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Dogs have their own way of communicating with each other, and while we'll never know exactly what goes on inside their heads, we can tell a little from their body language and vocal cues.
If you're having issues, or are simply concerned, with your puppy's friendliness when meeting other dogs, there are several training tactics you can learn and teach to your puppy.
In some cases, it may be your puppy that is reactive or apprehensive about other dogs, or maybe they're great and you're worried about the behavior of others. In either regard, this training guide will help you facilitate a safe and friendly interaction between two or more dogs.
There are a few scenarios which may have brought you to read this article: One, you're considering bringing or recently have brought a puppy into your household where you already own other pets. Two, you have neighbors or close family or friends that own dogs that you want your puppy to get along with, or three, you want to be able to take your puppy on walks and to the dog park without any major confrontation.
A few commands you can learn to help your puppy's social skills include:
- Leave it
- Come or Here
- Look at me
Since this task deals specifically with animal behavior, it will help you immensely to do a little research on the subject. Luckily for all us dog owners, you don't need to be formally educated in the subject matter, but simply willing to learn.
Just as humans tell each other a lot without words, so too, do dogs. Some common signs of potential aggression or just basic unfriendliness, include:
- Raised Hair
Much like cats, dogs' hair will stand up on the back of their spine to show their fear or hate of something. This is typically a precursor to them becoming potentially violent and it's your responsibility as a dog owner to pay attention to what your puppy is communicating.
Growling isn't something you can or should train out of your puppy. While it's not the friendliness manners, it is a form of communication. Growling tells other dogs that your puppy wants his or her space. Think of it as a warning.
- Tail Between the Legs
This is one many of us are familiar with, even if we're new pet owners. A dog with their tail between their legs is a universal sign of fear. When introducing your puppy to others, watching their tails is an easy way to see how they're responding to a potential new friend or foe.
- Closed Mouth
A happy, inviting dog will often be "smiling": tongue out, and ready to meet, be met, and play with others. A dog with a closed mouth is a commonly unfriendly sign and you and your puppy may want to proceed with caution.
- Rigid, Raised Tail
When it comes to two dogs meeting, no matter their breed, sex, or age, their tails should be loose and wagging. A tail that is raised high, at a point, and stiff is a sign of being alert and potentially uninterested in socializing.
- Stiff Posture (Frozen)
While two dogs meet-and-greet, you may notice that sometimes one dog may have stiff body posture. You can see their tension in the way their paws are planted firmly while another dog sniffs around them or tries to play.
Other signs to look for when introducing your puppy to others include:
- Lying on Their Back
A dog that lies on its back in front of another dog, exposing their soft, vulnerable tummies, is showing that he or she is submissive. This is generally a good sign which you can take to mean, "I don't feel threatened" as well as "I'm not threatening".
- Downward Dog
Sometimes we may think our dogs are actually pronounced yogis, practiced in the way of yoga. If you've ever witnessed your pup in a playful mood, it's likely you've seen them reach their front two paws out in front of them while keeping their back erect and tail high in the air, wagging away. Dogs doing this to each other are communicating that they want to play with each other.
- Wagging Tail
When it comes to reading doggie body language, an easy one is a wagging tail - a sign of friendliness between dogs. However, this only relates if the wagging tail is relatively relaxed. A wagging tail held very high can actually be a sign of threat or potential aggression, while a wagging tail held low could indicate fear or worry.
- Floppy Tongue
As dog owners, we want to see that pink tongue out and happy. While we know a tongue out is typically a sign of being thirsty or hot, a loose tongue also indicates a relaxed pup.
All of these signs are important to learn before beginning some of these training methods. Train yourself to recognize them the next time your puppy meets someone new. Any warning signs seen in your puppy or the dog they're meeting should result in putting distance between the two dogs. Any other body language should indicate that your puppy or the dog they're meeting is ready to enjoy a new play pal.
The Meeting a Neighbor Method
Talk with the owner
If you have a close friend or neighbor that owns a dog that you envision your puppy frequently interacting with, this is the method for you. The first step is to request a "play date" with the dog's owner. This won't be so much about play as it is about meeting each other. Schedule a date together in which you're both available to dedicate a decent amount of time to a proper introduction between the dogs.
Meet on neutral ground
As descendants of wolves, dogs can easily be or become territorial, and because of this, it's best to have two dogs meet somewhere they don't feel ownership over (such as their home, yard, or favorite, frequented park). You will want the meeting place to be somewhere open, without too many distractions (such as cars, pedestrians or other dogs).
Yes, it's that simple - walk your puppy. While the other owner and dog are nearby walking, do the same. If your puppy shows interest in the dog, this is a typically a good sign. We want them to be curious and willing to meet new friends, but not too overly excited or aggressive.
Meet in the middle
A common mistake made when introducing two pets to each other is they are brought together head-on. Many dogs find direct eye contact or advancement - another walking steadily straight toward them - as a threat and can cause unwanted behavior. Slowly, as you feel your puppy's excitement die down a little, call to the other owner to begin walking the dogs side by side, first at some distance, and eventually closer to each other. Meeting at a diagonal distance rather than head-on will be less threatening to both the puppy and the dog.
Foster the friendship
The issue with puppies and dogs meeting typically comes from the difference in size (larger dogs may be more curious of something so small, while smaller puppies may feel frightened by something larger than themselves). But it also comes from a difference in temperament. Dogs tend to mellow out with age and an excited puppy can be seen as a little runt not respecting their personal space. After walking the dogs together for awhile, allow them to play if they've showed signs of being friendly towards one another. You and the other owner can facilitate this interaction with verbal cues, such as telling the puppy or dog to calm down or 'leave it' if things get a little too wild. Other than a few interruptions, you're really just there to watch them interact and have fun.
