Many of us want our dogs to be friendly with other canines and have at least one friend they can call for a play date. It’s a fantastic thing when two dogs get along and can entertain each other while still being able to settle nicely, but how do we make that happen? As responsible dog owners, what should we be doing to set our dogs up for success?
The important thing to remember is that dogs aren’t instinctually friends with one another. In fact, dogs often see each other as competition for food, toys, attention or anything else they think is valuable. Most dogs adjust quickly, but we can do a lot to create a safe and stress-free environment.
The more space you have the better. If you can have two dogs meet outside, that is always preferred. Regardless of square footage, dogs almost always do better outdoors. They feel like they have more room without a roof over their head and dogs usually make better choices and feel more comfortable when they have space. Plus, they will feel less territorial if meeting another dog outside, rather than a new dog coming into their home.
Speaking of environment, make sure the space is clear of toys, food and water. Removing items for dogs to fight over is a great way to minimize stress levels.
For safety, keep the dogs on a leash for the first meeting. This way you can separate them if necessary and it keeps everyone safe. It is imperative that you do your best to keep the leashes loose. The less tension you have on the leash, the less tense everyone will be. It is also a good idea to put them on a harness, so the pressure isn’t on their necks.
Let the dogs circle around each other on a loose leash. Normally, two dogs would circle around each other and sniff each other’s behinds while arching their bodies. Try to avoid nose-to-nose greetings.
Look for loose body and relaxed body language. If your dogs are wiggly with a low tail wag or are pretty much disinterested, it’s likely your interaction will continue on nicely. If either one of the dogs has stiff or scared body language, i.e. keeping their body very solid, putting weight on their front paws, hackles are raised, hard staring at the other dog, running away, tucked tail, cowering etc., create more distance between the two dogs. Take a deep breath and try again. If you are still seeing less than ideal behaviors, stop the interaction. These signs tell us everything we need to know and its best not to push the interaction.
If you’re seeing the body language you want from both pups, try dropping your leashes while keeping a close eye on them. Break up their interactions every 30-60 seconds if they aren’t doing that themselves. Play can escalate quickly so it’s good to teach dogs to break up from each other, even if you have to do the heavy lifting at first.
Once you find the right match for your dog, play sessions are a great way for your dog to get some mental and physical stimulation. Remember to try and call your dog to you often, so you can break up play sessions if necessary. I recommend keeping the first play session to no more than 30 minutes, and doing play sessions with only two dogs at a time.
Also, remember to supervise your dogs. Things can turn quickly, and if you see stiff or uncomfortable behavior stop the session right there. If you have been trying these methods and you still don’t feel comfortable, I recommend bringing a trainer in to supervise. They can help you figure out what needs to change to make the situation a positive experience for everyone.
Jaime Migdal, CPDT KA, is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.
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