The Dog Walk Introduction

Not all dogs are perfectly confident around other dogs. Many dogs have some form of fear when they see a dog approaching on a walk. Other dogs can’t contain their excitement to see a new dog – counting everyone as a new friend and playmate from the start.

Nova also has her struggles around new dogs – she’s afraid of dogs who are bigger than her, and sees small dogs as opportunities for play that just can’t be passed up. For Nova to be a successful therapy dog, who can pass the Canine Good Citizen test, she’s going to have to become comfortable working around bigger dogs and calm around small dogs.

So Nova’s owner begins to stage careful introduction for Nova with a friend’s large mixed-breed dog who’s well-mannered. She uses the Dog Walk Introduction to allow Nova time to acclimate to the dog’s presence. The owner also reinforces Nova for looking at her while the bigger dog is around, and will give her comfort and help when she needs it.

Step One

Choose a safe location where the dogs can meet for the first time. (This shouldn’t be at either dogs’ house). Have both dogs on-leash and begin to walk them parallel to each other. The dogs should not have had any greeting yet and should not be allowed contact. Walk with enough distance between you, with the people walking side-by-side and the dogs on the outside, so that the dogs cannot greet each other yet. If either dog shows signs of fear, put more distance between you until the dog can calm down.

Step Two

When both dogs are calmer and show signs of being relaxed, begin to walk them closer to each other. This could mean the handlers take a step towards each other if they have previously had to be several feet apart to keep the dogs from reaching each other. Continue this walk, slowly decreasing the distance between the dogs as long as they are both calm and self-controlled without any signs of fear, for fifteen to twenty minutes. The exercise of the walk is excellent for relieving stress and gives the dog something to focus on mentally other than the new dog.

Step Three

Now that the dogs are walking close together calmly, begin to walk in opposite directions so that the dogs are passing by each other. They are now allowed to have a brief, three-second sniff of each other as they pass by. Do this two or three times and if the dogs are ready to move on to the next step. If the dogs show by their body language that they aren’t ready to meet face-to-face yet, go back to walking parallel to each other.

Step Four

Now initiate a nice slow face-to-face greeting (it won’t be slow if your dog is pulling you towards the other dog, nor would the excitement level be correct for a greeting yet). Allow both dogs to thoroughly sniff each other. Keep the leashes on, but loose, and follow the dogs as they walk around each other to keep them untangled. If either dog becomes uncomfortable, be quick to say “Take a break” and then take both dogs for a short walk in opposite directions. Then try the face-to-face greeting again. This step is the easiest to rush and doing so will ruin all previous progress, so opt for slow and safe.

Step Five

If the dogs are not too excited and show comfortable body language, they can now be taken into a fenced yard where they can have a chance to play. When both dogs are very calm you can drop their leashes. If one dog is more excited still, hang on to his leash for a bit longer. Leave the leashes attached and let them drag so the dogs can be quickly separated if any disagreements occur.

If the dogs choose to play, set a cap on the excitement level they can reach and intervene when they go beyond that level to calm them back down again. This will prevent situations that cause fear or overreactions and bad experiences.

Results

This kind of introduction is great for dogs who need a confidence boost. If done well, with both owners participating responsibly, reading their dog’s body language and taking enough time, the dogs will become friends. A dog who lacks confidence will gain much from growing a core group of dog-friends and being introduced to them one-by-one in this way.