Introducing dogs can be great fun. There’s nothing like watching two dogs meet and begin playing to soften your heart and brighten your day. However, as we all know, that’s not always how it goes. Many dogs are uncomfortable when greeting an unfamiliar dog, including, as it turns out, our new guy, Skip. He grew up in Ireland, undoubtedly surrounded by other Border Collies, and perhaps an occasional Jack Russell. As a result, we’ve learned, all Border Collies are potential new friends, and dogs of other breeds just don’t look right.
He’s such a stable, well-balanced dog that this only means he tenses up when a hound or Golden charges up to greet him (sample size = 2). That happened last week when Ruby, our friend’s Golden Retriever pup, got to meet him after the lifting of his leash restrictions. (Yay!) He was clearly nervous when Ruby ran up to him (tense body, mouth closed, slight lip curl), and I found myself saying, repeatedly, “Keep walking! “Let’s just keep walking!”
And we did, and it was fine. Maggie and Ruby played a little while Skip busied himself sniffing interesting things. At the top of the hill Skip discovered a pile of the world’s most glorious resource, a pile of fox poop. Here’s a video, taken after a good several minutes of rolling already:
Even though I knew it would result in an extensive bath afterwards, I let Skip roll as long as he wanted to. First, he loves to roll, and hasn’t been able to for two months, and it made me happy to see him so happy. Second, I thought it might be a perfect opportunity for Skip to become more comfortable with Ruby. There’s nothing like mutual sniffing that seems to help dogs relax around each other. With the permission of Ruby’s owner (thank you Lisa!), Ruby rolled in the same heavenly, stinky mess right after I stopped the video.
That’s when Skip decided Ruby was a fine friend to have. Apparently, the dogs that stink together, stick together. Here they are a few minutes afterward, smelling to high heaven and proud of it.
Look at that relaxed face! I’m confident that next time they will be playing like old friends. I attribute Skip’s change in affect to two things: Their mutual sniff and roll in a strong scent, and first off, and oh-so-importantly, all of us humans striding up the hill, rather than standing still and staring at them, when they first met.
It sounds easy–just walk away from two dogs greeting each other! But it’s not. There’s something very understandable about standing and staring at dogs you’re not sure about, wondering what is going to happen, wondering if, when, you should intervene. But in all my decades of working with dogs, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned when introducing dogs is to KEEP MOVING. It’s the best way to take the pressure off, and the best way to give dogs a chance to become comfortable with each other.
Of course, it can get more complicated if you know your dog might be aggressive, or your dog is truly terrified of other dogs. Off leash creates less tension than on leash, but can only be done if it’s 100% safe. (Skip and Ruby were were in a large, fenced area of mixed pasture and woods.) There are many factors to consider when introducing unfamiliar dogs, but if there’s one thing to remember over all the others, it’s keep moving!
I’d love to hear your perspective. I have no research to back this up, just lots and lots of experience. What about you? What’s been your experience introducing new dogs, whether just to be buddies or become part of the pack?
Update, 6-25-20: I just read a study done by Camille Ward that found the average time of greeting between dogs at a dog park was only six seconds. Even more motivation to Just Keep Walking!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Perfect weather this weekend, glorious high pressure, cool temps and light breeze. Heaven! The garden flowers are in a bit of a lull, but the pentunias on the front porch add some lovely color.
Better than good weather was the green light from Skip’s physical therapist to go back to working sheep and playing with other dogs. I’m going cautiously, of course, and continuing his PT, but oh oh oh what a joy it is to see him run free!
We’ve started working sheep again together, and it’s pretty much heaven. Maggie might not be thrilled that she is no longer the only working dog on the farm, but she still gets lots of opportunities. I’m not skilled enough yet to handle freight-train Skip and take photos while we work, so here he is, being tempted by the sheep on the other side of a fence:
I’ve made a new friend–an Eight Spotted Forester Moth, upside down on some salvia flowers. Check out the bright orange hairs on its front legs:
What about you? Have your dogs made any new friends lately in The Time of Covid? What about past experiences introducing dogs? What have you found most important?