How to Introduce Dogs
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
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
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 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.
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.
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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.