Woo hoo and congrats! You’ve got a new dog walking client!
If you’re walking singles, adding a new dog is usually a relatively simple procedure. If the new dog is particularly shy, you may wish to take extra steps, such as arranging a joint walk or two with your client, to help you ease into Fido’s inner circle. Following that with asking your client to be home once or twice when you arrive, but not walk with you, should do the trick in most cases.
But if you’re a group walker, introducing a new dog can make for a stressful day for all involved—you, the dogs you already walk, and especially the newcomer. Here are a few tips to help ease that stress and get Fido off on the right paw with his new walking buddies.
Ease The New Dog In
Many dogs find it overwhelming to meet multiple fellow canines all at once. That’s understandable. For most of us humans, it can be stressful to be the only new person at a party full of people who already know each other.
So unless you’re adding an unflappably social dog to your group, you may want to walk your new charge with just one other friendly, socially savvy dog to start. Taking this extra time for even just a day or two can make a huge difference to a smooth introduction to the full group. Building on the human analogy, imagine how much more comfortable you’d be at that same party if you came with a friend.
Extra Tip: If time is tight, you can keep these extra intro walks shorter—for example, 30 minutes instead of your regular full hour.
Avoid Tension During Transport
The biggest contributors to canine conflict are proximity and duration—two factors at heavy play in your vehicle. If you transport dogs as part of your walking service, plan to pick up your new dog last for at least the first two or three days to minimize the duration factor.
Your other dogs are going to be very interested in the newbie, which can cause stress and lead to conflict when the new dog has no way to get away from the pressure. To minimize the proximity issue, keep the new dog separated from the rest of your group via a crate, gate, or by having him ride shotgun with you.
Extra Tips: Create visual as well as physical separation, and for safety endeavor to have all dogs ride securely in a crate or via a safety restraint.
You’ve helped your new dog make one friend to grease the social wheels with the whole group. You’ve kept him separated during transport to avoid escalating tensions that can easily erupt into conflict during or shortly after the ride to your walking location. Now it’s time for the first group walk. Before unloading the dogs, be sure you’re ready to go. Have all your gear on, your bait bag loaded, etc. You want to be ready to start walking as soon as the last dog jumps down from your vehicle.
Speaking of which, you’ll want to unload the new dog last. The other dogs have had some time to adjust to his smell during transport, and now they’re eager to meet him. Remembering the dangers of proximity and duration, we want to avoid a situation where the new dog has to stand while everyone else noses in to investigate. That’s like the entire party gathering around you in a circle to grill you about where you work, where you grew up, where you went to school, etc. Ack!
So get yourself ready, then unload all your regulars and ask them to sit politely before finally inviting the new dog to jump down. Once he does, give the “Let’s go!” cue and start moving briskly so the others don’t have time to circle around and overwhelm your new dog with all that unwanted attention. Keep moving, cheerfully chattering to your group, until you sense that the initial wave of intense interest has passed and given way to “Huh. I guess the new guy is coming with us now. He seems alright.” This will usually happen after 5 to 10 minutes, after which you can stop for a moment to see how the dogs interact. Keep this brief—just 10 seconds or so—and then get everyone moving again. If you do this a few times during your walk, the new dog should be pretty well incorporated by the time you’re back to your vehicle. Still, it’s a good idea to follow this protocol for another day to a week depending on the body language you observe.
Extra Tip: Following this protocol can be challenging when dogs need to stop in the first few minutes of the walk to poop. It can be helpful when introducing a new dog to start your day a bit earlier to make time to give each dog a chance to potty before loading up.
Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce
Keep an eagle eye on all dogs and body language signals throughout this process, and actively reinforce polite interactions. If you’re walking on leash, use your voice to cheer the dogs on and keep the tone light and happy. If you’re walking off leash, reinforce polite interactions with food treats if you carry them, and also offer special treats to the new dog whenever a group mate approaches him. This will help create a positive association with all the attention.
Extra Tip: It also helps to keep all interactions with the new dog brief, unless you can see very clearly that he’s super interested and having a great time. Do this with distraction. For example, when one of your regulars walks up to your newbie, cheer this on for a brief moment “Yay! How fun you two are making friends!” and then break it up. You can call the regular over for a treat, for example, or throw a ball. This keeps the double stressors of proximity and duration from stacking up and leading to tension.
Get a Great Start
A little extra care and time when introducing a new dog to an existing group will get your new dog off on the right paw with his new friends. It helps set you up for success, too, avoiding conflict and incident, the need to adjust group composition, or to have to lose and disappoint a new client.