Diamonds in the Ruff
Why We Don't Have Play Time
Should your puppy have dog friends? Of course!
Yes, it is important for your puppy to learn to "speak dog" and have dog friends. It's as much fun to watch your puppy romp and chase with his own kind as it is for him. BUT ... your puppy also needs to learn to be calm and polite.
We don't have "free play" in classes, but they do have the opportunity to meet other puppies politely and learn the hardest thing, to be able to work and learn in a group of new dogs and their families. We encourage you to make friends with classmates with similar personalities and play styles and get together during the week to work and socialize. This can be the start of a life-long friendship - and a successful sleep-over can turn into a babysitter for that next vacation!
What we all want for our dogs is to remain calm and not lose their minds and jump all over dogs or humans. To be able to take our dogs with us on vacation and pass others politely on the sidewalk or walk through a farmer's market with a calm dog.
We live in a day and age of dog parks and day cares. People misunderstand the term "socialization." They go out in the world looking for every dog and person as a potential social event for their dog. Puppies grow into adolescents with high excitability and little impulse control. At the park, you hear them calling "it's okay, he's friendly!" as their dog barrels toward you. Their dogs do not come when called, they don't follow normal canine social etiquette. Their owners are not good neighbors. Dog fights and injuries result. Even if no one is hurt physically, trust is shattered, and dogs become fearful and reactive toward other dogs as a result.
We need to talk about the fall-out of too much of a good thing. We are seeing a greater problem in recent years of over-stimulated dogs who lose their minds at the sight of another dog. These dogs become frustrated, they bark, they lunge, and far too many have no use for their owners if another dog is on the horizon.
ABC dog training
These dogs really are everywhere.
They are often mislabeled as friendly by the guardian/owner as that is how they are seen by them.....They barge right in to "play" with other dogs the second the lead is taken off, before then they are straining, bursting out of their skin to get to whatever they are desiring at the time....and allowing dogs to do this is half the issue.
This behaviour has been rewarded by the "play" and fun of interacting.....Why would they behave any other way around other dogs?
They are not friendly.
Dogs do not consider these dogs friendly either.
These dogs take no time to assess the situation, their energy is off the charts and they immediately assert themselves into play, and demand interaction from other dogs.
They cannot read cues, or they completely ignore them when given by other dogs.
Reading other dogs play styles is non existent.
Focusing on you or redirecting is impossible.
There is absolutely no impulse control or emotional self regulation.
These dogs are often seen at a dog park running from dog to dog in a hyper aroused state and they often have an almost manic appearance, all of this causes fights, injury, stress and is a direct causation of reactivity occurring in either dog.
I have used the term "socialisation" but socialisation is NOT play....it never was....it is about calmly accepting other dogs exist through controlled exposure.
That calmness allows self regulation, allows reading cues from others and impulse control is practiced.
As a society we have a twisted view that socialisation means dogs play with all other dogs....and they should get on.
The reality of TRUE socialisation is the opposite.
If you do have a dog that has these issues...you can help (but if you reach out to a good behaviour modification trainer, you will save yourself years and years of issues).
Teach engagement with you in ever increasing distractions.
Practice and learn calmness....it is a skill.
Manage the environment for calm and limited exposure at a distance....and reward calm.
Praise and reward when they look away from the other dogs....that IS praise worthy.
Mental enrichment with these dogs helps everything.
Learn the body language of your dog (and others).
You are not alone in struggling with this behaviour, it is very common.
Take a chance that your dog CAN behave in a different way, they just need to be shown how by you or a great trainer.
Limit where and when they can practice this behaviour......and most important dog parks and meeting endless other dogs will do nothing but fuel all of this behaviour.
Your dog is attending classes to learn to mind his manners.
Dragging against a tight leash toward a playmate, getting all worked up before they even get there, and then engaging in high arousal play until you get the leash on and drag them home again is a recipe for disaster. You are teaching your dog to pull on leash, to have no impulse control, to value getting AWAY from you. You are making all the things you complain about worse. He won't come. You can't catch him. He is looking for fun that isn't you. He can't wait to escape you to get to them. Is that the relationship you want?
We encourage our students to make friends and get together to go on walks, train together, and have play dates where their puppies spend as much time just hanging out, sniffing and napping, as they do playing chase and wrestle games. To avoid high arousal frustration that can turn into rudeness or even aggression.
We teach owners to NOT allow their dog to meet everyone and everything ... saying hello is the exception, not the rule. And always, release to go play is granted in return for calm, mannerly behavior. We talk about how dogs can get hyper-focused on people or dogs and this ends up not working out well for anyone. We practice attention and basic skills in class.
We also teach our owners how to say NO to strangers, which is the hardest part. We encourage them to practice with us pretending to be obnoxious dog lovers so that they get the muscle memory to do it in real time. Holding the hand up in a stop gesture can be quite effective, and strangers will often understand if you tell them you are working on ignoring distractions. Owners need the words because they can get tongue-tied.
There is something about the social contract that makes it hard for some owners to put the needs of the dog over the needs of the stranger. We try to help them get past that.
Students practice calling their dogs away from interaction to take breaks to calm down. Then give them permission to choose to go back ... or not. If either puppy says “no thanks, I’m done” ... humans must honor that choice.
We stress that the pup chooses to go greet the stranger ... the stranger can’t walk right up to the dog (so we know that the pup actually wants to greet).
We do treat for sits and other appropriate behavior during greetings, especially when they call away from the interaction successfully.
We also teach them to just go out and watch the world with their pup, no interactions expected (except fun with the owner).
“If everything else is more exciting than you, how much fun is that?” seems to hit home with many.
Dogs who have been attacked rightfully prepare for the worst. If you were mugged in an elevator, you'd probably get off on the wrong floor if someone who even slightly resembles the mugger's type got on with you, especially if it were a similar time of day or situation. Your heart rate would go up and you would be thinking of ways to escape or protect yourself. And that's not dominance. That's anxiety and fear. Always encourage him to leave if he needs to. He doesn't want to attack them, he wants them to go away.
I would avoid unknown dogs while out on walks. You don't know if they are safe. A lot of people who have dogs with issues set out to meet every dog they can, thinking playing with lots of dogs will help them. Your answer is "no, thank you." Even if the owner says, "It's okay, he's friendly!" there's a very high likelihood that they may not be. Or they may be "too friendly" and rude. Nice dogs with poor social skills can be worse than anti-social dogs. You can't afford another bad experience - even a minor one. And you can't afford to have him learn that acting out makes scary things go away, or it will become his "go to" choice whenever he feels stuck. You can't un-ring that bell. Err on the side of caution. If he isn't comfortable or responds to another dog's communication as potentially dangerous, I'd trust his opinion. He speaks dog better than we do.
Here's a good article: Over-stimulated, Overly-Friendly Dogs (diamondsintheruff.com) The dogs that this article is written about are probably the type of dog that make him the most uncomfortable. And here's another thing to consider. He may not be anti-social, he may just be growing up: All played out: social maturity in dogs. (sit-pretty.ca)
SHOULD YOUR DOG MEET STRANGE DOGS WHILE ON A WALK?
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.