Dog in couple's lap

I’m dating a really nice guy, and it’s time for him to meet my dog. Is there any way to make sure the two of them hit it off?

The first time you introduce your dog to your date can be a make-or-break moment in any relationship. You want the two of them to get along — after all, you like them both, probably a lot. So, is there anything you can do to help your new significant other make friends with your furry BFF?

It is important for your dog to have a positive relationship with your significant other. A relationship with a dog owner is typically a package deal: Your boyfriend needs to understand that your attitude is love me, love my dog.

I was fortunate in this respect: My Pugs liked my husband, Ben, from the very start, and he was easily able to make friends with them. More importantly, the fact that he understood and appreciated my devotion to my dogs made all the difference to me. It may take your dog a while to warm up to your boyfriend, but if your boyfriend is willing to make the effort, that says good things about his commitment to your relationship.

Your Dog Knows Best — Or Does He?

We may trust our pet’s reactions to people, and while they are often accurate, it’s not realistic to expect your dog to make your dating choices for you. A dog cannot necessarily differentiate on his own between people who are friendly and those who may pose a threat. In fact, your dog may respond negatively to your boyfriend, not because he’s a bad person, but because something about him is unfamiliar to your pooch.

Dog trainers like to joke that a tall man with a beard and a deep voice will scare the living daylights out of a dog, especially if he’s wearing a uniform or a hoodie or a hat. And if he’s riding a skateboard? Forget it. You’ll probably wind up with a terrified dog.

Of course, this is only partly true. Your dog may like men with beards, but be uneasy around men with glasses, especially if most of your male friends sport beards, but not glasses. A dog is most likely to be comfortable with people who seem familiar to him — so if your boyfriend looks dramatically different from all the other men in your life, this may make your pooch nervous. If your dog tends to treat anything out of the ordinary as dangerous, your new boyfriend’s height, voice, facial hair or clothing style may seem like a threat.

For this reason, it’s important to expose your dog to lots of different kinds of people in a positive, safe way. Encouraging a dog to bark at some men and make friends with others can create an unpredictable and potentially risky situation for everyone involved — and it can make it harder for a potential date to break the ice with your pooch.

Introducing Your Date and Your Dog

So, what can your boyfriend do to foster a good relationship with your dog? It will depend largely on your dog’s personality. Some canines need to take it slow when they are getting to know a new person. If your dog has a more reserved personality, your boyfriend may want to play hard to get. Suggest that he ignore your dog when he’s at your apartment or house; this lets your dog approach at his own pace. Encourage your boyfriend to sit with his body turned slightly away from (rather than facing) your dog. Avoiding direct eye contact with your dog can also help relieve some of the pressure your dog may feel when your boyfriend is around.

A shy dog may do better if he can make the first approach. Ask your boyfriend to avoid reaching out or leaning over your dog; instead, he should let your dog initiate any interaction. You might need to help your boyfriend read your dog’s social cues: A sniff of a leg, for instance, isn’t necessarily an invite for petting — it may simply be your dog’s way of trying to figure out who this new person is. When your dog is interested in connecting, he will most likely exhibit loose and relaxed body language, accompanied by signs that he is seeking social interaction, like standing or sitting in close proximity to your boyfriend, or leaning on or rubbing against him.

If your dog is standoffish but not necessarily shy, your boyfriend should approach him gradually. Focusing on a mutually enjoyable activity can be a way for them to get to know each other without putting too much pressure on either of them. Arrange for your boyfriend and your dog to do something your dog really enjoys. For some dogs, a game of fetch is a good way to make friends. Other canines enjoy showing off their favorite tricks in return for treats (have your boyfriend do the treating). A walk or a trip to the dog park — with you, of course — can also be a wonderful way for your boyfriend and your dog to get to know each other.

Other dogs are more gregarious and friendly. These pooches may warm up right away — in some cases, a little too fast. Warn your boyfriend in advance if your dog is the type who has never met a stranger he didn’t love. Making friends with an outgoing canine is less of an issue, but it’s still going to be important for your boyfriend to solidify his connection with your dog, as they likely will be spending a lot of time together in the future. Reward-based training can be an excellent way for your boyfriend to bond with your dog, while also establishing some boundaries.

Once your dog and your boyfriend start to form a relationship, encourage your boyfriend to interact with your dog on his own. Playtime, walks and cuddle time — with and without you around — can all be ways for your boyfriend to get closer to your dog.

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