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How to let your dog meet other dogs safely

Our dogs will inevitably come in contact with other dogs. This blog post is designed to help owners allow their dog to safely interact with other dogs and address common questions.

Read time: 4 mins

Whether it be at dog daycare, walking on the street, or bringing a new dog home. Is there something common between these that as owners we should always do?

Patience and knowing your dog’s body language is most important!

There are some dogs who won’t ever want to meet other dogs, and there’s some dogs who will be social butterflies.

In general, know who your dog is and tailor their interactions accordingly. Some will enjoy the environment of doggy daycare and some would much prefer to be on their own, so you need to understand who your dog is.

If your dog is reactive or aggressive in the company of other dogs it is always best to seek professional help from a qualified behaviourist. 

Is your dog timid or fearful and unsure of other dogs?  Giving them the time to build their confidence and learning how to focus on something positive is important. There is no quick fix and time and patience is key. You can try walking in an open park, a distance from other dogs while distracting them by saying “look at me” and rewarding with a treat. The more they see that nothing scary will happen while being near other dogs the more they will become confident in that situation. 

Let’s say we’re bringing a new dog home to meet our other dog. How should we stage their first meeting?

Your dog’s house – your home – should not be the first place the encounter happens. That’s likely to encourage territorial behaviour. An unknown dog appearing on your dog’s turf will more likely incite defensive behaviour and make them want to protect what’s theirs.

Meet on neutral ground and let the dogs passively gather information without putting pressure on them to interact. In a quiet park or even by going for a walk together. However if you’re introducing a puppy to an older dog walking together might prove to be difficult given the puppy wont know how to walk on the lead and may in fact antagonise the older dog by jumping and trying to play. A safe neutral space is best. 

Attaching long lines or leaving leads on but trailing on the ground is the easiest way to resume control if the energy is getting to high and you need to pull one of them back. Short bursts and leaving it at a good place is better than energy levels escalating into an argument.

Tips for meeting dogs in public places.

When they do meet other dogs and are on a lead, good practice to get into is letting the lead become loose. This way they won’t feel restricted when they go up for a sniff to say hello. If you’re at a stage of them being off lead and their recall is good keep an eye on their body language, and that of the other dog. Be ready to call them back to you. Keep those first meeting interactions super-brief, a maximum three seconds. Let your dog have a quick sniff then call them to you, “Rover Come, Good Dog” and move on. Having treats with you for rewarding them is an excellent idea.

This will help your dog to disconnect from things, and just move on with you. So it becomes an automatic behaviour for them. Better to practice this in a quieter park too, as anyone knows when walking in parks that picnickers share there are plenty of distractions.

In conclusion

Each dog is going to be different.

Let their personality dictate how you interact with them, and how they interact with others.  Work within your dogs limitations and boost their confidence slowly.

Doggy Daycare’s aren’t for every dog but finding one like Darlo Dogs where they give individual attention is important for a well balanced dog. We work with your dog to slowly build confidence and give them the time and space they need. Never forcing a dog to play. (read our post about socialising puppies).  

Socialising a puppy

Puppy-hood and adolescence is a huge opportunity to shape your dog into a well socialised, adaptable and happy dog.

This blog post is will give you a foundation advice to get you off on the right foot.

Read time: 3 mins

Overall, here’s what you need to do

The main thing is let the dog feel safe throughout.

You want to let your dog experience all the events that he or she would encounter in their adult life. You want them to experience all those things, but in a way that the dog isn’t made to feel anxious or fearful. During this socialisation period (from 3-17 weeks), it’s crucial for them to experience new sights and sounds.

Any negative experiences that occur during that period can be a catalyst for potential adult phobias and other problems, so it’s a fine line.

You want your dog to feel safe while they’re encountering the wide world. So, a good approach to take is known as the traffic light system, where if your dog is showing body language that is indicative of a positive emotional state, you have the green to keep going.

If the dog is a little bit tense, take a step back and re-introduce the event at a lower intensity, and work at their level, not at the level you think they should be at.

