Before your dog meets a new dog or before developing any playgroups with an unknown dog be certain to have a few things handy. Make sure your hardware(leashes, collars, harnesses) is secure and safe from defects. If possible, carry an extra leash in case one leash fails. During our shelter playgroups at Animal Care Sanctuary staff carry an air horn with them in case one dog accidentally gets into a fight with the other dog. This happens rarely, but putting safety first is always the best approach when introducing dogs. While the air horn is rarely used it is a safe tool to have on hand in case of a fight or scuffle that cannot be broken up using the leash.
Before introducing your dog make sure all safety equipment is in proper working order and located in an accessible area. The best approach to Introducing a new dog is by walking them near one another at a distance of 6 feet while monitoring body language. Body language will be the roadmap that allows you to understand what each dog may be feeling during the meet. I would recommend obtaining a good body language book and to do some research(Canine Behavior by Barbara Handleman). There are plenty of resources online as well.
A long walk at a distance allows dogs to calm down and relax. Bringing two dogs together immediately can create a confrontation since the leash can sometimes cause dogs to become reactive. Since dogs cannot move about freely on a leash, or even run away if they wanted to, the leash can leave a dog no choice but to fight and react on their fear rather than on their understanding of what the other dog intends to do once they meet. To get a better idea of why taking meets slow is usually the better choice, just imagine having a fear of heights and the person holding your hand leading you up the mountain forces you to the edge, that anxiety that you feel is similar to what a dog may feel when brought too close and too soon to an unfamiliar dog.
Once you have worked at a distance and the dogs seem calm and are not barking or lunging towards each other, decrease the distance between the dogs by a foot or so and repeat walking them for another 5 minutes. If each dog seems calm then you can decrease the distance between the dogs even further. If their body language has tails wagging, soft relaxed body shapes, soft eyes with no stiffness noted, these are all signs that things are going well. Again, refer to some online resources to get an idea of what soft body lines and curves or soft eyes actually means. The more familiar you are with body language, the better.
Once you feel that each dog is ready to move to the next step allow dogs to approach and meet one another while still holding onto their leashes. Any sign of aggression, be sure to seperate the dogs. As dogs become familiar with each other make sure leashes do not become tangled as they sniff each other and get to know each other. This approach should be done for 5 to 10 minutes and another walk within sniffing distance would be a good idea. If tails are wagging and play bows are happening, it’s a good sign that the two dogs should get along.
If any fights should occur remember to remain calm. Make sure to have a firm grip on their leashes so you are able to quickly separate the dogs if they become stiff or growl etc. Never allow dogs off leash together when they first meet or try to break up a fight between two dogs as this can result in a person getting bit. Safety always comes first. Remember, not all dogs will get along. Slow introductions and proper equipment and knowledge are key to successful meets.
Behavior consultations by phone are free at Animal Care Sanctuary. You can reach us at 570-596-2200 ext.7
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