My rescue dog Radar has always been a bit cautions with new people. Once he gets to know you, he loves you, especially if you let him crawl into your lap. But he can be fearful around new people, so we have to be careful with introductions.
Introducing rescue dogs to new people is challenging when you don’t know anything about their past experiences with humans. Of course, every dog’s personality is different. But the rules of safe dog introductions apply to all types of dogs.
Whether you have an anxious pup like Radar, or a super-social mutt, these tips for how to introduce your rescue dog to new people will help ensure good socialization all around.
In general, dogs prefer calm, quiet introductions.You should never let somebody approach, speak to, or touch your dog unless it’s very clear your dog wants the attention.
Sometimes, introducing your rescue dog to new people is as much about handling the people as the dog! Here are some general tips for introducing your rescue pup to new people:
- Read your dog’s body language. Their ears, eyes, and tails will communicate how they feel.
- Ask the person to ignore your dog at first. Too much enthusiastic attention can be overwhelming for shy dogs. Let your dog choose if and when they want to greet somebody.
- Remind new people to pet your dog’s side, not her head.
- Have treats on hand, and give some to the new person! Nothing smooths the waters of first introductions (and rewards good behavior) like a tasty treat.
If you’re introducing your rescue dog to a guest at home, lay the ground rules in advance. Before you guest arrives, give them some instructions. They should:
- Dress comfortably in clothes they don’t mind getting dirty (just in case your rescue dog hasn’t learned not to jump up yet)
- Say hello to you first before paying attention to the dog
- Stay calm and relaxed, and let the dog sniff them before attempting any pets
- Use any verbal cues you use with your dog, such as “sit” or “off”
Depending on your rescue dog’s reactions to new sounds and smells, you may also ask guests to text you when they arrive and meet you outdoors, or to enter through the door without ringing the bell.
With Radar, outdoor introductions work best to let him get used to new people.
After the humans have said hello, let your dog sniff the guest’s shoes. You can step on the leash to gently prevent jumping. Hopefully, after some initial sniffs, your dog will feel comfortable and everyone can settle in for a visit!
If your rescue dog is nervous with guests, make introductions more gradual. Consider using a baby gate to separate them so they can get used to the sights and sounds of guests before saying an up-close hello.
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As a Rover reader, you probably know to ask permission before you greet another person’s dog. But not everybody has dog experience. When you’re the one holding the leash, you set the tone.
If a stranger approaches your rescue dog, speak up and tell them how to introduce themselves. Here are some phrases you can say to signal how to approach (or not approach) your dog:
- “You can say hi!”
- “Please let him sniff your shoes first.”
- “She doesn’t like to be hugged, but you can scratch behind her ears!”
- “He’s not friendly, I’m sorry.” (Even if your dog is very friendly, this is a good one to practice for times you just don’t want to do an on-leash introduction)
If your rescue dog is in the mood for an introductions, follow the basic rules listed at the top of this post. But if your rescue dog is nervous around strangers, don’t feel bad about avoiding introductions on walks.
I often cross the street with Radar to avoid other people. Sometimes not doing an introduction is easier!
If your rescue dog is anxious or shy, though, you don’t have to hide from introductions. Instead, gradually help them build confidence with safe, controlled introductions. You can even turn to Rover for help socializing and entertaining your rescue dog with walks or daycare visits. Of course, you shouldn’t push it—remember, listen to your dog! But introducing your rescue dog to new people will help them learn to trust humans and be comfortable in the world.
As for Radar, he’s still iffy with new people on-leash, but lately he’s met several new people in the yard at home.
With time, practice, and patience, I learned what makes introductions work for my rescue dog. You’ll do the same with yours.
Featured image: Handshakes for Treats flickr/yannconz