Does your dog dislike quickly meeting an unfamiliar dog? This is not unusual. In fact, it’s quite common.
As I write this I’m in Denver for the Western Border Collie Rescue’s adoption and canine alumni reunion. We designated specific areas for dogs that are fine with casual encounters with unfamiliar dogs (an off-leash area) and an on-leash walking path for dogs that weren’t likely to enjoy an unfamiliar dog in their face.
Many people think that because their dogs don’t do well greeting or warming to other canines quickly it means their dogs can’t be around, enjoy or live with another dog. In reality it’s quite possible for many if not all of these types of dogs to tolerate, peacefully coexist with or even befriend and enjoy playing with canine friends. The key lies in how they are introduced.
There are several factors at play when dogs meet one another: olfactory, audio, visual and touch. A good protocol for introducing dogs that you want or need your dog to spend time with — dogs that belong to your friends or family, or a new foster dog, for example — takes each of these factors into account.
Acclimating dogs to another dog one of these senses at a time spells less stressful intros for both dogs and humans. Carefully managing and setting the stage is required, but a slow and calculated introduction means you are giving the dogs the best possible chance to get along. Even if a dog doesn’t need the super slow version, understanding how super slow intros work means you can abbreviate the process when more careful introductions are needed. If you aren’t sure, go for the slow version — the No. 1 blunder is to go too fast.
First, olfactory. Introducing articles with the scent of the other dog, rotating dogs through spaces the others have dwelled in and walking the same route at different times can allow dogs to gather an enormous amount of information about one another without ever meeting.
Next, audio and more intense olfactory. Have the dogs share the same space, but have them each separated, perhaps by a closed door or covered crate.
I often bring in both these factors at once when I bring home a new foster dog. My favorite method uses just a simple car ride. I put a new foster in a crate while simultaneously having my dogs crated or otherwise out of reach of the new dog’s crate in the car. Then I’ll go and do errands or just drive home from the foster pickup spot for a couple hours. No dogs are in sight or touching distance of one another, and if need be I can cover the crates.
This exchange of information means the dogs are far less eager to rush up to one another. It’s quite remarkable the lack of interest my dogs show in a few foster once the newbie gets out of the car, and vice versa. That’s because they’ve already met through their incredible sense of smell.
Next, introduce the visual. Having tired out dogs for this part can really grease the wheels — you can give each a long bout of exercise separately beforehand. Having a dog already well versed in how to behave around another leashed dog a little distance away (i.e., remain thinking and look to their person) will really help here.
After the dogs really aren’t all that interested in one another when within sight, and you have decreased the distance to 15 feet or so, they are ready for going for a “parallel walk,” one on each side of a road, then one 20 feet ahead, then swapping places, for however long it takes. The reason it’s best to go for a walk, rather than hang in a fenced yard, is that there are so many other interesting things on walks besides the other dog, which can diffuse one dog’s focus on another. It make take a couple of walks or more for the dogs to relax in one another’s presence, so take your time.
Wait until arousal levels are low or nonexistent before moving to next steps. Once the dogs show little to no interest in one another, even when you are walking quite near one another, they are primed to meet via touch. The next step could then perhaps be an off- leash introduction (just drop leashes) on neutral territory, if it seems likely to be successful.
Interrupting the greeting frequently (every few seconds) can keep tensions low. Don't wait for things to go south, which tends to happen the longer the interaction goes on. If you have a minute or two of calm exchange, end it.
If not, but the dogs are fairly calm around one another, bring them into the house but keep them physically separated using barriers like exercise pens with an air lock between. If necessary, use crates or tools like tethers.Then distract them with something else if they are not guarding: Long-term chew toys like bones or stuffed Kongs can also be a route to acclimating dogs to one another.
Please note the protocol for managing puppies, who generally irritate or frighten many adult dogs, around older dogs is a little different.
Sometimes the acclimation process takes weeks or more. Better to take it slow and have it be successful than to go too fast and have a mess to clean up. You have only once chance to make a first impression, so set up intros carefully for concerned canines that you would like to have a successful dog friendship.