How to: Socializing your Dog or Puppy (the right way)
There is a important distinction between a ‘social dog,’ and a dog that is ‘dog obsessed.’
What people want is a dog that is happy to engage with other dogs and people without dog aggression, or human aggression of any kind. What they actually end up creating can be a different story.
It seems like the obvious solution is to introduce your dog to as many dogs and people as possible. But, there’s so much more to it! The interaction itself must be a positive experience for your dog! If you see your dog avoiding the dog or person you are trying to introduce them to; If they are attempting to move away, make themselves small, or if you find yourself saying things like, “it’s okay….”, your dog is NOT having a great experience! There are steps you must take to ensure your dog walks away from that interaction thinking, “hey, that was easy.” We don’t want them to be like, “OH MY GOSH, THAT WAS THE BEST THING EVER!!!!” and we also don’t want, “THAT SUCKED… PLEASE, don’t make me do that again.” We want something lukewarm; medium if you will. Let me explain…..
If we are going for Dog Social:
- Your dog can see another dog (off in the distance) and take it or leave it. Social dogs don’t get frustrated when they can’t access other dogs, and they don’t drag their owners to get to them.
- While your dog is engaged with other dogs, they are still aware of you (if you feel like your dog is “blind” to your presence, your dog is not socializing in a healthy way).
- When your dog sees a dog friend, they can quickly and easily be brought back under control, even if they are excited initially.
- During play, your dog is easy to recall and refocus.
Dog Neutral: It’s important to note that **most mature dogs fall into this category**. Dog Neutral does not mean unsocialized.
- Your dog is selective about its dog-friends. It doesn’t always enjoy playing with other new, stranger adult dogs or may have to be introduced in a thoughtful way.
- Your dog probably grew up with the dogs it likes, and those relationships are friendly and fun.
- It retreats, or growls and postures, when another (stranger adult) dog gets in their face or tries to sniff them.
- When stranger dogs try to play, they move away and seem disinterested.
- While they don’t enjoy playing with strange dogs, they are able to be near other dogs, or pass other dogs on or off-leash as long they don’t ‘get in their face.’
- These dogs are usually tolerant of, and willing to play with puppies.
Think of how YOU behave in public. Is it appropriate to run up and hug every stranger you see? How about banter (joking around) or wrestling? It doesn’t connote that you are a mean person, it simply shows you are aware of behavioral norms. Some behaviors that were totally acceptable as a child are frowned upon as an adult. The same is true with Dogs. We don’t typically accept overly touchy, clingy, childish behavior from friends. Those are considered Toxic.
Toxic Dog Behavior
Stage One Clingon: When your dog sees another dog in the distance it pulls hard on the your leash. You can ‘sometimes’ wrestle them back into compliance. Trying to use treats to control their behavior is ‘hit or miss’ when trying to refocus.
Stage Two Clingon: Your dog is pulling so hard on the leash, it compels you to explain your dog’s behavior with “He’s just so excited…” Treats are as useless as your leash. You dog is difficult to refocus until the other dog is far away.
Stage Three Clingon: While you’re trying to explain how excited your dog is, the other people can’t hear you over your dog’s barking. You can’t reach your treats without losing your leash and your dog. Walking your dog is becoming more of an upper body workout.
Stage Four Clingon: Seeing another dog in the distance gives YOU anxiety. Taking your dog for a walk is embarrassing. They are basically unaware of your presence in search of other things to interact with. They barely flick an ear at you even if you (repeatedly) call their name. Barking is become unbearable.
Stage Five Dog Obsessed: The thought of walking your dog gives you pause. Hiding behind trees and cars when you spot another dog in the distance is the norm. You know there’s a problem. Is the Dog Park a solution?
First, the Dog Park and Dog Daycare is rarely the way to go, as (as counter-intuitive as that may seem), because they can actually facility Cling-on behavior.
If you notice your dog becoming a Cling-on, the best time to intervene is BEFORE STAGE THREE. Your dog needs proper dog training to retain or mitigate their social behavior. If Cling-on behavior has developed, the goal is to get Dog Neutral. Dog training is helpful, but not miraculous. If you are teetering on stage four or five, life-long management and mitigation of the dog’s behavior is in order; dog training will *help but may not fix the problem. At that point the dog may struggle to return to Dog Neutral, and Dog Social will likely never be an option.
Here are some tips for Socializing your Dog
Focus on long-term doggy relationships (friend, neighbor, and family dogs). Monitor their play and intervene when things appear to be getting too amped. Don’t wait until there is aggressive behavior. Monitor their body language and step in early. If you need additional guidance, follow the Meet and Greet Protocol (Available on our Virtual Academy).
Avoid meeting strange dogs your dog will never see again.
Reward your dog for ignoring other dogs on walks. I know…. That doesn’t sound right!? If you want your dog to like other dogs, isn’t ignoring them the opposite? NO, not in dog psychology! Pairing a reward event with the presence of other dogs helps build that positive association, without the adrenaline and cortisol rush, or the potential for the interaction to go south!
If you feel like your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, treadmill train, teach them how to tug, and/or hire a dog walker or dog hiker, instead of doggy daycare or dog parks.
Dog Dynamix Ohio can help you reach your training goals through various dog training program options. We have locations serving Denver, Colorado and Columbus, Ohio, so reach out and let us get your dog on track.