Let’s say we’re introducing our dog to  new experiences. For example, taking them for a swim, or walking a noisy street. Either of these can be too much and the dog shows a sign of panic. What actions should we take immediately, and then how can we re-introduce them to either one of those activities?

In those examples, it has clearly been too much too soon, and I would hope that any prospective puppy owner would think twice before throwing them in the deep end, but say you take your dog somewhere, and something totally unforeseen happens, and your dog shows signs of a negative emotional state. The only thing to do is take the dog out of that situation immediately.

Let the dog come back down to baseline, let their stress hormones completely normalise, which can take a few days. Then, make a note of what set your dog off, and figure out a way to re-introduce your dog at a much, much lower intensity.

Say you were walking near a train station, and really noisy coal train came past, and the dog cowered, retreated, or exhibited behaviour that shows the dog is in a very negative emotional state. Tail down, cowering behind legs or wanting to be picked up for example. What you could do is play a YouTube clip of a train noise, when the dog is at home in an environment where he or she always feels safe. Play that at a super low volume while giving them treats, and build from there.

How much contact with other dogs should your dog have during the puppy phase?

As much as your dog can tolerate.

One of the common things for most people to do is go to puppy preschool, which is great, especially those that are hosted at a vet’s office, because then you are confident that the information you’re receiving is from an expert. A lot of professionals offer socialisation packages, or puppy preschool packages, which should also be considered. Another alternative is to take them to a dog daycare where there are other dogs of the same age an energy level. At a place that focuses on young puppies your dog will be would be monitored and watched during all interactions. Taken out and given a rest when they find it too much or the play becomes too much and energy too high.

Another option would be contacting friends with calm and well socialised dogs and spending safe time with them.

Spending time with other dogs will allow teach your dog social fluency, and develop the skills to help themselves navigate social interactions. For example, your dog can learn to politely request distance from other dogs (e.g. by becoming stiff and looking away) and additionally to respect those signals coming from a play partner.

Not socialising your puppy with other dogs will be detrimental to them

It’s very crucial during the adolescent phase that dogs learn to interact with other dogs in a safe manner. They learn how to socially signal things, and most importantly, they know how to respect another dog’s social signals.

You see a lot of dogs that people may think are friendly, but in reality, are bullies, because they will solicit play from another dog, often very rough play, and will not care that the other dog is sending it very polite, “please leave me alone” signals.

In extreme cases, if you were to avoid all contact with other dogs your dog might develop reactive behaviours. This is where the dog doesn’t know how to handle experiences that are new. Aggressive attack mode can sometimes be based in fear. Under-socialised dogs often can’t cope and response appropriately to stressful scenarios, so they react defensively in an effort to maintain a buffer from the “scary” stimulus, whether it’s a small child, another dog, a bike or an plastic bag.

Can we train puppies as we would when they’re an adult?

Yes.

Training should happen as soon as you get a dog. A dog is always learning, no matter the age. So you want to be consistently reinforcing as much as you can, as well as, discouraging things that you don’t want the dog to do.

As puppies they crave the stimulus training gives them, which means they’re going to be a lot more adaptable and more willing to learn. Whereas as an adult, it can take a lot more repetition. For example, a senior dog that hasn’t learned to lay down, will take a longer time to make that connection, because the dog’s had a whole lifetime of doing different things, and not getting anything of value from laying down when given a command.

Creating a safe space for your dog

It is highly important to have a safe space for your dog to have access to.  They seek a place of calm and safety in times of stress.  It can be a crate,  a mat or a space under a table…somewhere that is just for them. A place where all the fun things happen –  where treats magically appear, special dog chews arrive and the best dog toys live.

If you are consistent you can eventually train your dog to go to their place on cue.  For example, if your dog is noise reactive, you can place them in their safe place to assist in lowering their stress levels.  By showing them that they can find solace away from the situation they aren’t comfortable with.

