Jonah and Frankie had their first off-leash dog interaction. Jonah (our brown foster dog) and Frankie (our resident tan dog) have been living in the same house for over a month. We have been doing imperfect dog introductions (see our articles on how to do difficult dog introductions here) because when we picked up Jonah from the shelter he was very shut down. Although he was described as ‘dog-friendly’ by the shelter, he had an unknown background as a stray and we couldn’t trust him to show body language that would state he was uncomfortable. That, given the fact that he has shown tendencies to resource guard and react quickly when scared, had us slow down from our initial plan to have them out together relatively soon after picking him up. (That said, it’s always a good idea to give a dog fresh out of animal control a little time to wind down, it’s stressful in there!)
The picture above is from their first off-leash time in the backyard together. You can tell that they are both overstimulated (look at that raised fur on Jonah’s back! and how stiff Frankie’s body is!) and I will tell you that they probably shouldn’t have been off leash (without even a drag line) at that point. Directly after my partner took this picture, I called Frankie to me in a come and that ended this tense, potentially-playful, potentially-intimidating interaction. Both dogs shook it off and we re-evaluated how quickly we were introducing them. We decided although everything had gone well, the interaction had the potential to go poorly very quickly without an easy way for us to intervene and we shouldn’t have put them in that situation. Even now, after having introduced a lot of selective, reactive dogs, we make mistakes. Mistakes are a fact of life and the most important thing you can do with them is recognize them and work to prevent them in the future. This is one instance where I was glad that Frankie has a reliable recall though.
Above is a video of the first time Jonah tried to solicit Frankie in play. Unfortunately I dont’ have video of their first time meeting in person because we are only a two person household and I wanted to make sure that my partner and I were both focused on the interactions between the dogs.
In this video, Jonah is being handled by me and Frankie is secured to a tie down. I know that Frankie doesn’t have any guarding tendencies and I am familiar enough with her body language to remove Jonah from her space if she gets uncomfortable. Having a dog secured to a tie down during an introduction honestly isn’t ideal because the dogs can get tangled or feel trapped. I wouldn’t really recommend having dogs meet like this but felt comfortable enough with the dogs involved to go forward with this interaction myself.
What I think is going on during the interaction:
In the beginning, the hair on Frankie’s back is up–I interpret this as arousal, excitement, and a little bit of trepidation/confusion. She is wagging her tail and seems ready to engage him. They’re each getting to know each other by sniffing the their butts. Jonah’s body language is overall very still but upright. I think he is excited and curious and a little unsure.
When he snips at Frankie’s muzzle at 0:15 seconds, I think he is trying to feel her out and initiate play. Frankie backs up so she is not as boxed in by him. Jonah does a couple of ‘false starts’ or quick, aborted play movements. Frankie is very upright and it seems like she is trying to control the situation and not let him get over-the-top excited.
Jonah playfully (and strongly–and a little rudely) paws at her and she looms over, inspecting him and potentially trying to tone things down a little. Jonah gets excited and scrambles over to the couch and says hello to my spouse.
He jumps back down and rudely barrels into Frankie (he obviously doesn’t have a ton of finesse but she seems to be tolerantly putting up with it).
After the video cut that was the end of the interaction–we always try to end on a positive note.
The next interaction they had was on the couch (on a different day). This picture looks like it could be questionable–Frankie’s ears are back and she is kind of side-eyeing Jonah. Jonah’s ears are back and he could be focused on Frankie’s face. This picture is showing you exactly what you don’t know when you rely on a still image: context. Directly before, during, and after this photo Jonah and Frankie were raucously playing, flipping over onto their backs, scrambling back and forth all over the couch and being general wahoos. We didn’t let the interaction go on to long because they were REALLY excited and we didn’t want them to get too overstimulated.
NICE JOB, JONAH & FRANKIE!! Keep it up.