Most of us simply cannot wait for this “social distancing” stuff to be over.
But what if your dog is enjoying it?
Now, I’m not referring the time you’re spending at home (although your dog very well may be enjoying that, too). I’m talking about social distancing on your walks and in public spaces.
Allow me to explain:
I recently had the pleasure of attending Nelson Hodges’ Relationship Based Behavior Modification workshop. As often happens to me at workshops, I learned how to verbalize and put words to something that I may have noticed, but hadn’t yet defined in a repeatable way. Allow me to use that information to frame this discussion.
- Anti-Social – dogs who are against interactions with others
- A-Social – dogs who are indifferent about interaction
- Social – dogs who desire interactions on their own terms – usually pushy and rude
- Pro-Social – dogs who use proper interaction as part of a social unit – their actions benefit the group
Here’s the thing folks – only the dogs in category 3 – Social – are upset about social distancing right now. The other dogs are saying, “hallelujah, strangers are staying out of my space!”
I’ve seen meme after meme from dog trainers about how nice the social distancing is at the park – because it’s keeping us and our clients from being bombarded by well meaning, but uneducated, people.
Let me speak to the owners of the “Social” dogs for a moment. I know it breaks your heart when you have to tell you super ooey-gooey labrador puppy that he can’t just run up and say hello to every person and dog he sees at the park.* But guess what? I say this with love – it isn’t about him. It’s about the shy dog who doesn’t like strange dogs rushing up into her space. It’s about the owner who is working hard to reduce her dog’s leash reactivity and is trying hard to prevent an explosion. It’s about the owner who has a pro-social dog who has no problem with you or your dog, but knows that face to face leashed greetings with strange dogs often end poorly.
Socializing doesn’t mean you have to touch, wrestle, lick, or be within so many feet of another dog. Socializing is getting out and seeing the world – taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and doing so in a responsible way.**
So maybe, just maybe, our social distancing practice during this pandemic can encourage some of you to really analyze your behavior out in public with your dog. Are you the person who asks every dog who walks by to say hi? Are you the person who always says, “but my dog is friendly!” without ever pausing to consider the feelings of the other person or dog? If so, I would ask you to consider trying to see the world from the other owner and dog’s perspective. Try to practice respectful distancing when this is all over. Am I suggesting you should never ask to pet a puppy at the park again? Not necessarily. But you should be willing to graciously accept a “no” if the owner/trainer doesn’t want to participate, and you should DEFINITELY stop forcing attention and interaction on the people and dogs who don’t care for it.
*Training tip – the folks who let their puppy spend the first several months doing whatever they want at the park, and saying hi to everyone all the time, are the ones who call me between 6-8 moths old and say, “my dog just can’t focus and he pulls me towards every dog and person in the park!” Guess what, you accidentally taught your dog that this is exactly how the park works and what he’s supposed to do! It’s okay to set boundaries early and show your puppy that the park is about the two of you getting out and having a great time – not about seeing how many people and dogs you can rush up to and smother with kisses. There are times and ways in which saying hi is appropriate – but it has to be done responsibly and within reason.
**We fully support supervised, guided playtime/social time at daycares and boarding facilities where the staff are not only supervising, but stepping in and teaching the dogs what Pro-Social behavior looks like and how to read the body language of the other dogs involved. There is a big difference between an off leash scenario like this and randomly walking head on at another leashed dog out in the park.