When it comes to friendship, dogs are a lot like people: True friendship lasts a lifetime. Think of your dog and his favorite canine companions. As they romp, run, roll, sniff, dig, and jump together, try to remember how these relationships started. Was it friendship at first sight (or sniff)? Or did it take several encounters before they realized they could get along with each other?
Fact is, first encounters for dogs are complicated events. Dog begin to size each other up very quickly. Sometimes a dog’s behavior during the very first meeting determines how—or if—the relationship will develop. And how long does it take to lay the foundations of a solid, lifetime friendship between two dogs? Some trainers believe it only takes three seconds.
More and more trainers are encouraging dog owners to abide by the 3-second rule. Here’s how it works:
- Select a neutral location for the dogs' first meeting. That way one dog doesn't have a "home field advantage." Or disadvantage, as the case may be. After all, if one dog is on his home turf, he may feel that the "stranger" dog is invading his space.
- Keep the first encounter to a mere three seconds in length. It sounds like a fleeting flash of time, but a lot can begin to happen between dogs in those few seconds: sniffing, judging, and quick bursts of aggression or nervousness. The idea is to keep the meeting brief enough so that neither dog establishes dominance and that both dogs remain calm and comfortable.
- During these crucial three seconds, watch the dogs, not a stopwatch. Pay attention to the dogs' body language. Immediate growling, "staring down," or a stiff tail usually indicates that at least one of the dogs is uncomfortable. If you notice this type of behavior before the three seconds are up, cut the meeting short. And remember, one of the best ways to help dogs remain calm is for the dog owners to remain calm.
- If all went well during the first 3-second encounter, give the dogs a short break from each other (a minute or two is usually enough), and then bring them together again. The second greeting can be longer, but remember to watch for behavior that can indicate one (or both) of the dogs is uncomfortable. During this second meeting, the dogs can get more personal by sniffing each other. Some people use this second encounter as a time when the two dog owner’s take their pets for a walk together. By walking, the dogs remain close but not in physical contact. And the walking activity serves to distract them while keeping them engaged.
Is the 3-second rule a good idea for your dog? If your canine companion has a history of socialization problems, he may need more intensive training with a professional. When in doubt, ask your dog’s trainer for his advice.