"Nice to meet you! Let's be friends."
Every year, we get a lot of questions about how to go about introducing two or more dogs to each other - especially this time of year, when a lot of folks are traveling with their dogs for the holidays.
Sometimes, owners are introducing a new puppy or dog into their home.
Other times, it's a matter of visiting friends and family with resident dogs.
Or perhaps, friends or family members with dogs are coming to your dog's home turf to visit.
So, it's time to talk a bit about the best way to go about these introductions without running the short-term risk of fights and stress; and even more importantly, avoiding the long-term risk of one or more of the dogs becoming permanently fearful, reactive, aggressive, or otherwise anti-social.
TOO MUCH, TOO FAST, TOO LONG
When we hear about problems developing with introductions to dogs, it's most often because of the top 3 things owners do wrong from the very start.
Think about that for a moment: You and your dog are in a totally new environment. You may have had a long time in the car to get there. Everyone is excited, wound up, distracted, and generally not in their normal, mellow zone.
Your friend's dog is in it's own home, and will be sizing up your dog to see what kind of personality it has (especially if this is the first time they've ever seen each other).
In the initial chaos of arrivals, a lot of sniffing, nose-touch greetings, and general excitement is the last thing anyone needs.
Keep in mind - dogs are very much like people, when it comes to meeting strangers. How would YOU like it if you were being touched, sniffed and snuffled, intimately the moment you met someone new?
Likewise, for the resident dog - make the human-to-dog comparison. How comfortable are you with someone entering your comfortable home in a highly excitable state - yelling, bouncing off the walls, etc.?
Training Success Tips: Make sure all dogs are under control (leashed, crated, etc.) and give them some space to just settle down and observe each other. Our Settle Exercise is a great way to do this.
Even better, having the dogs meet on neutral ground first can be very helpful.
Be sure you are familiar with canine body language, so you can read stress signals and be a good judge of what the dogs are feeling.
2. TOO FAST - just like the 'too much' problem, owners very often don't give their dogs enough time to settle in and be ready for the next step in greetings.
Instead, they end up just tossing the dogs together willy nilly, after very little time - hoping for the best; as opposed to letting the dogs experience each other for a while from a distance, in a calm, relaxed manner.
Training Success Tip: Be sure to allow enough time for all dogs to calm down and experience each other from a distance before allowing actual sniffing, meetings, or play. This could take more than one practice meeting session to be safe.
the new canine friends together for too long.
For dogs, time just seems to move faster than for us. I sort of think of this as the '7 to 1' rule we use when calculating your dog's age in human years.
If we use this guide, a minute to us is like 7 minutes to them. Likewise, an hour to us becomes 7 hours for them.
Now think about that in relation to visiting - even with folks you like to be around....7 hours is a long time!
So, if you're leaving newly introduced dogs together too long (even those who are getting along okay at first) you run the risk of trouble developing.
Dogs left together, hanging out playing intensely for too long, can lead to "it's all fun and games until someone gets tired and cranky" issues. The dogs simply have had enough of each other and need a break.
So...what are the fixes for the "Too Much, Too Fast, Too Long" problem?
What we should do is shoot for several very low key, very short, calm, positive introductions - specifically where the dogs work together (sits, stays, settle exercise, appropriate heeling, working walks, etc.) before any play is expected.
Again, meetings on neutral territory are best, if possible.
And remember, play is intimate. Do you immediately 'play' with strangers? Nope - it takes you time to decide if you want that level of intimate contact. The same thing holds true for dogs.
If you follow the steps to positive introductions of taking things slowly and under control - will all dogs get along?
Unfortunately, no. Just like we don't like every human we meet, some dogs don't like certain other dogs.
If the dogs who aren't such big fans of each other just have to be around each other, then good obedience skills and spatial management is the key. Using well-practiced & proofed 'go to place' commands, stays, leashes and crates to keep everyone calm, under control and safe is the priority.
So? You might ask what the big deal is. Perhaps you've had dogs all your life, and so have your friends and family and you've never had a problem just throwing them together to work things out.
Well, while some dogs seem to get along with everyone - some do not. And if you want (or need) the dogs to get along and have a successful, long-term relationship, taking some time and doing things right can make the difference between creating dogs who are life-long friends... or life-long enemies.
Jennifer Hime is the owner and training director of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. You can find her at k9counselor.com