How do you introduce a dog to other dogs?

“My dog hasn't been around many dogs. She's an 80 lb American bully and don't wanna just throw her in a dog park and see what happens, as she's very strong! What to do? Thank you! “

I am so glad you asked this question! A lot of people wonder the same thing - how can I safely introduce my dog to other dogs? 

I am glad you have reservations about just jumping into a dog park, because for many folks - that ends badly. At dog parks, and even some doggie daycares, there are often many situations where dogs are HIGHLY aroused and apply a lot of physical and social pressure on other dogs - without much influence from humans. Too much physical pressure could look like a dog getting pumbled, body slammed, or even "jumped" by another dog - which can feel threatening and send a dog who doesn't have much social experience into a defensive mode.

Even well meaning friendly dogs can make other feel uncomfortable in the situations, if they spend too much time trying to engage in play with a dog who is unsure or uncomfortable with a dog they don't know in their space. Many young and adolescent dogs LOVE to play in a full contact, wrestle mania, way - but for a dog who is uncomfortable with dogs in their space or a dog like yours, who just hasn't had much opportunity for any off leash socializing, the full throttle play can create tension OR send your dog into crazy romp mode that she doesn't know how to control.

Not to mention, many dogs like to be the assertive ones - and if someone pushes too hard, corrects, or tries to throw the same play style back - you could have a fight. Also, some dogs at dog parks just shouldn't be there because they are not dog friendly (most doggie daycares temperament test before, but bad things can still happen if a sensitive dog is smothered by a pushy dog or dogs of different sizes/energy levels are in the same social sessions).

The reason all of those scenarios can happen, is because there is often not a human advocating for all of the dogs in the yard - OR if there is, as many doggie daycares are supervised, they are limited on what they can address/correct. Most daycares don't allow humping (so if your dog humps, they are put in time out or removed from the group which is a good thing, because humping is inappropriate and conflict starting) but they won't correct or realize a dog is smothering another dog - maybe a friendly/well meaning dog putting too much play pressure on a more sensitive dog or, in the case of all day play, a dog is hot and resting and a new less tired dog pressures for play and the tired dog begins getting irritated and feeling annoyed snaps or lashes out. We see so many dogs have bad social experiences when they are over pressured by other the obvious way of getting literally attacked, but also by being pressured too much by well meaning "friendly" dogs.

So! What does that mean for your Bully, who has never actually played with another dog? First, I'd work on calm existance on a walk past other dogs. Work on your heel and make sure your dog can calmly, and non aggitated or aroused walk by other dogs (and sure some dogs are live wires and may make her more excited, but creating a calm - non pulling heel is an exercise of control for you and impulse control for her - so work on how to keep her focused and in tune with that level of distractions). Do NOT let your dog meet any dogs on leash - just calm walking by and with (if you have friends who have nice dogs on leash that want to walk with you) other dogs.

After you've had some success in creating a more tuned in walk, I would ask your friends if they have nice, calm dogs. Not even playful dogs yet - just some very gentle and calm dogs who would make for nice neutral social experiences. If you don't, you may need to reach out to a trainer who likely had access to a "balanced pack of dogs." Then, those calm dogs can be off leash in a fenced in area and your dog can be on a Long Line - and you approach the gate. Let your dog sniff through the gate, and read that body language. Does she tense up? Are her hairs all standing up? Is she barking? Does she snap? All of those things tell me that you may need to reach out to a professional for assistance because she is feeling some tension about the experience, and as you said -- she is strong and I know your concern is being able to control her.

If her body language is loose and wiggly- perfect! If it's excited and playful, that's not bad BUT beware that could escalate into HER being the gladiator of clobbering out there, that we don't need that's why she is on the long line so we can remove her from trampling others with excitement!

If her body language was of the last two, ask your friend or another person to call their dogs away from the gate so that you and your dog can walk through without walking into the crowd of dogs. One of the ideal places for a dog fight at a dog park or daycare is at the entrance point - dogs are all jazzed up and about to collide head first as you enter. By having people move dogs away, it gives you an opportunity to get through the portal of excitement without the collision.

