Ice Breakers (03/07/07)

Dear Zelda,

Recently I started a graduate program and I'd like my new friends in the program to meet my old friends.  Do you have any fun ideas for "icebreakers" I might use if I put together a party at my apartment? I've been to several parties where people just stand around and seem afraid to meet new people. I don't want that to happen at my party. I'm looking for some fun suggestions from you Zelda.

Party Planner

Dear Party Planner,

You came to the right party animal for icebreaker ideas. No one likes a good party more than I do, and no one likes a bad party less than I do. I can’t stand those events where you, well, just stand nervously wagging your tail and feeling like everyone else is a stranger. It’s always a challenge to bring together groups who don’t know each other, but a few simple tricks can help lighten the mood.

To begin, set the scene and make it fun. One way to do this, and to get everyone involved, is to have a theme party. For example, you could turn your apartment into an Italian street scene. Deck the place out with red and white checked table cloths, empty Chianti bottles with candles stuck in the tops, and some clothes lines hung with dirty laundry (okay, maybe I've gone too far here, but be creative). This type of party isn't costly; in fact there are a lot of good, inexpensive Italian wines and non-alcoholic Italian sodas that work well with this theme. Add a variety of tasty pizzas, a crisp tossed salad with Italian dressing, a big bowl of scrumptious spaghetti and you're set. For dessert, everyone loves ice cream so pick up some colorful Italian fruit gelatos and accompany the gelatos with waffle biscuits.  If you have a sound system there are many good CD's available on my favorite is La Musica from Italywith Bruno Bertone and, of course Andrea Bocelli’s Amor is always a hit. The dress can be casual and comfortable; there’s no need for the high-end Italian designers like Gucci, Fendi or Prada. This is an Italian street scene, so jeans and t-shirts work. The point is to make it a fun, silly environment where everyone can relax, people who don’t know each other have something to talk about, and you all have a good time!

Once your guests arrive a great icebreaker that will help your old and new friends  meet, greet, and maybe even remember some of their names would be to have everyone introduce themselves with alliterative sentences: "Hi I'm zany, zippy Zelda and I'm zealous about Zen." Or, "I'm kooky, kinky Ken who is keen on karate." Once everyone has introduced themselves you can challenge volunteers to rhyme off all names quickly.   Pick up a great bottle of Barolo wine for the winner.

If an Italian street scene doesn’t tickle your fancy, try some other fun theme. The point is, it's your party and you’re in charge. If you're having a good time, so will everyone else. Buon appetito!


Dear Zelda,
Since you are the diva of doggie behavior, I hope that you can help me with a little situation. My ten-year-old bulldog (Lili) seems lonely, so we are getting a new puppy (he is about a year old.) Lili is kind of territorial. I want the new puppy to feel welcome and I want them to be friends. How can I “break the ice” when I bring the puppy home? I am afraid Lili might be mad or upset! Help!
Worried in Wisconsin
Dear Worried,

Fortunately my owner learns from her mistakes, and one of her biggest canine errors was how NOT to introduce a new four-legged family member for the first time. When Zoe and I met, our owner assumed it would be love at first sight. Wrong! She brought Baby Zoe into our home without understanding the importance of correct canine ice-breakers. I was caught off guard, and not knowing anything about this new intruder in my kingdom, barred my teeth and let Baby Zoe know she was not welcome. It wasn’t a declaration of war, but it was close, and it took us a long time to get over it. So I’m glad you’ve asked for suggestions on the proper protocol for pet icebreaking introductions.

Lili is ten, and obviously she’s ruled in your home. It has been her kingdom, and the only way “Queen Lili” will share her royal realm with a new young dog is if you plan their ice-breaker introduction carefully. I recommend that you choose a new and neutral location with which neither dog is familiar, like a park or playground. Lili will be less likely to view your new dog as a territorial intruder if she meets him outside her castle, and she will be curious about this new young “Prince Valiant.” Ask a friend to handle your new dog and keep both dogs on loose leashes. Eventually let Lili off leash to sniff her new friend. This is normal canine behavior. It’s important that everyone remains relaxed, but observant of both dogs’ behavior. If you sense trouble brewing, take a time-out with the dogs. Ask them to “sit” or “lay down” and redirect their attention. Once they regain their composure you can take them for a walk together, again letting them investigate each other at intervals. Continue with relaxed responses, simple commands and some small treat rewards.

When “Queen Lili” and your new dog seem to be tolerating each other’s presence and the investigative sniffing has tapered off, you can take the two dogs home. Keep the new dog on a leash and let Lili show him around. In the beginning, remove toys and provide individual eating and drinking bowls, so there’s less to fight over. You may need to have the young dog sleep in a crate or another room during this initial ice-breaking period.  Your supervision is critical. Praise their good behavior, but don’t ever leave the two dogs home alone unless you separate them or until you are certain that they have worked out the rules about who rules. We’d all like a peaceable kingdom, but that will only come once your two dogs have established a healthy hierarchy. You may have a King and a Queen in your castle, but trust me, only one will rule. I speak from experience, and in my house, let me tell you, it’s my ring you have to kiss.


*** If the icebreaker introduction doesn’t go smoothly, contact a professional animal behaviorist. Conflict between dogs can often be resolved with professional help.