Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Meeting and Greeting Dogs
by Andrea Kilkenny
As a trainer and a shelter employee, one of the things I am often asked about is how to conduct doggie
introductions. Some dogs really enjoy meeting and socializing with other dogs, and other dogs prefer not to
meet unfamiliar dogs. Every dog has his/her own level of tolerance for other dogs. As someone who has had to
evaluate shelter dogs for compatibility, I try to always determine where does a dog fit along the continuum of
sociability with other canines? For example: is the dog: dog-friendly, tolerant, maybe selectively tolerant,
reactive, shy, or fearful of other dogs, does it have barrier frustration, poor greeting behavior, does it prefer to
play with dogs of the same size or age, or opposite sex? It is up to each owner to know his/her dog and
determine the dog's comfort level with other dogs. Here are a few suggestions that will make dog introductions
Teach your dog some basic obedience that you can then use in the presence of other dogs. Helpful cues
to know are: sit, down, watch me and either heel or polite loose leash walking. These cues are especially helpful
if you plan to do competitive events with your dog, as you may not want your dog to greet during events, but
rather stay focused on you and not other dogs.
Do not let your dog pull you towards other dogs to say hello. YOU as the owner make the decision as to
who your dog will greet. Assess the other dog first - does it look friendly? What does the other dog's body
language tell you? Is the other dog straining at the end of the leash, body weight shifted forward, ears back,
hackles up, rearing up off of the ground, tail up high and stiff, all or any of the above? Those are not good signs.
If the dog is 'soft' in its body language, what I call 'loosey goosey' behavior - soft eyes, open relaxed mouth, tail
wagging, body weight distributed evenly over the dog's legs, or perhaps even throwing a play bow, these are
generally signs of a friendly approach. If you allow your dog to 'self-release' and, thereby self reward, by
allowing him to drag you towards every dog, you will have a dog that thinks he/she should meet every dog, and
this is NOT socializing, it is actually teaching your dog bad manners! Socializing means selecting appropriate
dog buddies for your dog, and you the owner guide this selection.
Try taking a walk together, in the same direction first, with the dogs a few feet apart. Keep on moving
forward without letting the dogs greet initially. This parallel leash walking often diffuses any tension between
dogs. It is one of the most simple, yet powerful, ways to acclimate two dogs to each other. This is often how I do
introductions with shelter dogs and potential adopter's dogs, and how I introduce foster dogs, as well as how I
acclimate my dogs to a new canine friend. The dogs can see and smell each other across that distance and are
getting to know each other without the pressure of a direct interaction. Often, I will do several walks with a new
dog before I actually let the dogs meet. Taking a walk together is a great way to socialize!
When you do allow your dog to meet, keep the initial introduction brief. Allow the dogs to sniff, and then
quickly call your dog to you. Try to keep your leash slack, not tense, when the dogs are greeting. Reward your
dog with praise - and even a treat! - for good greeting behavior. If your dog has successful greetings with
another dog, it sets them up for future success as canine friends, whether on or off leash. However, if you and
your dog start off on the wrong paw, it is hard to undo a poor first greeting.
Try to avoid what I call 'head on collisions' wherein dogs greet each other straight on, nose to nose,
walking right at each other. Dogs should greet each other from a T-formation, one dog perpendicular to the other;
this type of greeting is more natural for them, and less confrontational, in terms of doggie body language, than a
face to face greeting, coming head on with each dog tense at the end of the leash, which is often how people let
their dogs meet, especially if they are out on a walk.
Try to avoid situations where you will feel you have to 'correct' your dog. So, if you know your dog
doesn't do well with face-to-face initial greetings, don't allow the behavior. Too often, I see people allow their
dogs to greet, and then when the greeting doesn't go well, the owner corrects the dog. If you do this, you will
make your dog LEARN to be more tense in the presence of other dogs if he/she begins to anticipate tension or
correction from you.
For some additional information on Dog Introductions, you can read my article on
Pit Bull Rescue Central: http://www.pbrc.net/dogintros.html
If you have a reactive dog, I highly recommend the booklet, Feisty Fido by Dr. Patricia McConnell.