Socialising your puppy
When it comes to meeting other dogs, it’s important for your puppy to feel confident and unthreatened – however, interacting and playing with too many other dogs can also lead to problems.
From a health and development perspective, play can hurt your puppy. An injury is so easy at a young age, as a puppy’s skeleton is so soft, which makes playing with bigger dogs a real risk.
What’s more, if a dog is allowed to play with every other dog it sees, it will start to feel that other dogs are its best source of fun. It may stop listening to you when other dogs are around, chase and pull on the lead, or bark and snarl with frustration when held back from playing.
It’s a recipe for creating a terribly behaved dog who would rather be with others than with you. Whereas, in fact, us owners need to become the fun factor. With toys, treats, games and training, we can build a bond with our dog that’s stronger than the one they build with others.
So it’s important to limit interactions when out and about. In social situations, as with so many things, there’s a balance to be struck.
Passing other dogs
The ability to calmly pass other dogs on walks is a key skill. So when your puppy passes a dog and doesn’t greet it, or sees a distant dog and doesn’t pull towards it, give a reward.
A fuss, treat or play session would work well. Try a lower value reward (a stroke or fuss) for smaller achievements, like responding to you calling its name when another dog is at a distance. Give a higher value reward (a treat or a play) if the other dog is close. Vary this a bit, as low value rewards can start to feel less valuable to your dog with repeated use.
There will be times when your pup can’t possibly listen to you, when another dog is simply too close and too interesting. If this happens, calmly move your puppy away to a distance where it can relax and respond to you, and give a reward. Try to stay fairly quiet, as repeating your puppy’s name or shouting may worsen their mood and show that ignoring you is an option.
It’s great to introduce positive role models – so if you have friends with calm, older dogs, consider arranging a short walk.
Don’t let them meet and greet initially. Start by keeping them both on a lead, walking parallel, with enough space between you to stop the dogs from sniffing each other. Your puppy may get frustrated, but just encourage them verbally to walk and come with you. Any whinging, barking or whining will lessen after a few hundred yards.
As you’re walking, gradually bring the dogs closer together while staying parallel. If your puppy starts to pull away from the other dog, or pull towards it excitedly, just allow a little space again and try again when they are calmer.
If either dog stops to go to the toilet, let them do so and, after they move away, take the other to sniff the spot. Dogs get so much information from scent that this is a perfect stress-free introduction for them.
You can’t control every interaction – and sometimes, you’ll turn a corner and find yourself and your puppy face to face with another dog on a lead.
Many adult dogs don’t like meeting others when they’re on a lead. It prevents them from running away or get more space, so they feel unsafe and may lash out. We don't want your puppy to learn how to do this, so let's talk about the five second meet and greet.
Unless the other dog has approached growling, barking or with very stiff body language (see below for more on body language) then it's unlikely that a five second meeting will go wrong, provided you stick to some rules.
Think of the shape of the letter ‘C’. Dogs naturally approach each other in a curve of this shape, ending with each dog’s nose to the other’s behind. Your aim is to create or allow this movement, by keeping the lead loose and circling around.
This may be difficult at first, but try not to get nervous, as putting tension on the lead may cause the puppy to show the wrong body language to the other dog. Talk in a calm but reassuring voice, telling your puppy how great they are – and try to avoid getting the leads tangled.
Once they’re inspecting each other, count to five in your head. Then call your pup’s name, take a few steps away from the other dog, encourage your pup to come with you and reward them. This is also a great starting point for calling them away from other dogs when they’re off the lead.
At this stage, it’s great practice to ask them to ‘sit’ or focus on you while you chat to the other owner briefly (without the dogs interacting) before continuing your walk.
One last reminder: don’t forget that they should be walking past and ignoring most dogs, and only getting to meet the occasional one with your permission. This helps them to learn that you’re more fun than those other dogs – that their bond with you is the most important of all.
Body language basics
Here’s a quick primer in dog body language, which can help you to read the mood of your puppy and other dogs that they may be meeting.
Threatening, fearful, possibly aggressive
- Stiff slow movement
- Tail wags short, fast and stiff, with tail position very high or very low
- Growls, snarls, front teeth showing
Submissive, insecure, appeasing (common in puppies under 16 weeks)
- Rolling onto back to show tummy
- Crawling on tummy
- Front paw lift
- Licking the other dog on the lips
Low stress signals
- Licking own lips
Low to medium stress signals
- Turning head away
- Turning body away
- Moving away
Rude behaviour – encourage them away from the other dog, as they may get told off
- Going over the shoulder blades of the other dog
- Jumping on the other dog’s face or body
- Barking in their face