Dogs are social animals by nature, but that doesn't mean they are born with the social skills necessary to get along with other animals. Just like people, dogs must be properly socialized early in life to help them become well-adjusted and well behaved. Starting from as young as eight weeks of age, when she is most open to new influences, give your dog the opportunity to interact with other dogs in the park, in obedience school or in the kennel.
Before you expose a young puppy to other dogs, check with your veterinarian to make sure that the puppy has completed the necessary immunizations. You can institute your own socialization program, or you can take the puppy to a puppy "kindergarten." There are also other socialization classes offered by trainers, breeders and sometimes the ASPCA, Humane Society or a community center. If you socialize your dog early, they’ll know how to behave when they are around other dogs - both friends and strangers - in the future.
If you don't socialize your pup from the beginning, they may get into all sorts of trouble simply because they don’t know any better. You may find the puppy starting fights with others, pulling on their leash, or barking and growling at other animals or people. Dogs that act this way are not malicious by nature, they are just reacting defensively or aggressively to situations where they are frightened or over stimulated. Getting your dog used to being around other dogs when they are young will help prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring. Here are some tips on how to introduce your family dog to another dog:
- Choose a neutral location. Take the dogs to a park that neither is familiar with - this may help prevent them both from feeling the need to protect what they consider their territory. Don't try to handle both dogs yourself; have another friend or family member come along.
- Use positive reinforcement. When the dogs are sniffing each other and getting acquainted, talk to them in a happy, friendly tone. This conditions them to expect a good time when they are in each other's company. Never use a threatening voice.
- Keep it short. Take the dogs for a walk, letting them come together briefly once in a while. Don't let the dogs investigate each other for too long, or one or the other could get aggressive. Distract your dog now and then by making her follow a simple command, such as "sit," and then rewarding her.
- Keep an eye on the body language. If either dog starts to act aggressively - growling, prolonged staring, baring her teeth, walking in a stiff-legged gait, having the hairs stand up on her back (called piloerection) - calmly interrupt the behavior immediately and separate the dogs. You and the other handler should distract the dogs by telling them to "sit" or "lie down" then reward them with a treat. When both dogs are calmed down, you can bring them together again, but for shorter periods or at greater distances.
- Take them home. As soon as the dogs seem to be tolerating each other without fear or aggression, and they're done sizing each other up, take them home.
These instructions assume that your dog is well-trained and has no behavioral problems that might make the introduction of a new animal difficult or impossible. It is important, no matter how well-trained the dog is, to take introductions slowly and let the dogs dictate the pace. Also, maintaining control of the dogs during an introduction is essential for their safety as well as your own. If you have more than one dog in your household, it's probably best to make the introductions one at time. It's important that your dogs don't feel threatened by the new arrival. Ensure you are spending time with each one of your "old" dogs to reassure them of their place in your family; by doing this, potentially aggressive interactions may be less likely to happen.
Some Tips for Introducing Your Dog to the "Neighbors"
When exposing your dog to other dogs in the neighborhood, use the same procedure described above. Don't interrupt the meeting as long as the interaction is not aggressive. If either dog becomes aggressive, distract your dog in the manner suggested above. By properly training and socializing your dog, and continuing to closely monitor her behavior, she will be a happy and well-adjusted companion to the other dogs, adults and children who make up your community.