How to Introduce Dogs

I LOVE the Play Bow!  Thanks theurbananimal for the photo!

I LOVE the Play Bow! Thanks theurbananimal for the photo!

I was recently asked to give instruction on dog to dog introductions, and I have spent the day thinking about it.

This is a lot like giving you instructions on how to let your toddler pet a dog he or she and you don’t know… it can be a dangerous.

Usually puppy play groups are pretty safe, and teaching them to play and interact when they are puppies is best.

I Have Been Seeing  A Lot of Dog on Dog Aggression Lately

AND, add to that the fact that lately I have been seeing  A LOT of dog aggression, and I am a little wary.

First off, you need to have some basic knowledge of dog behavior so that you can read the dogs and make sure it is safe.

For more on understanding your dog and the other dog’s tails which is very important with dog on dog play click here.

And for more on understanding that look on your dog’s face or the other dogs face read this article here.

If you aren’t sure, or feel overwhelmed go to a dog park (dogless of course) and just hang out and watch the dogs play for a few hours.

Just watching dogs interact will teach you about dog behaviors.

Some dog behaviors are pretty complex, but most are fairly simple and easily read.

And the nice thing about going to a dog park and just watching is that the dogs are probably already “playing” or interacting off leash.

Yes, It Is True

I Love These Guys' Tails!

I Love These Guys' Tails!

Yup, it’s true; people do it all the time they waltz right into the dog park unclip their dog who has never been socialized and saunter off to read a book or text a friend.

As a dog trainer I am always aghast as I see or hear of this kind of wonderment.

Some dogs do great and will socialize very well with other dogs without any worry from their owners.

And, some dogs should never, ever, never go to a dog park and be off leash; some of them shouldn’t have contact with other dogs.

And the dogs that should not be there or bully all the other dogs have owners who are oblivious and could never understand that their dog should not be there terrorizing the other dogs.   Their dog is like a doggy bomb just waiting for another doggy bomb to come to the dog park and then there will be a fight.

That’s The Hard Part It Can Go Either Way

Be Very Careful!  Thanks voice4dogsblogspot for the photo

Be Very Careful! Thanks voice4dogsblogspot for the photo

So that is the hard part about a dog park, it can go either way.  You can have a great group of dogs playing together totally appropriately or you can have a bully who is running around trying to dominate and control the whole group.

I am very cautious of letting my dogs play off leash; they can greet a dog appropriately but I am in control of having them sit or lay down etc.

If play goes badly and there is a fight or a dog bullies my dog; it can have a drastic effect on how my dog feels about other dogs and his or her next interaction.

And, unless I know my dog VERY WELL and I know that my dog loves other dogs and usually plays the submissive role I am not going to expose him/her to the dog park.

My older dog NIX use to love other dogs; he had a way of getting into the heart of even a dog aggressive dog (not that I ever exposed him to danger off leash) but he had a way of expressing himself to other dogs that I have never seen before.  And, he truly enjoyed the company of other dogs.

He did not like people he did not know; but he LOVED other dogs and was very appropriate and I spent a good deal of his life taking him to dog parks and allowing him to play.  Because, if he ran across that bully, he would never challenge he would automatically roll onto his back and show his tummy.

Never once did he even think about fighting at a dog park even if a fight broke out.

My Dogs Now Aren’t Overly Social

My dogs have no desire to play and socialize with other dogs.

There is no play bowing and desire to interact and send body language messages to other dogs in the area when we see one.  They simply ignore the distraction of other dogs because they have been taught to ignore distractions in their obedience.  They can be 2 feet away from another dog and still pay it no mind and give me consistent eye contact and focus.

So, I don’t feel like forcing them to make a stance on what kind of social or unsocial dog they want to be… I don’t think I have a single dog that would be happy being the submissive dog in any situation.  I might have the dog park bully, so there is no need to force them into that situation.

So I guess it’s like letting your toddler pet that dog you don’t know and aren’t sure about if you’re not sure don’t do it!

If You’re Not Sure Don’t Do It

Dogs Having Fun!  Thanks biscuitacres for the photo!

Dogs Having Fun! Thanks biscuitacres for the photo!

Dogs don’t NEED the social play from other dogs.

Dogs do need to be social and not aggressive with other dogs, and their owners should be in control of their behaviors around other dogs; but they don’t NEED or HAVE TO PLAY.

Even when I go to other people’s houses or visit family my dogs are well controlled and on leashes unless I am certain they want to play and will play appropriately.

But You Think You Have a Player

But you think your dog wants to play… so what do you do then?

Find someone with a dog that they KNOW is social and that submissive type.  NIX always helped me to determine if another dog was going to be a player or not.

Meet at a neutral spot, meaning not that dog or your dog’s house or a park that they frequent.  Pick some place that neither dog is used to.

Lose Leash

I don’t like to just hope and pray and take my dog off leash; but I don’t want a tight leash either.

