Introducing dogs and setting them up for success

Disclaimer: This post is for well-socialized dogs that don’t have severe dog aggression issues ☺️

My brother-in-law and his wife were coming to town with their five year old border collie cross and we wanted to have our two dogs meet for the first time. We also wanted (of course!) to make sure it went well (spoiler: It went well!)

They are both nice dogs with good doggie social skills, but they also aren’t saints – no dog is! In this case, both tend to get along well with polite dogs, but can be snippy towards dogs that behave “rudely”. So we wanted to make sure we set them up for success.

It’s true that if you have a friendly, well-socialized dog on an off-leash hike, there is a very good chance they will encounter other friendly dogs and have a perfectly pleasant interaction with them. So you might be wondering why you need to set your dog up for success if they’re already doing great in the “meeting other dogs” department without your help.

And while it’s true that our two dogs may have gotten on perfectly well with far less set-up, I bet it would have been a bit more stressful for the dogs, and it feels unfair to do that to them when we have the power to make it better. I liked the idea of giving the dogs the absolute best possible chance at getting along, with minimal stress.

It wasn’t a ton of effort, and I think it paid off. Here are the steps we took:

  1. Met up at a neutral area that neither dog was familiar with.
  2. We had the dogs on leash. We greeted each other but didn’t let the dogs get close to each other.
  3. We went for an on-leash walk together, allowing the dogs to relax and sniff at their own pace, but not letting them get close enough to each other to have any physical interaction right away
  4. After thirty minutes of walking, the dogs seemed calm and relaxed in each other’s presence, even we got very close to each other, so once we got to an open area, we calmly unclipped their leashes and continued walking.
    (there is another step that we skipped that some people recommend – quick on-leash butt sniffs that last no longer than 3 seconds before both owners say “Let’s go!” and walk off with the dog.)
  5. In our case, once off-leash, the dogs continued to go about their business, ignoring each other, but eventually met, had a friendly sniff and a quick game of chase.
  6. The meeting was a success, and, in my opinion, far less stressful than simply throwing two strange dogs into a yard together.

A few other tips:

  • Make sure there’s nothing around that might cause resource-guarding conflict, like tasty bones or balls.
  • Keep moving during the walk and off-leash period. It’s better to have the dogs focused on the walk and their environment than some tense/high-pressure “OK we have stopped walking now it is time for us to INTERACT”
  • Don’t assume that because a single meeting went well you can now leave the two dogs alone together unsupervised, or together in small enclosed places, like the back of a truck or car. They might have gotten along fine, but they’re still relative strangers! They’ll need more than just one successful meeting to really feel comfortable around each other.
  • If, during the on-leash phase, one or both dogs seem stiff, are staring intently, seem anxious, or are lunging and growling, don’t proceed to the meet-and-greet phase. I’d just finish the walk and either seek professional help or try again another time if I think there’s a chance they just need more time to acclimatize.

I’m not a pro at introducing dogs, so I also want to direct you to some other resources with more tips on doggie introductions 🙂

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