How do I get my dog used to other dogs and animals?

Dog and cat lying next to each other on the floor
Going back out into the world can be a big deal for a dog that has been at home for longer than we would like. You can help your dog adjust by giving them some foundation exercises and experiences. If your dog is already of a timid, anxious or nervous disposition, talk to your vet or a behaviourist first for advice that may support them to get started.

1. Experience builds confidence

The first step is to begin your training at home. Once confident, you can then progress to your garden, followed by gradually finding somewhere near your house. By doing this, you will have built a relationship with your dog and they will be learning to trust you. You will then be in control, so your dog won’t feel the need to take control themselves. This experience should be fun - by choosing motivational techniques with lots of rewards and a positive attitude from you, they will enjoy learning about new things.

These are some aspects of training you can try:

  • Walk on a loose lead
  • Come back when called
  • Leave on command
  • Pay attention (watch and listen)
  • Sit and down
  • Settle
  • Wait
  • Interactive play (with a human!)
  • Controlled greeting

Little steps will build on each other and aid your dog’s transition from staying in to going out.

2. Creating the scene

Once outside, your dog will come into contact with a number of interesting and unusual things that they may not be used to. These could include:

  • people
  • other dogs
  • other animals
  • traffic

You can first introduce some of these unusual sounds by downloading some music online or purchasing a CD.

You can begin the process of introducing your dog to another dog by using a stuffed toy as the other dog as a first step. Operate the three-second rule - let your dog slowly approach the stuffed toy, wait no more than three seconds, then with a treat under their nose call them away and reward them as they come to you. Continue with this little game so that it is more fun to come to you than it is to approach the toy. In the outside world you don’t want your dog to jump over every dog they meet or pull you about.

Another exercise would be to walk past the toy using your loose lead exercise. Keep your dog’s attention and practice the ‘leave’ word and reward them when they do. Your dog will soon learn that it is advantageous to pay attention to you because you will reward them.

You can also ask your dog to sit or lay down near to the toy and not to interact at all. This is great preparation for real life as it gets them used to not interacting with distractions, and remaining focused on you - giving you better control as the owner. Learning to control your dog on their harness and lead will be key to your dog behaving well around other dogs.

It is important to note that many dogs are over-interested in other dogs, having had great experiences with their littermates. Therefore it might take some time and repetition with these exercises for your dog to understand. Use different distractions, such as toys and food, always ensuring that only positive reinforcement is used, i.e. by rewarding with treats and a toy. Never pull your dog away by its lead.

3. Make sure your training and outings are lots of fun

If your dog enjoys being with you, the rest of the world won't matter. You can add in searching and hunting games to keep them interested. To play these games, you can take a supply of treats and toys. They can be scattered and the dog can then find them. You can also hide them behind a tree, in long grass, or on a fence.

If you see a dog in the distance or nearby, as you get closer, use your training exercises to bring your dog’s attention back to you and then give them a game or a ‘treat bomb’ (multiple treats scattered on the floor). We wouldn’t let a child go up to every stranger we meet – there is no reason why your dog should either.

You can do these exercises on a long lead or long line. Dogs don’t have to be off the lead to have fun and when choosing your treats, make sure they are high value to your dog. Use what they love (within reason!) to compete with the novel smells, sounds and sights that are all around your dog.

4. Social distancing is your friend

Before you go out, have a training and play session at home to take away some of the initial frustration and excitement your dog may be experiencing. This will help them go out with a calmer attitude.

When you do venture out, go for quieter areas where you can stay well away from everything and allow your dog to take in things slowly and under your control. It would be risky and potentially dangerous to just let them off the lead without ensuring you can fully control their behaviour.

It is hoped that when approaching other people and dogs, the other dogs will be under close control and applying the social distancing rules. If not, or if your dog starts to stiffen, look frightened or vocalise in any way, turn away and go in a different direction. Taking the dog away from the problem until they can cope better will make it a better experience for your dog. More training will help your dog cope with these situations in future. Make sure you don’t just pull them away, reward them for coming away and have fun as you go.

If you are struggling with any of the above. Your best option will be to find a good dog training instructor who is organising small group training sessions outside. You can refer to our list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you. Make sure when you contact them, you explain your dilemma so they are able to help. They will be able to set up situations so that your dog can meet a calm adult dog that gives off all the right body language. The best way for your dog to learn is from an expert.

5. Seek out the novel

This is a great time to find those novel experiences that you can build on, e.g. walking past livestock on the other side of a fence, walking near traffic or simply sitting and watching the world go by.

Enjoy your dog and make the most of your special time together.

Please note: there are many different ways to train your dog. This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice. 

For more information and advice, you can find training classes with The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Training scheme, browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.