Ask the Trainer | First encounters of a canine kind |

Ask the Trainer | First encounters of a canine kind

Dear Carla,

We would like to start fostering dogs for the Humane Society and may adopt one. We currently have a 2-year-old female mix-breed named Stella. Stella has an assertive personality but gets along with most dogs unless they are pushy or rude. How should we introduce Stella to any new dogs that we bring home so we have the greatest chance of success?

and#8212; Looking to expand our family

Dear looking to expand,

Kudos to you for putting so much thought into this before bringing a foster dog home! Carefully planning introductions can greatly increase the chance of success, but the personalities of each dog must be taken into consideration. It is not uncommon for two female dogs to have trouble living together, so if given a choice Iand#8217;d probably try to foster a male dog. This certainly isnand#8217;t always the case and depending on each dogand#8217;s personality things might be fine. Next, since Stella is a more assertive dog, an ideal companion will be a dog who goes with the flow and doesnand#8217;t challenge her.

Itand#8217;s best to introduce dogs in neutral territory, preferably outside in a large, contained space. Begin with both dogs on leash at opposite ends of the space. Try to keep the leashes loose and really watch each dogand#8217;s behavior. Ideally, they are interested and alert without excessive arousal. Good signs are tails wagging at half mast, wiggly bodies, soft ears and mouth, and play signals such as bows. Bad signs are direct, hard stares, squinty eyes, stiff bodies, lunging or growling, and aggressive barking. If you see good signs, let the dogs approach until they are about 10 feet apart. If both dogs still look friendly, drop the leashes and let them meet. I always leave the leashes on for the initial play session just in case something goes wrong, but if they continue to interact well remove the leashes. The dogs may jockey for position, but that is normal. Now that they have become acquainted, you can bring both dogs into the house together. Until you get to know your foster dog well, take up toys or other objects that could create competition. Also, feed the dogs in separate places to avoid food guarding problems.

If you see any warning signs when you start the long distance approach, proceed slowly. Interrupt any long, hard stares with some good treats. Walk the dogs around and gradually close the distance until you can walk them parallel to each other. Movement while in each otherand#8217;s presence can help diffuse tension. Depending on how tense the dogs seem, you may need to stop while things are still going well and work again later. The worst thing is to move too fast and have a bad encounter. If the dogs continue to display troubling behaviors, it is unlikely they will resolve their issues in a house together and you should look for a better foster candidate.

and#8212; Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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