The word ‘social’ is used a lot to describe personality trait, especially when it comes to dogs. It’s like the Mount Everest that all dog owners seem to strive towards….. to be able to take their dog anywhere and have it get along with every other dog; no grumbling, no growling and certainly no snapping! But is that realistic?
How many people do you know that like everyone? My bet is not a lot! So why do we seem to put such unrealistic expectations on our canine companions?
Only last night I experienced a situation myself: I was training my 12 month old dog at a quiet area of a local park when I noticed a lady approaching with her dog that was straining on lead in an attempt to meet my dog. The following conversation occurred:
Me “Sorry we’re training at the moment so my dog doesn’t want to say hi”
Lady continuing to approach “Oh that’s okay my dog’s friendly”
Me “That’s great but could you keep your distance please as we’re working at the moment”
Lady continue to approach “She’s very pretty” (describing my dog)
Me “Could you move your dog away please?”
Lady continues to allow her dog to pull over to my dog. Her dog gains access to my dog and jumps on her back. My dog growls and moves away.
Lady “Oh my goodness are you going to work on that!”
Me “Work on what? Teaching my dog to tolerate begin charged at by on overly excited dog and have her back jumped on whilst she is working? Ummmmm no!”
So what is a ‘social’ dog? Is it a dog who plays with all other dogs and tolerates all manner of interactions or is it a dog who correctly reads other dog’s body language signals and responds accordingly? It’s the later! Dogs are begin social when they simply share a space. It could be sniffing, running, swimming – it doesn’t always mean touching or playing.
Many clients come to see me because their dog growled or reacted towards a dog who approached them in a manner that is….. well, rude! If an unfamiliar person came running towards you, grabbed you in a bear hug and planted a sloppy kiss on your cheek what would you do? What if they didn’t listen to you when you politely asked them to stop. What if they then started going through your wallet or purse?
All animals, including humans, will escalate their behaviour (use a louder voice) if their earlier requests for distance are not listened to or acted upon. That’s normal! It’s normal to say “no thanks, please stop, I don’t like what you are doing to me”.
So it is normal and appropriate for a dog to request that another dog moves away. These behaviours are known as ‘distance increasing behaviours’. If the dog is listened to when it is asked for distance using a low level behaviour or a ‘quieter’ voice then it will not ever need to escalate the request and use a ‘louder voice’. This is why owners should reward these signals! Remember it is okay for your dog to say “no thanks”.
So reward my dog when it growls? YES! If a growl is rewarded and acted upon then the dog will never need to escalate to a bite. Even better if you understand the earlier signals and reward these!
How do I reward my dog? By verbally praising them and moving them away or moving the other dog away. If your dog learns that you take control over the situation and keep them ‘safe’ then they will never need to escalate their behaviour.
You can also help if you are an owner of an ‘overly enthusiastic to greet’ dog by doing the following:
- Keep your dog on lead and reward it for calm behaviour around other dogs.
- Ask if it is okay for your dog to meet the other dog prior to approaching.
- Teach your dog how to greet with a handshake rather than a bear hug. A good positive trainer can help you with this.
- Only allow your dog off lead when you know he/she listens to you and you can call your dog back reliably.
- Attend further training with your dog so that you have more ways of exercising and exhausting your dog.
- Go to exercise venues where the focus is not on other dogs; sniffing walks are great!
- Build your value. Teach your dog to play with you rather than seek out other dogs.
- If you meet up with a group of fellow owners with dogs and stand stationary whilst you watch them play add movement by walking. It’s really easy to walk and talk and it draws focus away from other dogs entering the exercise area.
- Do not allow your dog to run towards an unfamiliar dog.
- Be a hero and educate other owners.
Kalmpets head trainer