The Meeting a Stranger Method
Load up on treats
This method is meant for anyone dealing with issues meeting other dogs while walking their new puppy. If you don't have a fenced in yard or prefer to get our pup out and about for some daily exercise, chances are you've encountered a dog or two while at a park or walking around your neighborhood. Next time you're preparing for a walk with your puppy, pack a handful of treats with you, these will come in handy during the next few steps.
When you and your puppy spot a dog while on your walk, try to create distance. This is respectful not only to your pet, but to the other owner and their dog, as well. If the strangers are on a routine walk and headed your direction, find a spot off of the sidewalk or off to the side and try to gain the attention of your puppy.
To gain their attention away from the other dog, you can do this with a toy they love, or by setting up a mini-training session, utilizing the treats. A lot of owners and dog trainers recommend simple tasks, such as 'sit', or 'look at me', which is great for teaching your dog obedience and attentiveness. Another highly recommended tactic for this step is to practice/train the 'find it' command. Once your dog is aware of a treat in your hand - hold it by their nose so they can smell it and gain their eye contact - throw it very close-by onto the ground and use the verbal cue, "Find it".
These two techniques help prevent your puppy from feeling rewarded for pulling on their leash (gaining distance in the direction their tugging, such as the other dog) as well as help them associate walking and meeting other dogs with positive experiences. Often what happens with an unfriendly puppy is reactive behavior, in response to fear of another dog, and owners may make the mistake of punishing their puppy for this. Distraction techniques help to correct both you and your puppy's mistakes.
After you have practiced steps two and three often and find that your puppy is doing well on walks, it's time for the next step. If you feel comfortable and the other dog walking by seems relatively friendly, you can ask the owner, "Do you mind if they meet?" We find that a great way of putting it is to say: "We're practicing meeting new friends." Trust that the owner knows their dog just as you know your puppy and that together you can both facilitate a healthy, safe interaction between your pets.
Be a good chaperone
The biggest key to raising a friendly dog is to be a good chaperone during his or her social endeavors. These endeavors are best held without leashes, as the leashes can sometimes cause the dogs to feel tense. If introductions to new dogs do occur while on leash, keep your grip loose. Your puppy could feel your tension and cause them to gain negative feelings about their interaction. Watch for the body language of your puppy as well as whomever they're meeting and if you spot warning signs, intervene. This may be particularly important for you to do as the puppy owner since puppies are very excitable and may be too much for an older dog to handle. If irritated enough, a dog with a certain temperament may show signs of potential aggression.
Ask a pro
If you feel stressed with all of the information available to you, look up local trainers in your area and inquire about consultations.
The New Housemate Method
Stage initial contact
This method is designated to anyone introducing a puppy to their home, in which other dogs already live. Utilizing some of the training steps in other methods, have your puppy and dog meet in a way that seems natural. Employ a friend or family member to meet you at a park - one of you will have the puppy, and the other the dog. Let them meet and sniff each other for a good five to ten minutes and then continue a walk separately.
Meet outside the home
Meet a second time, again outside of the home. Dogs are naturally inclined to be territorial, which means your protective pet may react negatively to strange, new animal in the home, after all, the're really the ones who run the house. If the first meet-and-greet went well, you may want to have the pets meet off leash. (Leashes can create tension between dogs and cause them to feel threatened, fearful, and restrained.) You may even have them sniff each other through some kind of barrier, such as a fence, before opening the gate and letting them romp in open space. Utilize your knowledge of dog body language during this meet to scrutinize their communication. If they aren't taking to each other, have them meet a few more times, if possible, before having the final move-in occur.
Neutralize the environment
The day has come! Your new, furry family member is now going to call your house home. Have a friend or family member take your adult dog for a walk around the neighborhood to burn off some energy and get out of the house. While they're away, bring your puppy indoors. Put away toys, food, or favorite blankets or dog beds - these could cause tension between the two if your long-time pooch feels the puppy is getting too close to his or her favorite item or meal. Next, your dog will eventually arrive after their walk to a neutralized environment to find the puppy already there. Hopefully they recognize each other and greet accordingly, but if not, don't fret. Friendships can take time.
Puppies have a lot of energy. Your adult dog may too, but if not, it's especially important to create barriers. Dedicate a corner or room of the house - a place your dog isn't too protective over, so not by their dog bed or food bowl - to your new fur-baby. This could just mean closing a door or setting up a pen or crate. It's here that the puppy will reside when you aren't home. It's for the safety of all parties involved as you never know what may happen when you aren't around to supervise both your pets. This will also help your puppy feel more secure - like they have their own space - in a new and potentially scary place.
Supervise, don't shadow
No one likes a helicopter parent. So don't be one! Trust yourself to know your pets' body language and trust them to tell you if they're uncomfortable or need their space. Puppies are still learning how to interact with fellow canines and so they may have zero to little social skills - meaning, they may not understand that a grumble or growl means "Back off". For the most part, you should simply supervise interactions and only intervene if you sense real danger. If your puppy is nipped or barked at loudly, it isn't the end of the world as long as it's only their pride that's hurt. These moments are teaching moments for them and will help them grow up to be social butterflies.
Written by Candice Littleton
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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