First impressions can have long lasting effects, so taking the time to plan the first meeting is a high priority. If an initial meeting goes badly it can take a lot of effort to reverse the detrimental psychological effects, let alone repair any physical injuries.
Here are some suggested guidelines:
- Have one handler per dog.
- Meet in a neutral environment first, not one of the dog’s homes.
- Choose larger areas, not confined spaces.
- Allow ample time, don’t rush or force introductions. Let the dogs got at their own pace and allow an avenue of escape or retreat.
- Let each dog investigate the environment first for an extended period, away from each other, before bringing them into contact.
- Introduce relaxed dogs, not highly aroused dogs.
- Use loose leads rather than tight unless required for safety and to remove dogs from each other.
- Intervene only if required and distract quickly if needed.
- If in doubt: DON’T introduce. If you have no idea how either dog will react but fear one may bite or attack, don’t introduce them or seek professional assistance. If you really don’t think they will get on, ask yourself, “Why am I introducing them in the first place?”
Please note that the guidelines suggested are exactly that: guide-lines. With more experience and a history of the two dogs, one has a better chance of predicting if two dogs will be fine to greet on their first meeting. If there is any doubt, however, you will need some sort of backup plan such as leads to allow safe separation of the dogs should things go pear-shaped. Ideally, seek the help of a behaviour professional if you are unsure or nervous.
Avoid advice which refers to dogs as having dominant personalities to explain behaviour and encourages using aversive stimuli/punishment to introduce dogs (eg. choker collars, shock collars, leash jerks, yelling). Dominance is not a personality trait and has no practical application when dealing with introducing dogs safely. Furthermore, most aggression in dogs is driven by a desire to escape (which is prevented when on lead) or a desire to remove a source of fear by scaring it away. Having on-lead meetings with short, tense leads and anxious handlers tugging and yelling can actually create conflict that might not have otherwise occurred. I only recommend muzzles if the dog wearing the muzzle is already accustomed to and happy to wear one. If not, placing a muzzle for the first time on a dog and then introducing a strange dog may create a negative association with the new dog. That’s not setting the scene for a good introduction! It is important to be confidence and calm before even considering an introduction. It is so important, I’ll repeat: If in doubt – DON’T. Seek assistance.
Here’s an example of introducing dogs for the first time.