Tight leashes tell your dog something is wrong, so make sure the leash is lose and you are as comfortable as possible.  Again if you are scared that your dog might aggress don’t even try, why put your dog in that kind of situation?

Be ready to play musical leashes and pass the leash back and forth and over and around as the dogs sniff and bounce; but be ready to intervene if their body language changes.


Stiffness and staring is the first sign to me that things aren’t going well.  If my dog gets stiff or the other dogs does I want to be ready to break things up.

Ideally I want dogs that play bow to each other and have fairly low wagging tails (remember high tails are a sign of a dog that wants to dominate the other).

Once they are getting along alright I drop the leashes so that I can grab them if I need to at a later point.

Utilize Professionals

Lots of Day Cares Have Very Successful Play Groups!  Thanks Camp_Bow_Wow_Dog_Day_Care

Lots of Day Cares Have Very Successful Play Groups! Thanks Camp_Bow_Wow_Dog_Day_Care

A lot of doggy day cares and businesses that encourage and accept doggy play have a list of clients that they know are generally good with other dogs that they may share with you.

If you can find a good one; a doggy day care that has play groups is a great resource.

I know it sounds scary, but sometimes dogs play better without their humans to watch over and worry about.   And a good facility will tell you if your dog is a good player or tends toward being more of a bully so that you know where to go and what to do next.

If you are unsure, drop in on their play groups without your dog to make sure everything is going appropriately and that they have several people as resources that watch the dogs.

And, as always be careful!  Your dog is your best friend and there is no reason to expose him to a bad experience if you don’t have to!

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  1. Syl says:

    Good article. Very helpful. I just had 2 dogs at our home along with ours for 7 days. Fortunately for all of us things went fine. The initial meeting/evening was full of excitement but after that it was good. Thank you! I always look with interest at your training hints.


  2. Sonia Minors says:

    My 9 1/2 mo old boykin spaniel is very social around people and other dogs. I have learned, however, the initial introduction to a new dog is best handled off-leash in a fenced area where the dogs can figure out their own pecking order which they will do if left alone. In dog parks, I allow him to run and swim free yet keep a very short leash on him. In the event he encounters a very aggressive dog I can quickly capture Beau and hope the other dog owner will do the same. So far we have had no problems in dog parks or hunting events.


  3. ERROL says:

    I love my dog harrah .i alwayes have her leach when out side .i enjoyed reading this article .when harrah is out side she love to bark on i dont like that on when she people she get excited on want to play or jump on them .what can i do to stop that.


  4. Barbara Allen says:

    I am a breeder. I would like you to address introducing a puppy (about 4 months old) to the pack. I have a 11 month female (who has been the baby until now) and she wants to dominate him and as a matter of fact, she wants to dominate a couple of the others too. I have been letting the 4 minth old go outside with his mom and then I let the 11 month old out with them. I haven’t let the older ones out with him yet.


  5. Jon Mckay says:

    I have a Collie male neutered, small female lap dog also spay,and new rescued red nose Pit Bull not fixed. There are no signs of aggression but the pit stays out side in penn half day and free in fenced grounds half day and sleeps inside seperated at night.My fear is that the two males consider me their possesion and will challenge for dominance. The pit is very large and I have had other pits. If they get into it I will not be able to break it up in time and the Collie is toast. I would love it if they could all run together but afraid to take the chance.


  6. Becky Bartlett says:

    Hello, Thanks for the this information.

    I do have a question or request for some input. I have a 2 year old boxer (Dolly). She goes to work with me daily and has for 1 1/2 years. She is with me most of the time. We’ve been through a puppy class (she passed).
    Dolly can be stubborn and can challenge me occasionally. Because she is with me daily the times I want to leave her is very stressful for her.
    We have a large cage and I’ve even played cage games with her. She goes in and waits to be told ok to come out. Lots of treats and fun, but when we leave her in the cage for 1 hour, while we go to church or whatever, when we get home she greets us at the front door. She has torn up the cage and at one point knocked the front panel off the cage. I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself trying to get out.
    If we take her with us and leave her in the car she does fine. But I won’t leave her if it’s too hot or cold out so that can limit us at times.
    Now I’ve said all that to ask how can I get her trained to use the cage as her place,(safe and secure)?
    Would appreciate any input.


  7. fran says:

    Our 1 year old Lab approaches dogs (strange or familiar) looking as though she is gonna eat them alive – fur standing up, barking, pulling on her lead. This happens frequently throughout our neighborhood and a lot of people shy away from her. BUT, as soon as she gets to the dog her tail starts wagging and she is as friendly as she can be. Why is this and how do I change the pattern for her. She is such a sweet and kind girl, but this is a real issue for us on a daily basis.


    Minette Reply:

    I would take the socialization off the table if she acts that way. That is like rewarding a child for calling all the kids at the play ground nasty names, but then being able to go in and play nicely.

