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.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
October 27, 2009
Episode #034

Maybe you’d like to add a second dog to your household, or find your dog a playmate or hiking partner. Many or most dogs do manage their dog-dog meetings just fine on their own, but a little orchestration by us humans can help establish a friendly relationship from the get-go.

First, the ritual disclaimer. Today’s topic is dog-dog introductions for dogs who get along with most dogs they meet, apart from an occasional scuffle. A scuffle is a canine trash-talk argument. The dogs make a lot of noise but don’t get hurt beyond a couple of nicks to the neck, face, or ears. Scuffles are brief. Once they’re done, the dogs make up and relax. If your dog, or the one you want to introduce her to, routinely fights with other dogs, think twice. If either dog tries to keep fights going or has caused significant injury, think three times. If you must introduce the dogs, get help from a knowledgeable trainer before you proceed. Most dogs, even argumentative ones, are able to make some dog friends.

How to Introduce New Puppies to Adult Dogs

If you’re adopting a puppy and your present dog has no big health or behavioral problems, the question is whether she enjoys puppies. Yes? Then you’re cooking with gas. Do provide a middle-aged or older dog with time and space to rest undisturbed by the puppy’s antics. Reward appropriate behavior by both dogs, and of course devote yourself to a close study of housetraining. If your dog avoids puppies or snaps at them, the recommendation of professional help applies. Or what about adopting a grown dog instead? To consider your own dog’s preferences is kind to her and can make your life easier as well.

Learn About Your Potential Adoptee’s Behavior

In general, it’s best to limit your pool of candidates for doggy housematehood or friendship to those whose dog-dog behavior presents no known concerns. But there are exceptions. For example, some dogs pick fights with intact males but never with spayed females. Or they respond in predatory ways to small dogs but have normal social relationships with canines their own size. If you’re looking to adopt, know that good shelters and rescue groups will honestly disclose what they know about the behavior of the dogs they place.

“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.

How to Tell if Your Dogs Play Well Together

Good dog-dog play can involve chase, wrestling, or tug over a stick, but in all cases you’re looking for more of that loose, wiggly movement. In healthy play, you’ll see the dogs switch off--they’ll take turns chasing each other or being on top. Big dogs with good social skills may handicap themselves by lying down when they play with smaller dogs. If one dog’s tail is tucked or he avoids the other dog, he’s not having fun. Rising arousal is a yellow flag--if the dogs seem to lock into position or if play-growls suddenly go deep-toned, it’s time to separate.

That having been said, don’t give up if you see a couple of brief snarks just at first. If the dogs snark more as time passes, though, things are trending the wrong way. Call it quits, at least for now.

Walk Together Off-Leash

More mature or less playful dogs may not play but instead go about their individual business. You can unclip the leashes if you’re in a safe area. Whether the dogs play or just disengage after shaking hands, walk around and let them trot and explore things together. Static situations tend to increase tension between dogs.

Have Your Dogs Meet Through a Barrier

As an alternative to parallel walking, or as an extra stage before the meet-and-greet, let the dogs meet with a barrier between them, such as a chain-link fence. If the area is safe, the dogs can be off leash--an advantage if one dog tends to snark on leash but has good dog-dog manners off leash. Try a barrier meeting if you yourself are cautious or you don’t know the history of the dog you’re planning to adopt. Or maybe your own dog does best meeting other dogs if they can’t get in her space at first.

Like leashes, fences make some dogs’ behavior worse, so if the dogs squabble through the fence that doesn’t mean all is lost. Try another parallel walk. Other dogs, touchy about proximity, relax with a barrier present but blow up when it goes away. Those dogs may show signs of tension when distances shorten during the parallel walk. They may learn to relax as the other dog becomes old news to them, or they may just not be good candidates for your gig.

So the dogs have gotten along well. Great! Next week, how to handle that first at-home playdate or the newbie’s moving-in day.  For more tips, find me on Facebook. Call 206-600-5661 or e-mail me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com, and I promise to greet you with eager interest and happy wags. That’s all for now – goodbye!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock