(Another part of my assignment for the ISCP‘s Diploma in Canine Psychology course. The question was about how to introduce a dog to another. A harrowing prospect, and quite daunting to think about…but I’m game to test this out on my Shelagh, after a few more sessions of walking in public places getting used to people and other dogs. Poor Shelagh, when I first got her I was working in the City and didn’t have time to bring her to puppy classes for socialisation. I hold my hand up, guilty as charged. Still, we’re making up for lost time, and Shelagh’s made tremendous progress in just a few weeks. Such a clever girl! ❤)
Introducing a dog to another dog can be an intimidating prospect. The thought running through an owner’s mind would be along the lines of “What if the dogs start fighting? How do I separate them without getting bitten myself? What if one dog kills the other?”
Early socialisation is very important for dogs. As puppies, they should be exposed to the company of other dogs, humans, animals, forms of transport, sounds, sights, smells etc. The more they experience as puppies in their developmental stage (6 weeks to 18 months), the more amenable they will become, and better able to cope with everyday life. Dogs from puppy mills will not have had much opportunity to socialise, dogs at pounds and shelters even less so. Dogs accustomed to being handled by humans when they were puppies will be more trusting and outgoing with people, than dogs that were abused or ill-treated, which may be timid or show fear aggression.
Dogs that have not had proper socialisation from a young age tend to be more fearful of their surroundings, more suspicious of other dogs and strange people, more reactive to unfamiliar objects or situations. But dogs are highly intelligent and have a tremendous capacity to learn and adapt, and I believe any dog can be rehabilitated, no matter what their background or history. All that’s needed is love, time, patience, logic and the ability to put ourselves into the mindset of the dog.
When out for a walk with her dog, if an unfamiliar dog approaches on a lead, watch how the other dog’s owner is behaving, and at the same time watch the other dog’s body language. If the other dog’s owner is tightening or shortening the leash, looks despairing/frustrated/angry, and the dog is lunging forward while barking or even frothing at the mouth, it would be wiser to practice avoidance, and take a different route away from that dog. If, on the other hand, the other dog’s owner looks relaxed, the dog is on a nice loose leash, and the dog’s body language is relaxed with a gently waving tail and a soft face, then it will be possible to move closer for an introduction.
To move closer to each other, avoid moving in a straight line directly at each other. Instead, signal to the other owner to move in a curved angle, slowly getting closer to each other. If all is still well, with no lunging forward, pulling on the leash, growling or aggression from either dog, it may be possible for the dogs to meet and engage in their sniff-and-greet ritual. Both owners must make sure their leads are loose and that they are not inadvertantly restricting their dog’s movements, which can cause frustration, leading to aggression. If all is still well after that, the dogs may be let off the leash to play together, as they would have made friends with each other.
If the scenario is one where the owner is out walking her dog regularly, and she wishes to introduce her dog to another dog so they may walk together, then it’s a good idea to follow in the wake of the unfamiliar dog, about 20 metres back, so that her dog is able to get used to the scent of the other dog. If the dog urinates or defecates, her dog will be able to pick up useful information about the dog. Then, on another occasion, she could be the one walking ahead with her dog, while the other dog and its owner follow behind them, so the other dog can get used to her dog’s scent. Once both dogs are accustomed to each other’s presence, if the owners are still apprehensive about introducing them to each other, they could parallel walk the dogs. This is done having the owners walking beside each other, with the dogs walking on the outside. Then, slowly, as everyone becomes accustomed to being in the same space at the same time, the barrier between the dogs i.e the human presence, can be removed, one at a time, until both dogs are eventually walking parallel to each other amicably. So now the dogs are walking side by side, and it is their owners who are walking on the outside.
If the scenario is one where the unfamiliar dog is perhaps a friend’s dog brought to the house for a potential playdate, then all the resident dog’s belongings – bed, blanket, toys, food and water bowls, should be removed beforehand, to simulate a neutral environment. This removes the resident dog’s reason to resource guard or compete for high value posessions. If the dogs have already been introduced at a park or during a walk, let them off the lead in the garden first, before allowing them inside the house.