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You can learn about your dog by how he behaves when he meets other dogs. Understanding the limits is key to encouraging good behavior.
It’s natural for dogs to sniff other dogs when they meet. Depending on the individuals, this initial greeting can range from a quick sniff of the muzzle to a prolonged, almost forensic examination of all interesting body areas. You may notice that two dogs perform a little sniff ritual when meeting. At first, they sniff each other front-on, before getting down to the important business of checking out each other’s backsides. This is fine, provided neither dog is uncomfortable. Dogs are very good at telling other dogs they’ve overstepped the mark; but if yours ignores the other dog’s growls, twitches and whines, calmly walk him away before he causes offense.
Play posturing is quite natural when dogs meet, too. One dog may bow to or chase the other to instigate play. Depending on his mood, the other dog may enthusiastically accept the invite or simply ignore it. Both are fine, and your dog will most likely respond accordingly. A high-pitched playful growl, accompanied by a waggy tail to initiate play, is fine. A deep, threatening growl is not. If either dog does this, walk your dog away.
Dogs are typically alert, intrigued and a little cautious when they first meet other dogs. If your dog is over-dominant and tries immediately to bully the other dog, correct him by guiding him away with the leash. Reward him when he is passive toward other dogs. Pricked ears, raised paws and uncertain attempts to sniff are all natural. Dogs are very good at taking social cues from other dogs, so don’t worry if either dog appears apprehensive to begin with. Some dogs are just a little shy.
One dog may attempt to establish superiority over the other. Although it can be a little disappointing to see your Leonberger immediately give in and show his belly to that Chihuahua, this ritual is actually a very important part of canine socialization. A dominant dog will typically initiate and control each element of the meeting, for example by being the first to sniff. The submissive dog will happily allow this to happen. However, if dominance escalates into aggression, or submission becomes anxiety and fear, this is not cool. It’s smart to separate the dogs at this point.
The best thing you can do when your dog meets another dog is to let nature take its course. It’s tempting to step in if you think your dog is being a little rude or is being bullied, but there’s no better way for him to learn his manners than from another dog. Stay calm, and avoid communicating with your dog while he is socializing. If you tense up, he’ll sense your fear and assume that dogs in the park are something to be scared of.