Diamonds in the Ruff
Helping My Dog Meet Other Dogs
Does your dog need "dog friends" to be happy?
Ask your dog! Some dogs enjoy the company of dog friends. Some dogs could do without. All they need is you. And that's okay.
The first rule of meeting and greeting is safety. Small dogs are at risk not only by virtue of their comparative size, but also of being mistaken for a squirrel. You can never be too careful - you just don't want to seem worried. Be calm and positive. If you panic, so will your pup! Even with my larger dogs, I never take chances. I have a 1.5 year old 20 lb. dog and I slowly scoop her up and move away if she's at risk. If there's an oncoming dog and they are on leash and under control, I make a large curve around their path of travel to increase distance so my dogs feel safe and it's clear to the person that we aren't interested in meeting. Sometimes I cross the street, so we don't have to pass in tight spaces.
It took a while for my small pup to hop into the car by herself. (She was also a little reluctant because the car made her queasy.) As her tummy settled and she got to go more fun places, she became more eager and started making the jump herself. She wore a harness so I could be ready to spot her and assist as needed. In the meantime, we did lots of practice in the house, hopping on and off foot stools for treats and we walked on railroad ties around the garden and at the park to increase her confidence. We parked the car close to the curb and worked on hopping from the ground onto the floor of the car for treats, because a vertical leap onto the seat was just too high. She still needs a run at it, even now, and I still lift her into the back of the SUV.
As for greeting dogs you don't know - I avoid off-leash dogs like the plague and generally say, "no thank you" when someone asks if their on leash dog can say "hi" if there is ANY doubt in my mind that the dog is questionable or the person isn't capable as a trainer to know when to call their dog out, or if the dog would come if they did. (And remember, I have years of practice observing thousands of dogs and people and I rarely say yes!) And, even if the dog was clearly fine and the person was awesome, if my dog says, "no thank you" my answer is "not today!" I would never ask my dog to forsake her feelings of fear or safety so I can let another dog invade her space. I want my dogs to know that I will always listen to their needs and keep them safe. They always have the option to avoid situations that worry them. When they know they can leave if they need to, they will be much more apt to show interest the next time, because they feel safe in knowing that you will help them opt out if they change their mind.
This article is about Over-stimulated, Overly-Friendly dogs, but I want you to look at the picture of the overly friendly dog greeting a small dog and remember that picture when another dog wants to meet yours. This is a greeting Larry does not want to have. Then compare that picture with the video that I have attached with the tiny Pomeranian interacting with the larger pup. Note that the handler of the larger pup is keeping their leash low to avoid lifting the dog's posture and is limiting the distance, but not keeping the leash tight. The man with the Pom is allowing the pup to approach if he wants and retreat to take a break. This is week four of Puppy Preschool. On the first week in the classroom, Mushu the Pom hid under the chair or shivered on his mom's lap. He bluff-rushed, barking at every dog and human who showed him any notice or got too close. He's still cautious with strangers but worked with us a little in class and felt comfortable playing near the neutral owners of his chosen playmate.
Here is another article to help you help build Larry's confidence: Helping Your Worried Dog.
Between 7-9 months adolescent dogs go through a normal secondary fear period where they are more easily startled. So a certain amount of caution and startling at wights and sounds is typical. I label anything that might be concerning in my cheerful voice and let them know if there's something coming that might startle them so there are no surprises that catch them off guard. Example: "boof boof" worried look - "Yay! It's the mailman! Let's go see what he brought us!" or "Big truck, yay!" "Here comes an Airplane!" "Look Arbee, it's a kitty on TV!" (Yesterday, she lost her mind over a cat food commercial because the cat was peering over a countertop and suddenly jumped.) Early on, I scattered treats for her to scarf up right after I announced what she saw or heard.
Your dog is not maladjusted if he'd rather hang out with you than go run with all the dogs at the dog park. Some people would rather read a good book than go to a party and make small talk with people they don't know.
Appreciate your dog for who he is.
While he is still small enough to carry, you can walk the Centennial Trail where he can observe a variety of sizes and breeds of other dogs from the safety of your arms. As far as actually meeting other dogs, the main thing is to make sure the dogs he is meeting are healthy, vaccinated, well behaved and well-socialized - which you don't know about dogs you meet out in the real world. Pick friend's and family's dogs that you know are appropriate and will provide a positive experience.
The best dogs for him to meet are calm and don't really care about him. Hanging out sniffing in the lawn is better than wrestling or being chased and knocked down or learning how to play high arousal, play fighting games. Retrievers are 'mosh pit' full body contact sport players. There is nothing a herding breed hates worse than being knocked around. They prefer polite greetings and games of tag with minimal touching. They are put off by in-your-face gushy types who come in too fast. Exposing them to that over and over again tends to quickly generalize to "all dogs are rude-stay away!" reactions. Make sure dogs he meets are kind, respect his personal space needs, and aren't overwhelming.
Set up a play date. If you have a friend who has a calm, healthy, vaccinated, well-adjusted, socially-experienced dog who will be a good mentor for your puppy, invite them to come over for the afternoon or go play at their house. Want extra socialization? Schedule sleep-overs at a trusted friend's. The goal is to seek out situations where calm dogs hang out together and go sniffing together. It isn't about "playing" or wearing each other out. Crashing around, wrestling and mock fighting, or chase, tackle and pin games can teach poor social skills, not good ones.
My vet said he needs "more socialization" - what does that mean?
Usually it means that your dog lacks social experience and is therefore uncomfortable with new people, animals, places, and/or things. The goal of socialization is to help the dog relax, build confidence and replace suspicion and defensiveness with trust. The dog park contains way too many unknowns to be certain your dog will have a safe, confidence building experience. especially for dogs who lack good experiences.
At the dog park, there are no assurances that these are safe, appropriate, vaccinated dogs. You won't know if their owners have off-leash control until it's too late.
Illness and Parasites
If you have a young puppy that has not finished his complete vaccination series, do NOT take him to any public place where unvaccinated dogs may have been - especially the dog park. Viruses can live in the soil for a very long time. A dog park is a breeding ground for any number of viruses and parasites that can be spread via the soil, water and air. Upper respiratory viruses are much more likely to be passed around the playground than in training classes, day cares and boarding kennels where vaccinations and health checks are required before enrolling.
Parasites can be picked up through contact with feces and by drinking water from puddles in common areas where fecal matter has been. Bacterial infections and giardia are common issues as they can live in a wet or damp environment for a very long time.
Other intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms, live in the soil and can be easily passed on to your dog if it ingests these eggs by licking his feet, eating dirt, etc. If you are a regular at the dog park, have your dog's stool checked routinely by a veterinarian for intestinal parasites.
"It's all fun and games
- until someone ends up in a cone."
Another problem owners should watch for in a dog park is co-mingling of big and little dogs. Serious injuries - even death - can result from the injuries inflicted to a small dog by a larger dog.
Dog fights also can arise between dogs of any size, so owners must always be watchful of their pet to make sure that safe play is taking place and redirect before things get tense to keep fights from breaking out between dogs.
If your pet is not properly socialized for this type of interactive play, altercations are likely to occur.
Many dogs don't like to play with dogs they don't know. Much like many people are more comfortable hanging out with close friends than going to big parties where they don't know anyone.
Thank you, Robin Bennett for this great meme!
For more information on reading dog body language, attend the "What is My Dog Saying?" canine communication lecture held monthly at Diamonds in the Ruff. And to learn more about Dog Park Safety, check out the "What is My Dog Saying at the Dog Park?" presentation HERE.
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Photos by Margaret Duclos