Perhaps the most common question when we come upon another handler and their dog is “should we let our dogs approach each other?” What is the answer: No, Maybe, Yes?!
No two dogs will answer the same so let's teach you how to make the decision properly.
The first thing I look at prior to an introduction is breed (or breeds if a mix).
If they are a herding dog they will very likely be sensitive to their personal space. Should they be a terrier, their tenacity and fearless attitudes can often cause trouble quickly. Working dogs can be protective of their handlers and spaces. Then there are the lovely sporting dogs — who have no idea what personal space even means!
Because a lot of these temperaments have little patience for each other I would be extra cautious, or perhaps even avoid a play time altogether. Not every dog follows their breed temperament, and socialization can also differ, so it’s always important to be aware.
The best time to have dogs play together is as puppies. This teaches them "bite inhibition", how to communicate with each other, and more. Without extensive play time as young dogs, they often lose out as adults as they may not be overly fond of others. Should your dog have no contact as a developing puppy, you will need to be extra cautious during introductions to ensure proper meetings.
When it comes to play time – I do not allow my dogs to play with dogs I don’t know.
We tend to avoid play times at the dogs’ own homes and would rather go for a walk instead. During pack walks, we ensure the dogs are good with their recall and head to the wooded trails.
By keeping the pace up, the dogs rarely spend too much time in each other’s personal space and keep busy, preventing any reason for conflict. We never allow dogs to play on a leash – even they’re friends.
Even if the dogs know each other – leashes prevent dogs from choosing their reaction (Fight or Flight); and people using too much pressure on the leash may often have the dog resort to leash reactivity to gain their personal space.
The difference in communication for people and dogs is drastic. While not common we do have scuffles. During our pack walks we often have up to 4 or 5 dogs who previously struggled with aggression or reactivity. Sometimes we have multiple intact dogs as well.
Owners are committed to working their dogs to have great control, but again, times pop up where we all don’t get along. Whats usually the culprit? Personal Space….
A few great examples:
An intact German Shepherd and a previously dog-aggressive Boxer. Both walked on over 50 walks together without issue. On one particular walk, they got in each other’s personal body space and proceeded to have a squabble. Because both handlers were diligent it was easy to break up and control, and the walk was completed without another incident.
Rescued shepherd mix and a working line GSD: again walked many times together without incident, upon starting the walk the shepherd mix spent too much time smelling the other dog who is very dominant. She, in turn, corrected the dog which caused a conflict. Once it was broken up another GSD decides to attempt to join who is quickly deterred by its owner.
Neither incident caused injury to any dog and took seconds to stop. However it is crucial to be educated on what to do – and do it fast – to prevent a problem. No matter how well dogs know each other there is ALWAYS a risk for conflict. Monitoring how dogs are playing and communicating is highly beneficial as a handler.
At our kennel, we break our playgroups out into size, play style and activity level. This greatly decreases risk because conflicts are extremely rare due to proper monitoring. Having staff who truly understand canine body language is of utmost importance to have dogs play in harmony.
Should you wish to start introducing your dogs to others consider starting with Aprils ‘Leash Your Fitness’ class to simply have your dogs exposed at a distance and under control and move up from there!