-- especially if one is a shelter dog and spends a lot of time kenneled. General bounciness is fine. Watch the dogs’ body language when they look at each other. Faces should appear soft and relaxed or bright with interest, but not hard. Stares, growls, and lips pushed forward are not signs of imminent friendship.  If the dogs stiffen and stand high when they look at each other, increase the distance between them. Keep an eye on the dogs’ tails--soft low wags, especially with butt wiggles, are good; a tail carried high and tight over the back signals tension, whether or not it wags. Lunging sometimes signifies eagerness to make friends, more often a desire to drive the other dog away. Dogs may bark in eager happiness or to warn or challenge. Generally, warning and challenge barks are deeper pitched, and you’ll see challenging body language too.

How to Let New Dogs Meet

If you’ve got the body-language green light, then once you’re close together, you can let the dogs meet. Continue holding the leashes for now, just in case the encounter suddenly heads south. Turn with the dogs as they sniff each other, and keep plenty of slack in the leashes. Tension in the leash can elicit a snark from a dog who’s a little uneasy, ruining a meeting that might otherwise go just fine.

When to Drop the Leashes

Just as during the parallel walk, let the dogs guide you about what to do next. They may initiate play once they’re done with their sniff exchange, especially if they’re young and bouncy. If you’re in a safe place, unclip the leashes so they don’t tangle.

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