Dear Inquisitive Canine, 

Q: I recently adopted a 2-year-old male, boxer. I already have a resident female, small, terrier mix and when introduced they did fine.

She displayed some normal signals when she seemed to feel her space was being invaded and he would back off. They are still separated during meals and when unsupervised.

My question is regarding two males interacting with one another. When I took my new dog to meet my friend’s super friendly, 2 -year-old, Labrador, the result was not the same.

Once or twice when the Lab would try to play (or what I assume was his play — vocalizing, bowing, bumping with his head, etc.), it turned into what we thought was a fight.

We had both dogs muzzled, just to be extra safe, and we’re not sure if they were actually fighting or trying to play.

As dog lovers, my friend and I just want to make sure we’re being as safe as possible with our pups. (By the way, both males are neutered, and my female is spayed.)

Thank you in advance for your insight!

A: Thanks so much for joining the conversation, and wanting to keep all the pets safe and happy!

Your boxer sounds like a good listener — backing off from his sister, listening to what she has to say. Bravo to you for all the great observations and management steps you’re taking!

As for your friend’s Lab, you say he is super friendly — this is great. You also say he tried to initiate play with your boxer, which is also great. This to me says he is open to creating a friendly relationship with your new dog.

Question for you: does the Lab tend to vocalize when playing with other dogs? Or just your new male?

If it’s his usual M.O., then I’d chalk it up to his normal play style. If he’s behaving differently, then keep an eye on things more closely.

Objectively, you’ve got two males around the same age, both with their own play style, both with different play histories.

You ask about being as safe as possible. Intact males are commonly targeted more frequently than neutered males, so for safe as possible, you’re already ahead of the game.

You could also put the off-leash play on hold and partake in alternate activities to help the two pups develop trust in one another. These social activities could be something like fun, force-free training sessions together, and/or parallel walks.

If and when the dogs show interest in one another, as if they’re both interested in playing off leash, then consider moving to that next step.

At this point, remember to reward each dog for playing nicely. You might also want to consider continuing to use muzzles, as you have been, and keeping play sessions short.

If the pups are not self-interrupting, you might want to incorporate “manners breaks” — putting them on leash and just hanging out while they catch their breath. Then allowing them to play again.

To recap, for future playdates (only if both dogs show interest in participating), you’ll want to continue to monitor, and interrupt if you think things are getting out of hand.

Muzzles are a smart way to go — at least until you can confidently determine if interactions between them will be safe, appropriate and fun. And, remember to reward the dogs for playing nicely together.

Thanks for being such a responsible, caring and inquisitive dog parent!

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and founder of The Inquisitive Canine. She and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers training and behavior consulting services both in person and online, dedicated to strengthening the human-canine bond. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, email and click here for more training tips. The opinions expressed are her own.