One of the things that my favorite dog trainer, Michelle McCarthy, consistently emphasizes in all of her training courses is the importance of appropriately handling dog-dog introductions and her amazement at how frequently dog owners will either just let two completely strange dogs rush up to each other on leash, or just unleash two dogs (or more!) who have never met each other and let them go. Dogs are social creatures just like us. They have dogs they get along with, dogs they don’t get along with, dogs they’d prefer to not hang out with at lunchtime but might tolerate while sitting in class together, and dogs they’d like to push in front of oncoming traffic. (I think we all pretty clearly remember being in junior high.) The key to making new friends rather than new enemies generally lies in the hands of the third-party managing the introductions. Watch as Tim Racer, from BAD RAP, and some potential adopters appropriately handle introducing two dogs to one another:
Things to notice in this video:
- Both dogs are on leash and introduced in neutral territory first
- NOBODY is jerking or pulling back on the leashes
- Rather than just letting the dogs rush up to one another, they’re allowed to just “be” in close proximity to one another and interact with the people around them as they normally would
- They’re taken for a low-key walk together rather than focusing on playtime
- The people around them are talking to one another the entire time, avoiding tense silences, tones that communicate stress, and over-exuberant shouting that could rile the dogs up
- The owners continue to hang out and act casual but encouraging, throughout the duration of the dogs’ play
- Butts are wiggling, tails are wagging and play bows and low body postures are being offered from both dogs
- If everybody in the scene were also drinking Coronas, this would make a great commercial
We all experience subtle social perceptions that cause us to lean one way or another in our willingness to accept a new person and engage with them. And context will ultimately determine how that engagement goes. How many of us work in a professional environment where business or dress attire is expected? How would you react then when your new co-worker waltzes into your morning meeting in shorts, flip-flops and his favorite Captain Morgan t-shirt? You wouldn’t let it bother you nearly as much had you just passed him on the street or seen him at a pool party. But in the office, your reaction might range anywhere from moderate annoyance to telling him he’s an idiot and he should go back to his job at Burger King.
What might you expect to happen if you take a new transfer student from Venice High School in California and let her walk into a new classroom at a private school in Philadelphia? As a teacher, what might you need to do to ensure a smooth transition for her into your classroom and prevent your own students from passing judgment on her? Ask her to extinguish her clove cigarette and pull her ear buds out before walking in to a room full of foreign, scrutinizing faces staring at her? Probably. What might be the difference if her first introduction to your class was allowing them to all meet up together casually outdoors to chat about something non-school related, and then they all walked back to the classroom together? Perhaps your students could be asked to take her on a personalized tour of the school, rather than letting her–the newbie–invade their classroom space unannounced, wearing the dreaded “outsider” badge?
Our lovely, little pup, Peaches, friend to all beings–2- and 4-legged alike–is as gentle, calm and gracious as can be when meeting someone new in public. However a new dog or person walking into “her” yard or house often inspires a performance that I can only describe as part whirling dervish, part Courtney Love, with a little bit of Mike Tyson sprinkled in. She’s a lunatic. So, in her case, introducing her to a new dog, or a new person, outside the house or yard first, and then allowing them to enter together is always the chosen path to a happy, wiggling dog butt and a safe, unscathed newcomer.
As a student, I’m always relieved on the first day of class when the instructor takes the time to go around the room and let everyone say a little something about themselves. It breaks the ice, it lets us get to know one another a bit more, and it shows us that the teacher actually might care about who we are as individuals and a group (and not just about plowing through his lesson plan that day).
But perhaps even more importantly: It might be just enough of a buffer to prevent me from climbing across the table in my Ethics class and choking out a fellow student who thinks affirmative action is “unfair” to her or that I should be happy about the idea of letting my government decide what I can and can’t do with my own body as a woman.
Most of us are given second chances when our failed introductions to and interactions with one another result in arguments, or worse yet come to blows. For dogs, however, when owners act like jackasses and ignore the context in which our dogs meet and who they are as individuals, the result is very different: dogs get hurt, family pets get euthanized, and breeds get labeled and legislated against. The value of an appropriate, well-orchestrated mutual butt-sniff for dogs can quite literally save lives.
Here is a parting video of Peaches last summer after she was introduced to a new foster puppy who was a tad too confident for her taste. She proceeded to dodge all butt sniff attempts.
Countless public documents on how to handle various dog training and behavior, including Dog-Dog Introductions can be found in the Best Friends Animal Society Pet Care Library: http://www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/petcare/dogs.cfm