When l see people trying to introduce a dog to another dog for the first time, l often see them trying so hard to see the two dogs play like they have known each other for years.
I want you to imagine this scenario:
You just move to a new neighborhood. You don’t know anyone. Your next door neighbor rang your doorbell to introduce themselves.
You open the door with your children, trying to act polite, getting ready to smile and shake hands; yet, the first thing that happens once you open the door is a big boy rushing through the door screaming and pushing your little girl on the ground, “lets play! Come on! What are you waiting for? Come on! Let’s have some FUN!”. He tries to pin your girl down, he tries to hug her, he tries to wrestle with her, he will not stop chasing her when she backs away.
You were expecting a hand shake, may be a few nice polite exchange, perhaps a gift...
But you are getting a very in-your-face “let’s party” type of greeting that is usually only found between people who have known each other for a while. You are shocked. Your girl is scared.
And your neighbor asks you innocently, “what? Aren’t your daughter friendly?”
How would you feel? What would you do?
This is what l see all the time when pet owners try to introduce two new dogs to each other for the first time.
They think “success” is when the dogs wrestle and chase each other like they have been friends for years. They think it is a failure if their dogs do not want to play. They think something is wrong. They will look disappointed. They will try to “encourage” their dogs to say hi to their “new friend”.
They are looking at this scenario from a human perspective, which is largely based on what we see in dog parks and movies.
If you look at it from the dog’s perspective, you will see a very different picture.
In the animal world, invasion of personal space is rude and inappropriate. When dogs meet each other for the first time, there are social rituals properly socialized dogs follow. If one dog is acting like a crazy hyper boy and the other dog is expecting a brief exchange of names and a “nice to meet you!”, it can creat a lot of awkwardness and stress.
If you are the owner of the dog who does not want this “let’s party right now” approach from another dog, you need to step in and protect your dog.
If you have a dog who does not know how to approach another dog politely, you need to teach your dog some proper manner.
The goal of dog introduction is not horse play; it should be acceptance.
Acceptance is not necessarily about acting like crazy. Acceptance can be just two dogs relaxing next to each other, two dogs respecting each other’s space and acting respectfully next to each other.
If your dog is like the little girl who did not appreciate being pinned to the ground by a big boy she didn’t even know the name of, and this happens to her all the time, she will feel really stressed whenever someone rings the door bell. “O no! I don’t want to meet them!”
The only way the girl will feel better is if the mother stops the big boy before he has a chance to tackle the girl.
As advocate of our dogs, we need to stop rude dogs from stressing out our dogs with their inappropriate behaviour, or else, our dogs can become anxious, reactive, and aggressive. That is something we should watch out for when we introduce a new dog to our dog. The goal is not to see them horse play, but to creat a positive first impression for both parties.
That is why going to a dog park to meet other dogs can be a very bad idea. Your dog can learn rude greeting behaviour from other dogs - who act like the big boy in the example - and think it is the proper way to greet. Your dog can feel uncomfortable and stressed and learn to growl, bark, and air snap at the other dog because you are not doing anything to keep the rude dogs away from your dog. And your dog will learn to think that seeing another dog means instant “let’s PARTY” regardless of what the other dog may want to do.
What your dog will not learn in this “let’s PARTY” setting - which is ironically what all well socialized dogs know - is how to greet politely with a handshake without intruding.
It is not a good idea to put a dog in a “let’s PARTY NOW” mindset all day long. It is not natural nor comfortable for any dog to be constantly stimulated. If we expect dogs to always go crazy once they see another dog, we are conditioning them to default to instant over stimulation and we are teaching them to always act impulsively - just like that crazy big boy.
That is why horse play is never my goal when l introduce two dogs for the first time. My goal is not for my dog to ever feel like that little girl or to act that that big boy; l aim for acceptance through display of proper social manner. It could result in play, but it is not necessary. Whether they play or not is not my measure of success; my focus is on whether they feel comfortable and accept each other.