    I take my dogs at their word. If they are barking and hackling they don’t get to interact.

    If what they really want is to visit you can teach her to listen to you by using obedience, sit; eye contact, down etc. and if she can listen then she can have a shot at playing.


    Fran Reply:

    In response to your reply to my comment above:

    Thank you.
    Can you give me advice on how to transition to approaching now that I am able to have her sit and remain calm? We are able to do this, but as soon as we begin the approach again, she re-assumes the aggressive looking behavior. I think it is also important to note that she was attacked by a dog while on a walk several months ago and this certainly intensified the behavior. Her demenior on a leash since that is very “on guard”. Understandably, she displays a need to dominate any situation that involves other animals since that time. I am able to walk her up and down our short road with out incident, but the further we venture away from home the more guarded she becomes – tail high, sniffing the air, fur slightly raised.
    I know this is a process, we’re in it foe the long haul. I just want to get her to the point that she can join my family at the park and the lake w/o stress.


    Minette Reply:

    it may take months of work, you have to work at her pace and try to avoid any back sliding or aggression.

    The idea is to have sessions that avoid aggression completely so that she almost forgets the aggression and it is not her #1 go to anymore. So each time she gets aggressive it is more likely for her to get aggressive again next time. Work on eye contact and focus and totally avoiding the aggression and make the park with family a long term goal that may take a long time.

  8. sam says:

    What kind of training did you use for your drugs? I have two, both are terrible on the leash, they pull and act like they’re going to eat any dog that goes by. One of them is extremely good at the dog park, it’s amazing how good he is. My other dog went to the dog park and ton until she was about 9 mo old, she pretty much attacked another dog that came to my house and now I’m afraid to bring her to the park. She really doesn’t get to run like she does there. She does rough play, but it is playing, just not sure how to prevent any escalation if any.


    Minette Reply:

    Read this

    and as far as leash training you have to teach them the meaning and respect of a leash.


  9. cynthia says:

    Thanks for the article. Recently my dogs both females aged 5 and 11 years started fighting locking their mouths and once I was also bitten accidently while trying to separate them. This started happening regularly and now we keep both separate . There is another 2 year old female who gets along with both. I wonder what is wrong with them and I am scared to put them together again. Your comments on this much appreciated.


    Minette Reply:

    I wouldn’t put them together again.

    The risk of one dog killing another is not worth it. I would keep them in shifts and separate.

    Dogs survive on a survival of the fittest and it may be that your 11 year old dog is slipping a little and your 5 year old dog is taking over leadership… hard to say for sure but I would keep them apart.


    cynthia Reply:

    Thanks for the advice.


  10. Mel says:

    The problem is what do you do when there’s no choice but to integrate new pets. I had two neutered male Shelties–one I’d had for four years, another only four months–when my son in the Army came down on orders for Afghanistan. His two dogs, a neutered male Cocker and a spayed female Sheltie, had nowhere to go as my son is single, so I took them. All four are within 2 inches of each other in size. The males are all pretty laid back. The female is 17 months old, barely more than a puppy (she was 10 months when I got her). My son told me when I got her and the Cocker that the female, Adrian, was “a jerk.” We got them in February. Adrian is the only female in the “pack” and is still a bully to the other three dogs, who are all pretty laid-back temperamentally. She’s sweet and vulnerable to me, but to them she nips and herds unmercifully. I know Shelties herd anyway but she never stops. One of my two males has finally gotten fed up with her and started fighting back. When a dog really goes after her, Adrian shows her true colors–she’s a coward and runs away screaming before the first tooth touches her–but a few minutes later she’s back for more, just being a pest until Connor gets fed up with her again. I have to keep her on a leash with me all the time or put her in a crate. At mealtime especially. She knows she’s supposed to sit by her dish but if she’s not restrained she’ll dart out and chase Bodie away (he’s the more timid of my two males). I have her in obedience classes, and on-leash she is intelligent and anxious to please, but when the leash comes off she is a “jerk” to the other three and makes up for her previous good behavior. She acts like she thinks it is all a game, but the other three don’t like her much, and I can’t blame them. She can be really sweet, though–if I could just get her to see that the other three dogs are not sheep! Any suggestions? Re-homing is not an option.


  11. Ida says:

    How can I change my dog’s inner clock? His evening/morning routine is sleeping from 6 pm until 6 am.


    Minette Reply:

    Sometimes that is very difficult, you can try exercising later like a good long run after 6 and see… but most dogs wake with the sun or have that inner clock that goes off.

    At my house it’s 430


  12. We are adopting a 14 month maleRottweiler, we have a 2 year old male Rottweiler. They get on but the young one tries to hump our 2year old all the time so he is being castrated.Is this fair or do you think we should have them both done? Thanks


    Minette Reply:

    I would have them both neutered


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