Labels depend not only on the dog’s character and experience but on each owner’s or professional’s abilities to observe and anticipate as well as appropriately react to what is happening during play.
Now it’s time to examine how to make dog to dog introductions more successful. Creating a calm first
Neutral Territory, One at a Time
Ideally, introduce your dog to another on neutral territory and to one other dog, not a pack. If the play group is in a home, do the introductions down the block. If in a dog park or daycare, have the dogs greet in the parking lot or another room, then enter the premise together. Dogs are less likely to fight if they are not defending territory.
Stay on Leash, But...
Before you let your dogs make body or eye contact, it is best for the two owners to go for a walk. The trajectory of the walk should be parallel and straight ahead on loose leashes. Each dog should be far enough apart that emotionally, mentally and physically it can ignore the other dog. Do not let your dog pull you toward the other. This is the time for the dogs to get a measure of each other but not so close that one gets defensive or pugnacious. I like to see the dogs “bored” with each other, willing to check out other scents and sights before I let them physically interact.
Before Nose to Nose
To greet humans walk toward each other and make eye contact. Not so with dogs. This frontal approach could end in one or both dogs feeling threatened. A curved body with a nose to butt or genitals approach is polite for dogs.
To get to this point, when they are walking nicely, casually let the dogs cross paths. One usually stops to sniff where the other has been. If the dogs are calm and maintaining no or minimal tension on the leash, I will let the other dog go to that spot so they can sniff together or begin to sniff each other. Loose leashes! Because it’s hard for the handlers to keep leashes from tangling as the dogs are circling each other, this is the time to go back to the yard or group if all goes well.
Nose to Nose
A face to face sniff should be held for a count of three, no longer. It takes about three seconds for a dog to decide to fight; and about four seconds to react. At the three count I will start to walk away calling my dog to follow (don’t tighten the leash if possible). For really good playgroups, dogs should be willing to leave when the owner walks away.
If the dogs behaved in the Green emotional and behavioral zone during the sniff with no escalation to Yellow or Red, you can let them get back together to sniff or go play.
Sometimes I am not quite sure how to read a reaction and will let the dogs go nose to nose again. Loose leashes! Maybe they are still in Yellow and need a bit more time for the evaluation. The second time will usually affirm which direction the dogs are heading, Green or Red.
Off Leash; Sort of
Once you determine the dogs will probably be safe together, take them to the play yard and casually drop the leashes. Keeping the leashes on the dog in the beginning allows you to take the dog out of an unsafe situation more quickly and with less risk. Also if you are working on a reliable recall, you can pick up the leash to prompt your dog to turn to you.
Important tip: Loose leash! A tightening leash is a common cue that triggers reactive and aggressive behaviors. It’s a trained cue and doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is dangerous, per se.
Next: Handling group play without micromanaging.