How to Safely Introduce Dogs

Behavior & training
Basset Hound and Boston Terrier meeting on the street

Dogs are social animals who use body language to communicate with each other. They are brilliant in their species-specific communications, and research shows that they are pretty spot on when it comes to understanding human emotions via our body language as well. Why, then, is it important to understand how to properly introduce dogs to each other? It’s natural for them to just get along, right? I wish it were so. Because it’s not a perfect world, it’s critical that we take great care and concern for our dogs’ well-being while meeting new dogs and people alike.

Introducing Dogs to Each Other

Step 1: Check that your dog is ready and that the dog you plan to meet is friendly. If your dog’s tail wags and he or she is excited to sniff and be sniffed, that’s a good sign! If your dog’s tail tucks or his or her hackles go up on their back, they’re not ready to be introduced. If you’re unsure of dog body language, there’s an app for that! It’s called Dog Decoder and it’s available for Apple and Android.

Step 2: Meet in a neutral location. Introductions at home aren’t usually the best because your dog will feel the need to protect it. So meeting in neutral territory is ideal to alleviate stress. Think of a pet-friendly park nearby, or even a cul-de-sac.

Step 3: Have both dogs in harnesses to protect their necks from excited pulling and walk on opposite sides of the street (or park). This is close enough for the dogs to see each other and gives you the opportunity to see how they are both reacting to each other – you’ll be able to tell if you can introduce them or not.

Step 4: If their body language communicates that they’re interested in each other, you can cross the street to initiate introduction. Make sure that you and the other handler remain calm, and make sure that there is no tension on the leashes.

Step 5: Give the dogs about three to five seconds to sniff one another and let them go at their own pace. If they change their mind about being excited to meet and start getting uncomfortable then it’s time to back away.

Step 6: If everything goes well with the introduction, enjoy a short walk together – still making sure to keep a tension-free leash. Keep the introduction short.

Introducing Dogs to New People

Step 1: Have the person present their side to your dog and tell them not to make eye contact.

Step 2: Instruct the person not to pat your dog on the head. To most dogs, a pet on the head is threatening.

Step 3: If your dog warms up and is interested in engaging with the person, have them offer your pup a treat. If your dog does not accept the treat and seems distrusting, end the introduction there.

Step 4: If your dog accepts the treat and shows signs of interest and excitement, the person is free to get down and show your dog some love and play.

The key to a successful introduction is listening to your dog. Be proactive with your dog by learning to read their body language, enrolling in socialization classes with your puppy, or hiring a positive reinforcement trainer to help you help your dog be less anxious about greetings. Take it slow and remember that not all dogs want or need to be with other dogs. Some are inherently less social than others and it’s important that we recognize that dogs are individuals with different desires and this needs to be respected.

Every dog has different social preferences, and it’s up to you to know your dog. My Preston used to love people so much that he became an incredible therapy dog. As he ages, he is much less tolerant of handling by strangers and I insist people only offer him treats, no petting or holding him allowed. Because of his arthritis and medical conditions, there is a risk of him feeling pained by well-intentioned touch. Preston is and has always been dog neutral. He is confident and comfortable around other dogs but has no desire to play and pretty much ignores other dogs.

Penelope, my 9-year-old pup, is the opposite. She loves to kiss, cuddle, and be loved on by people of all ages. She is phenomenal with children and my most outgoing dog. That said, she is so friendly that she can become over-excited when meeting other dogs. Therefore, I manage her dog-dog greetings carefully to keep her safe from dogs who may be annoyed by her exuberance.

My youngest, Delilah, is probably my most even-balanced social dog. She enjoys people who are gentle and offer her treats in exchange for tricks. If people are inappropriate in their greeting style, she is confident enough to move away quietly and ignore them, trusting in the fact that her mamma will teach them the proper way to interact with her. Delilah is friendly with other happy, confident, well-mannered dogs. You can watch her carefully study new dogs before introducing herself, and she only engages in play when the other dog’s body language is inviting. And, thankfully, she is wise enough to know when a dog may not be safe and gives them space. Delilah is a textbook example of early socialization done well, and I’m lucky to have a dog who can easily integrate with, or calmly ignore, just about any other person or dog.