In this blog I will discuss why it is perhaps that your dog performs unwanted behavior’s when you meet other dogs. In a recent poll on social media, dog owners were asked what is the one behavior that you would change about your dog given the opportunity. The most common response was problematic dog interactions/socialisation. Why did their dog behave this way or that way when they met other dogs? Or why did their dog not react at all when out on walks?
I think it useful to remind ourselves that dogs are a pack animal and they have social rules. In their natural environment, they interact with their pack naturally and without the influence of humans. One pack of dogs would not think O’ look there’s another pack, shall we go over, say hello, and play? So dogs meeting and playing together on an ad-hoc basis isn’t natural or what we might describe as a friendly, playful manner. The other pack of dogs may present a threat, and so they would not be welcome.
All too often when we arrive at a park or open space and we see other dogs running and playing together we think to ourselves “oh this is fantastic it’s really busy today……. go on boy, go and play…..or in other words…….. go and wear yourself out!
I would suggest that first and foremost we take into consideration what nature has determined; what will there their character, confidence, and temperament be? If a dog is confident, then this dog, in my experience will interact differently to a dog that is perhaps anxious and lacks confidence. Now the lack of confidence could be innate or maybe it’s a direct result of previous negative experiences? Therefore, when an anxious dog finds itself presented with a dilemma, a position which it isn’t naturally comfortable with, then it will be less willing to proceed.
Alleyways are good examples because these present the dog with limited space when they are confronted by the oncoming dog, not to mention that they are likely to be attached to a lead. Therefore, they have restricted movement, which equates to restricted options. Nervous dogs do not like restricted options. Alternatively, a confident dog will be comfortable with the approaching dog or perhaps even interested and wanting to greet (seek information about) the other dog. A balanced, happy-go-lucky dog may simply walk on by.
So now that we have taken into consideration the dogs’ character, confidence, and temperament, we should then consider the dogs’ breed, sex, age, and previous experiences.
Most puppies are inquisitive and will approach other dogs in a playful manner. However, a senior dog may regard the puppy’s approach as unwanted or even disrespectful. This may result in the senior dog correcting the puppy.
A puppy is unlikely to recognise the senior dog's body language and so it will carry on bouncing around regardless. Therefore, depending on the senior dog's character, confidence, and temperament, and whether it is attached to a lead or not (restricted options) it is likely to either tolerate the puppy or correct it; vocally, physically, or both. This correction method is how a puppy learns in its natural environment. However, the puppy is not in the natural environment, they are attached to their owner. Therefore, it’s the owner's responsibility to teach the puppy how to interact. The playground rules if you like.
Failing to teach the puppy how to play in a way that us humans find acceptable is very important. The expression “just let them get on with it, they will work it out” in my opinion, is a poor choice and something, unfortunately, we hear all too often. If the senior dog is allowed to correct the puppy, then this will reinforce the behaviour, and it will become a learned behaviour for the senior dog (I behaved like this…. and this was the result).
The puppy on the other hand, is at risk of learning by mistake rather than being guided by its owner. This result potentially for the puppy is losing confidence in their owner, which may result in the puppy making decisions of their own in the near future…..”I don’t want to get bitten again so I’ll bark, bark, bark….hey presto the other dog stayed away….I didn’t get bitten….so this is how I need to behave. Great….errr no!
So in order to progress, to modify our dog's behaviour it’s important that we are mindful of breed traits, identify our dog's character, confidence, and temperament, think about the environment and the other dogs present.
As I mentioned, there are other factors too, such as the sex and age of the dog. As an example, a young, confident two year old male who approaches another confident male dog who is six years of age, may present the owner with some issues. Likewise, a young female dog could be regarded as competition for a senior female dog. Or is the female dog about to come into season, is in season or recently finished? Likewise, is the male dog intact, boisterous or not (neutered)?
There are leash handling skills that you can practice when walking your dog. This technique maximises the options available for your dog.
Prevention is always better than intervention.
And finally, every behaviour that our dogs display is a natural behaviour, it’s only in the domestic environment that they are unwelcome. By understanding your dog, you can begin to address the behaviours which you feel are necessary in order to live in harmony with your dog and all those around you.
Dog Behaviourist are well placed to help you with your concerns regarding why your dog behaves in less than positive ways. At Dog Trainers Kent, we have many years of experience in helping owners modify and manage their dogs’ behaviour. If this is of interest, then accompanied walks are a great way to begin your new journey together. Please complete the contact form for further information and assistance.