Congratulations—you’ve welcomed a new dog or puppy to your family and he is quickly adapting to life with you and you’re adapting to life with him! When you’re adopting a new dog or puppy, you may not have thought about how much, or even how to, socialize him. You want your dog to be welcoming to both friends and family, so it’s important you introduce him to new people.
Introducing your Dog to your Significant Other
Introducing your significant other to the family is a big deal—for everyone. Introducing your significant other to your dog is another matter entirely. No matter how unwelcoming your family might be to a new partner, at least they don’t have the potential to bite, right?
Sharing your life with your dog before you welcome a new boyfriend or girlfriend means it’s just been “the two of you.” Your dog will have grown accustomed to being the “top dog,” and when you bring home a significant other, your dog may not appreciate feeling he is being displaced.
Here are a few things you can do to make the introductions smooth:
Give your dog a piece of clothing your significant other has worn. Let your dog sniff the clothing and get accustomed to his/her scent. As you’re letting your dog sniff it, say your significant other’s name. This way your dog will associate the scent with the name/sound. After you’ve let your dog sniff the item, give him a treat or play his favorite game as a reward. Associating the scent with a reward will garner positive feelings: This scent = a treat.
Make the initial in-person introduction on neutral ground. If you bring your partner to your home or even your yard, you are brining him or her into your dog’s territory and that can make your dog anxious or protective.
Let your dog sniff your partner while you hold the article of clothing and say his or her name. Your dog will associate the person, the clothing and the name. Have your partner offer your dog a small treat while saying the dog’s name in a calm, soothing tone. Next, have your partner stroke your dog and offer a treat. Repeat this until your dog seems relaxed.
You should stand a short distance away while these interactions are occurring. Once everyone seems comfortable, walk over and interact. Keep the next few meetings on neutral ground before you move the visits to your home. Start by having your dog meet your partner in the yard, then the driveway, then in the house – not at the front door -- and viola – he or she is in and everyone is getting along!
Introducing your dog to houseguests
If you’re having a party and or inviting houseguests, chances are you won’t have time to set up these “neutral ground” interactions. Your guests will be walking into your dog’s territory and need to understand your dog may take a while to warm up to them. To your dog, these people are strangers and you need to proceed with introductions as you would when you introduce him to any stranger. These initial encounters need to be monitored and need to be made in as calm a manner as possible.
Here are ways to safely introduce your dog to houseguests:
You need to be in control of the situation. If you know your dog will react badly to strangers entering his territory, or if you’re not sure how he will react, keep him on a leash. Let guests come in and let your dog be the one to initiate the introduction once they are in the door.
Keep your dog on a short leash and let him sniff your guests. If you’re certain he will take a treat nicely, let your guests feed him a small treat. This positively reinforces the connection that stranger equals treat. When your dog is calm and exhibits good behavior, give him a reward.
If your dog is trained to commands such as, “sit,” “down” or “stay” use those when guests enter the house.
Guests should be acknowledged by you first, so your dog sees your interactions. Whether you shake their hands or hug them, your dog will notice the positive interaction, will see you’re relaxed and that may help him to relax.
If your dog is a jumper, warn your guests. Tell your guests if your dog jumps on them, they need to place their arms on their chest and turn their back to the dog. Ask them to not look at your dog, say his name or even say “down.” The act of turning their back will dissuade the dog from jumping—he’s not getting pets and he’s getting ignored.
Once the guests have entered your home and your dog appears comfortable with them being there, you may want to let him off his leash. Be mindful of his stress level and give your guests pointers on how to interact with him.
Dog to Child Interactions Should Be Monitored
Whether you’re bringing home a new baby, are welcoming guests to your home who are bringing children or if you encounter children on the street, extreme caution needs to be taken.
Children run around, they squeal, they may pull the dog’s fur or inadvertently step on paws or a tail. In some instances, and with some breeds, a child running around may set off the dog’s prey instinct and that can lead to tragic consequences. If possible, limit interactions with dogs you don’t know. If you’re adopting a dog for your family, and if you have children, do your research to assure you’re not bringing home a dog that is simply not “child friendly.”
Here are tips for introducing your dog to children in a safe manner:
Put up a baby gate and let the child and the dog interact through the safety of the gate. Urge the child to not stick his fingers through the gate, but to simply let the dog sniff him and get accustomed to him.
Once the dog or puppy has calmed down and seems comfortable with the child, remove the gate. Before you do that, though, pick up your dog’s favorite toys and blankets. Your dog may get territorial with his toys when he sees a child, who may be his height or size, moving toward his favorite items. Even a dog who isn’t normally territorial may become anxious with this tiny stranger.
Supervise all interactions between puppy and dog and child. We cannot stress this enough! If you’re bringing home a new baby, remember to never, ever leave her alone with the dog. Even the most mild-mannered pup can get frightened when a child starts crying or flailing her little arms and legs.
Depending on the child’s age, let him help with walking the dog (he can simply walk along with you—not hold the leash) and with feeding time. This shows your dog this tiny human is a part of the pack.
Teach children to respect the dog’s space. If your dog has a crate or a bed to which he escapes when he’s tired, your child should respect your dog’s need for alone time and let him sleep undisturbed.
Children need to be taught to gently pet the dog, to not pull his fur, hair or ears.
One of the most important lessons is to teach a child to not walk up and try to hug or kiss a dog. Many dogs are uncomfortable being hugged. A child putting his face in a dog’s face can frighten the dog and lead to a bite.
If your child is old enough, she can become involved in the positive reinforcement training of your dog or puppy. Take your child to the training classes with you and work with her while she works with the dog. It’s a great bonding experience for both.
Fostering good interactions between your dog or puppy and guests who come to your home, whom you encounter on the street or if you’re bringing home a new, tiny human requires you, the pet parent, pay attention to your dog and his body language. When he’s comfortable, proceed with caution. When your dog appears anxious you need to proceed more slowly or remove your dog from the situation and try again at another time.
Dogs want to please their owners. They may take time to warm up to a stranger, but with patience and positive reinforcement your dog and the humans in your life will form a lifelong bond.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.