Puppy Socialization

Dogs and Social Distancing – Keep it Up!

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.

  1. Anti-Social –  dogs who are against interactions with others
  2. A-Social – dogs who are indifferent about interaction
  3. Social – dogs who desire interactions on their own terms – usually pushy and rude
  4. 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.

 

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Photo just for attention – and because they’re adorable.  Our dogs, Ellie and Tucker, with Search and Rescue dogs Sabre and Reign.

 

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog health, dog training, Dogs and COVID-19, Fearful dogs, leash laws, owner encouragement, Puppy Socialization, Rescues, training tips | Leave a comment

Monsters are Everywhere – When You’re a Puppy

The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy!  As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.

If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it.  A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.

Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected.  As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road.  It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze.  That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.

When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene.  In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.

So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant?  You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you.  I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.

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A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:

  1. Say hi to it yourself!  If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
  2. Do not coddle your pup.  Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls.  Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
  3. Practice!  When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet.  Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!

If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety.  Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!

 

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Prince Tucker had to learn how to meet weird new objects all the time as a Future Leader Dog puppy, too!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Fearful dogs, Puppy, Puppy Socialization | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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