Let's explore a few scenarios on "meet and greets," what went wrong and what to do instead.
You are fostering a dog and she has been doing so well at your home that she is given the label, "dog friendly" and that, in the rescue world is a buzz word for highly adoptable! She then gets a "meet and greet" set up where she gets to meet the dog of her perspective new family. Everyone is of course excited, this is the big moment and what resuce is all about; finding that forever family! You get to the meet and greet and the new family brings their dog and out and the foster family brings out their foster dog. The meet and greet consists of letting each dog run right up to each other and just seeing how they act. And BOOM; their is a dog fight. Why did we set the dog introduction up this way? What was the purposeful intent? And did we achieve the end goal?
A second common scenario for "meet and greets" is the more cautious approach of letting them walk near each other for a bit, reading body language and then taking them into the backyard of the resident dog. And what seems to have been going well turns into an almost dog fight because the family dog is now not feeling the foster dog so much in his backyard or in his house.
Another common occurence is for the "meet and greet" to not go particularly good or bad. The dogs were just sort of indifferent. Many times that leads both the rescue and potential adopter with a false feeling that things could go better if they move foward. While I would agree it is a starting point worth building from, I wouldn't necessarily jump straight to the thought process, "let's just see how they do." Assuming because dogs do not have a strong reaction, positive or negative, can lead to dog harmed once the meeting is moved inside the family's home or the dog's backyard. Or even, weeks or months later, there is a very unfortunate incident because the "meet and greet" was set up based on one meeting. Then we have what could have been an avoidable trauma for everyone involved.
Again, I am left wondering; Why did we set the dog introduction up this way? What was the purposeful intent? And did we achieve the end goal?
This leads us back to the question, "Why did we set the dog introduction up this way?" Typical "meet and greets" are inherently on human terms. When they are convenient for the people, how little time in the grand scheme of building a relationship between the two dogs is necessary, and how quickly people want results. It is too forced riddled with what people's priorities are. People want to see the dogs get along right away. And if they don't, move along to a guy who gets along with their dog immediately. Lets be honest, not many people truly want to spend 6 weeks or longer working on building healthy associations between their existing dog and their newly adopted one.
"What was the purposeful intent?" I don't think people mean to set up dog introductions to be so self-serving, but there is just a lack of education and the common experience that some dogs do just fine getting to know each other with a lackadaisical approach. And this reinforces a less careful intent behind dog "meet and greets." I would like for people to think of dogs meeting each other for the first time as a respectful process. Respectful in the sense that we want each dog to be respected, to have choice, to observe, to smell, to see, to literally create a history of reinforcement over time with the other dog. We are not giving our dogs a chance to get to know each other before we expect them to adjust to the overwhelming newness of being put in a situation they may be uncomfortable, stressed, unsure or fearful of. If we respect each dog's need to get to know the other dog we would give them time! And that leads to the process part of dog introductions. The prevalent one time hit or miss "meet and greets" have to be a thing of the past. Building any relationship based on trust, communication and helthy energy is developed over a period of time. Why are we robbing our dogs of this chance?
"Did we achieve the end goal?" The end goal of all meetings between families with dogs and the possibility of getting that new dog should always be long term integration. No one wants the dogs to hit it off in the beginning and then start having trouble later on. This happens so very often, leading to more dogs surrendered to kill shelters and being rehomed. I strongly believe that the rescue community could start to see dogs being placed more succesfully if "meet and greets" were staged with patience, progression, positive interactions, and a process oriented approach.
When we consider that dogs learn by their experiences and socialization we have to ask ourselves what accumulative effect could numerous negative meet and greets have on a dog's perception of other dog's? There is much to consider on how best to improve the manner in which we go about having dogs meet each other. If we are concerned about psychological healthy dogs who then manifest sound behavior I have no doubt we would all be setting up dog introductions in a way that the dogs could explore each other with sight and smell first, building up to a second positive walk together, a third week of hanging out near each other but leashed, a fourth week of leashed backyard and inside time, a fifth week of more walks and now sniffs, and literally like a rhythmic dance, watch the two dogs who were once unsure of each other show us they, the dogs, want to be friends. Afterall, paying attention to what our dogs are communicating gives us our best data. So lets set up those dog introductions in a way that faciliatates the healthiest behavior possible.
We would love to hear feedback on those of you who are interested in doing process-oriented "meet and greets." Tag us on Social Media so we can see your results when you implement a mindful approach.