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Fearful Dog-Dog Introduction SOP


It is often easiest to introduce a fearful dog to other dogs one at a time, but it’s possible to follow this protocol using multiple “helper dogs” in a playgroup setting. 


Fight kit, fully enclosed play area, leashes (recommended), high value treats, toys (optional)


1. Select helper dogs for the fearful dog to meet. Excellent "helper dog" candidates are

  • "slow-paced" players or dogs who adjust their play style to their playmates,​

  • do not escalate when another dog aggresses, and

  • are "paws off" players: unlikely to jump on the fearful dog, which could result in increased fear.


  • A “neutral” dog who greets calmly, but does not engage in play.

  • A social dog that solicits play with bouncy movements and play bows, but doesn’t vocalize or jump to initiate play.

2. Decide on an introduction method (on-leash or off-leash)​

On-leash introduction​​s

  • Start with the helper dog or dogs facing away from the shy dog.  Use treats, happy talk and/or favorite toys to distract their attention from the fearful dog. Avoid head-to-head greetings, especially if this seems to scare the fearful dog.

  • Allow the shy dog to approach the helper dog(s) from behind or at an angle so that the shy dog has an opportunity to sniff the helper dog. Give treats to the shy dog when she looks at or approaches the helper dog(s) to help create a positive association. 

  • Allow the shy dog to approach and sniff the still-distracted helper dog. If the dog is showing fearful body language (e.g. low body, ears back, moving slowly, tail tucked, see video & also iSpeakDog), wait for more relaxed body language (wagging tail, ears high and rotated back and/or bouncy movements) before allowing the helper dog to approach & interact with the fearful dog.

  • If the shy dog moves away or exhibits increasingly fearful body language, distract the helper dog with squeaky toys, happy talk and treats while moving him away. Allow the fearful dog to approach again if she shows interest in doing so.

  • When the shy dog begins following the helper dog or reciprocating invitations to play, drop the fearful dog’s leash, but hold on to the helper dog’s leash. Monitor the play closely for fearful body language. If the fearful dog continues to approaches the helper dog and has loose, playful body language, and isn’t running away when the helper dog starts to play, drop the helper dog’s leash as well and continue to monitor. (See When to Intervene in Play)

  • Use consent tests any time the fearful dog exhibits fearful body language to ensure the shy dog is enjoying the interaction.

  • If fearful body language or aggression increases during the dogs’ interaction, separate them & repeat this protocol with another helper dog, or see Behavior Modification for Dogs Fearful of other Dogs (coming soon). 

Off-leash introduction (leashes left on and dragging is recommended)

  • Have the helper dog(s) in the play area first and distract them with treats or toys while the shy dog enters and has their leash dropped.

  • Continue using distractions to keep the helper dogs from rushing up to the shy dog and allow the shy dog to approach from behind or the side and sniff for a few seconds.

  • Stop distractions for the helper dog after the shy dog has had a chance to approach and sniff.

  • Monitor closely and pick up or step on the helper dog’s leash, or distract with treats/toys if the shy dog shows fearful body language or tries to run away from the helper dog.

After the initial introduction, and after monitoring play, record what you learned about the dog in the Dog Play Profile Sheet, as well as any interactions between particular dogs in your Playgroup Notes summary. Record specifics of what may have caused fear (e.g. type of dog or type of dog play, length of interaction, etc.)

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