Familiarising your dog with the place can be reinforced through training. Call your dog to their place on cue, choose a signal, for example say “Place!” or “Matt”, lure them there with a treat, and then reward them “Yes! Good Girl!”  Repeating until your dog takes comfort in this space on their own or on your signal.

What should humans avoid doing around a dog’s safe space?

You should avoid doing anything that could be perceived as negative event for your dog. Once you’ve gone to the effort of making the space a positive one, avoid any negative actions to encroach on their space. Such as letting strangers touching them or high energy children approach the dog if they are in their safe space. Don’t clip their nails or even brush/comb them in their space. Nothing that will give off a negative vibe.

All of those things could be viewed by your dog as potentially quite negative.  They could lead your dog to view their space as less safe and instead resort to other ways of protecting themselves.

How you can prevent a dog from sitting in unsafe locations (i.e. behind doors or under cars)

We mentioned earlier about positively charging a space. If you’re not doing anything positive with a particular space, chances are the dog’s not going to really favour it. The exception would be if you’re absolutely doing nothing, in which case the dog will choose what spot suits him or her and it won’t necessarily suit you.

The best bet is to decide where you want the dog to be, i.e. a comfy bed, and positively charge that space. Give the dog a treat whenever they go there. Give the dog a Kong or other interactive item that will occupy them, which they don’t get until they go to their safe space.

If your dog is in an unsafe location, you are better off calling the dog away instead of getting up and forcibly removing them. The dog may consider “under the car” is a safe space, so you don’t want your dog having experience with you being the one taking them away from somewhere where they’re comfortable.

You want it to be their idea, so you’re better off calling them to you and using a high value treat if you need.

What’s happening in a dog’s mind when they are in a ‘safe place’?

As to their specific inner workings, as much as we’d like to say that we know, we don’t. However, we can assume if the dog is choosing to seek out this location and the dog is showing behavioural signs that he or she is relaxed, you would think that the dog enjoys being there because the dog has a choice of whether to be there or not. If they’re engaging in relaxed behaviour, and better yet, if they’re engaging in curious, inquisitive behaviour on top of that, that’s a really good sign that shows that the dog at least has a positive emotional state.

Should you train a dog in their safe place?

We wouldn’t really recommend much training much besides, “Go to your place and lay down,” on the safe space. Mainly because we want it to be a location where the dog experiences low arousal, which is low excitement and calmness. Things like snuffle mats, food puzzles, Kongs etc are fine to give your dog in the safe space.

The caveat, obviously, if your dog isn’t used to these items, say you’ve got a rescue dog that’s had a very limited history of seeing and experiencing these things, we’d advise against just throwing them a toy and saying, “Here you go. Enjoy.” If the dog doesn’t know what it is, that might actually be a bit counter intuitive.

Conclusion

It’s relatively easy to promote a dog to use a safe place. Once they’re there, keep the interactions positive and minimise any negativity.

You might have a hammock, or your favourite spot on the couch. And this dog has a tea cup 🙂

Leaving your dog at home – how to improve their situation

As a dog daycare, we make a living off people leaving their dog with us while they work. That said, we understand there are many times you must leave your dog at home, this blog article is designed to answer some common questions about keeping your dog happy on his/her own.

What’s the best way to keep your dog happy while you’re out?

It would depend on the dog and their personality, what they find enriching, and their learning history.

Generally speaking, with a well socialised dog, you want to provide them with plenty of enrichment. This means providing an outlet for them to engage in natural species-specific behaviour like foraging and sniffing.

Sniffing is probably the most important thing that you can let your dog do, it’s their primary sense. The act of sniffing can be intrinsically calming to a dog. Engaging in sniffing helps them lower their heart rate. If you think about it, sniffing is a lot less intense than panting so, by slowing their breathing rate, you slow down their heart rate.

Some dogs will perform other natural behaviours. For instance, some dogs really like digging. In this case you might want to give them clamshell pools filled with sand and water. There’s others who might like chewing, and you give them frozen kongs, bones, again, depending on your dog. For some dogs, it’s not safe for them to have bones. So, you’ve got to tailor it to the individual.