Now, your friends can let their boring calm pack move around off leash and you hold on to the long line and walk around a bit. Use movement to encourage your dog to move around and explore the yard, not get fixated on the other dogs quite yet.

Human rules for socializing dogs: KEEP MOVING AND DON'T PET THE DOGS. Movement keeps things from getting stagnant and dogs crowding infront of folks (which can lead to guarding and conflict) and petting can get dogs over stimulated AND create a crowd of dogs all wanting to get pet, tha can again lead to guarding of people, conflict, and a fight! With dogs who don't have a social relationship together, we want to limit as many conflict moments as possible!

In addition to humans moving around the yard to keep the dogs in motion, you also want to monitor dog proximity because spacial awareness is important. If a dog is sniffing a bush beside the fence, another dog investigating could make dog #1 feel crowded and defensive- BOOM correction or, if #2 doesn't take corrections well, dog fight. As I mentioned before, crowding people is a great dog fight waiting to happen - as is crowding a communal water bowl or all dogs circling the new dog in the yard. One dog playing "chase me" can also trigger a fight because the pursuing dogs get more and more in drive and loose more and more control of their arousal. We see it ALL the time!

So! You're in the yard with your Bully and she's sniffing around and ignoring the other dogs - awesome! Keep moving and keep the long line in your hand, relaxed - not tight. Slowly start to offer more distance. Monitor closely the first sniff greeting with another dog - ready to guide your dog away if she gets to tense or explodes, but also ready to let her play bow or roll over to be sniffed if she is being polite and submissive.

If your Bully is instead jazzed up and trying to barrel into the other dogs, it's a bit more delicate of an interaction. She could be playful, but a bulldozer - as many Bully's are, OR she could be in a more predatory mode (you likely washed out predatory earlier based off her response at the gate, however if you have any doubts you can ALWAYS muzzle train your Bully before these social sessions)! Either way, if she goes in HOT and clobbers the other dogs, you need to remove her with the long line. Likely, she wants to play, but her arousal is sky high and she is going to smother these dogs. If you friend has a calm dog who gives an fair correction, awesome - maybe that dog will let your dog know quickly it needs to cool it. However, never just "let them work it out" use the long line to remove your Bully if she continues to smother - even if she was corrected by the other dog.

At this point your Bully's arousal is off the charts and going to make socializing challenging. Loose and wiggly body language is good, but fast, tense, and choppy body language often means arousal - which can make other dogs uncomfortable fast or cause your dog to escalate their play to WAY too rough, very quickly- especially since she doesn't have practice regulating her play style with other dogs.

So! If your dog is in the jazzed up and wild category, we need to get her arousal down. The "pet convincer" is compressed air with a trigger that can work great for interrupting arousal. A firmer leash pop (before she interacts with the other dogs) can help her de-escalate that crazy excitement (like how you've been working on your calm walks), if your dog is e-collar trained, recall to remove her from engagement OR simply and interruption with the collar for being too out of her tree will help "bring her back to earth." There are many ways to de-escalate arousal, but it often needs to come from the human as a message to the dog. If you're struggling with how this can be done, reaching out to a trainer could be very helpful. Unfortunately, letting her go in - guns a blazing - may overwhelm the calm dogs which won't necessarily lead to conflict, but with the "wrong" dog could make her a target for getting her booty kicked by another dog for being rude and invading their space so intensely. That correction "could" put her in her place, but that correction could also make her defensive and cause her to fight back...we just don't know because she has never been in the situation before. SO! That's why, we the human want to correct the arousal, not the other dogs :)

And, on a final note - no matter if it is her fault or the other dog's fault for whatever conflict ensues...due to her breed, it will "always be her fault" - you know what I mean? She could be smothered by a rude golden retriever until she snaps - and she's labeled the aggressive one, when the golden puppy was in the wrong because it didn't leave her alone when she didn't reciprocate the play. This is why humans must advocate for each dog in social, and why, unfortunately, many dogs struggle in dog park situations.

I hope that helps!