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  • Writer's pictureJane at Woofles

Friend or Foe?

It's so important to pay close attention to the body language of the dogs and to ensure that the meeting is calm and friendly. Also, if you're a pet sitter offering home dog boarding and you want to add a new dog to your 'pack', it is crucial to make sure that first meeting is a nice experience for both dogs. But how do you do that? How do you introduce dogs to each other in a safe and fun way?

For your dog, it can be lovely for them to get to know other dogs. But these new encounters can be quite complicated. And every owner has their own ideas: 'Just let them go ahead and sort out their difference on their own'. Or: 'my dog doesn't do any harm, he just wants to play!'. But what really is the best way to introduce dogs safely? With these 5 tips, you will ensure a safe and fun first meeting between two dogs.

Dog walking
Doggie etiquette is required on first meetings

On-leash or off-leash?

There are different opinions about whether you should introduce two dogs on a leash or not. It is true that off-leash dogs feel freer and can move around more easily. They can decide for themselves how and how fast they approach the other dog. Most of the time, encounters in off-leash areas run smoothly. 

But still, there are some very good reasons to keep leash a dog when meeting a new dog. The other dog may be leashed because of an injury or condition, because he or she is anxious, or have a tendency to run away. In any case, put the leash on as soon as you see another leashed dog as problems often arise when one dog is on-leash and the other is not. Then give the other dog plenty of space and make sure you keep your dog's leash loose. Don't force the dogs to do anything they don't want to, and let them take the initiative to approach each other.

Space, space, space!

Dogs that meet each other for the first time often are very reluctant, polite and shy. When we humans meet someone new, we tend to walk straight towards each other and make eye contact. For dogs, that's very different. They want to express non-threatening signals and therefore they tend to walk around each other in a circle instead of a direct approach.

Before dogs start to smell each other, they want to check out who they're dealing with from a distance. They keep enough space around them so they can walk away at any time if the meeting goes wrong. So step aside and give the dogs the time and to explore each other without any pressure. Do you notice another dog (or your own dog) really avoiding an unfamiliar encounter? Then avoid the confrontation and just walk the other way.

Dog walking, dog body language
Dogs meeting and greeting need space

Mind the body language

Once the dogs have spotted each other, they will let each other know if they are open to contact. Always pay attention to the subtle signals of each dog's body language. While it may seem as if the dogs are not interested, in reality, they might have a whole 'conversation' with each other. Observe your own dog closely in every situation: you will understand the body language of your dog more and more, which will also increase the bond between you and your dog. Also, pay attention to your own posture and body language: as soon as you see another dog approaching, breathe, relax and talk positively about that other dog. By doing this, you will influence your own mood and create a positive atmosphere, which makes the introduction less stressful. 

Check for doggy body language...

When an introduction is going well, you might observe:

  • Looking away: 'I don't want to cause trouble!'

  • Calmly walking around each other in a circle

  • First sniffing each other under the tail

  • Relaxed wagging tails at medium height

  • Shoulders down, butt in the air: 'I want to play with you!'

  • The dog's respect each other's little corrections and give each other plenty of space.

When a meeting isn't going well, be careful.

You might observe:

  • Staring and stiffening the body, tail straight up

  • Growling, showing teeth

  • Neck hairs up

  • Tail between the legs, anxious, squeaking

  • One dog ignores the other dog's corrections and continues when the other doesn't. Separate them if so.

Intervention: Be calm and firm

Do you pick up on a warning signal from one of the dogs? Stop the meeting. You can do this by stepping away from the dogs, firmly calling your dog and walking away from the situation. Of course, praise your dog if he or she listens to and obeys you.

In case of an unfriendly or even a hostile meeting, always try to remain calm. Screaming and raising your voice only stirs aggression and excitement. Do not physically push or pull your dog, but instead try to calmly distract your dog with your voice. Make sure you have a few treats in your pocket with which you can attract your dog's attention. 

Respect each other

Maybe you have a very enthusiastic dog that is always happy to play with other dogs. But every dog is different. Some of them may be afraid because of past trauma. Others may have an injury, are in a training program or have another reason why they can't or won't meet other dogs. Therefore, don't just look at the body language of dogs, but also of their human owners ;-) Because a dog's owner knows best and knows what's good for his or her dog. Respect each other's boundaries!

With thanks to Jessica 10/04/2018

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