I live in a small apartment, my dog can wee on the verandah, what other things can I do for their benefit?

There’s plenty of things you can do.

You can make what is called a snuffle mat, which is essentially a rubber mat with bits of fabric tied in to knots and that almost resembles grass and you can sprinkle treats or scents in there and that will get them sniffing and foraging away.

There’s also some natural scents have been shown to reduce anxiety, such as lavender. Obviously, you’d want to introduce it at a low intensity. You wouldn’t want to get a strong diffuser because their sense of smell is a lot stronger than ours. Feel free to get creative here.

How do you know if your dog is capable of spending a long period of time away from you?

You’ve got to see it. The easiest way is to set up a camera. Ideally, you want to see if the dog is engaging in behaviours that are indicative of a positive emotional state, and you’d want a low to moderate amount of arousal (physiological/behavioural excitement).

If your dog is really active and energetic the whole time, that’s probably indicative that they’re quite stressed. It they’re laying down or resting, that’s likely a good sign.

With this in mind, you’d want to watch them because if they were, for instance, almost catatonic in their expression when they’re laying down, that’s probably indicative that they’re shut down and not enjoying themselves.

You want to see some sort of indication that they’re comfortable, (i.e. loose body language) and the ability to sniff and explore in your absence. If your dog is slowly plodding around, sniffing something and then moving on to sniff a Kong- that’s likely a good sign. You want signs that they’re relaxed and calm.

How can you help your dog build independence?

Again, it depends on the dog. Some will have a clinical case of isolation distress where they’re exhibiting signs of a significantly negative emotional state and those dogs are the ones where you’ll need to enlist a professional (such as a veterinary behaviourist) because you might need medication to help your dog build that tolerance.

Let your dog dictate how long it’s comfortable being alone and then just build on from there.

For example, puppies are going to panic very quickly when they’re left alone. So, what you want to do is get them used to engaging with something like a pig’s ear, a kong, or a snuffle mat while you walk around the house, at first, and then you can work on being in a different room.

Then, you can work on leaving. If you train your dog to lie down and stay, that can also be really helpful. You can practice stay as you visit different rooms, and then working on leaving the front door, and you can do that for longer, and longer, for up to about 30 minutes. If you they’re lasting 30 minutes and showing signs that they’re calm, they’re not likely to get isolation distress.

What are the best interactive items you can leave for your dog?

Probably a kong or puzzle feeder. The reason for that is, especially if you’re using that for part of your dog’s dinner or breakfast, it’s letting them work a bit for their food, forage, engaging that natural foraging behaviour which is really, really valuable.

A lot of people just plop the bowl down and the dog eats. That’s all well and good but these animals, in the wild, would be foraging for food. So, if we can provide them with that mental stimulation and getting them doing things instead of them just laying there, that’s going to be really helpful, especially for those people who work full time.

How should you behave when you return home to your dog?

Some people say totally ignore your dog, which the idea behind that is you’re not reinforcing excitement. We would slightly recommend against that. Our suggestion would be that you return in very passive manner and you can acknowledge your dog, as long as you don’t do anything too exciting or interactive.

However, if they’re jumping around, just go and do your own thing, do your errands, check the mailbox and everything else. Don’t make a big deal because dogs have shown that they can respond to our emotionality and our excitement levels.

We want to make departures and arrivals, uninteresting to the dog. So, if you act like it’s no big deal, that helps to communicate that.

In summary

The key is to tailor it to suit your dog because it won’t be one size fits all. Allow them to do natural species-specific behaviour, but the way that looks will differ depending on the dog.

So, whether you’re literally just scattering treats in the yard, which you might do for dogs that haven’t had that much socialisation, or giving them a puzzle feeder which would be better for the more active, well socialised dogs- it’s all valuable.

We all need mental stimulation to be happy 🙂