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Dog-dog greetings. What's okay?

A few years back I had an encounter on a walk that is very common, but a huge problem with how we view, treat and encourage our dogs to behave.

Tory and I went to a quiet area which has some tennis courts. It was early so not many people were about. We were doing some indication work on the courts and then suddenly a large dog appeared at the fence. He couldn't figure out how to get in and was pacing up and down an area trying to get in to see Tory. He was young, entire, bouncy and probably quite friendly. However, Tory isn't very social. Very similar to me. She's not reactive at all, she doesn't interact with many dogs, she just likes to do her thing rather than be around or play with other dogs. Which is completely fine. That's her choice.

So, because I knew she didn't want to interact we walked away and left the courts out a gate on the opposite side to the dog. Next thing I know, the guy has walked towards us and shouts "Shall we let them have a play?", to which I responded "No, it's okay mate. Tory isn't a fan of other dogs", to which he responded "Ah, it's alright, she'll just tell him off'.

Then, the other dog comes bounding over.

This is a big issue in my opinion.

1) Why do you want to set your dog up so they get told off?

2) Consider my dog.

3) You're creating expectations for your dog that whenever they see a dog they get to say hello.

4) If Tory does tell the other dog off and the dog leaves, that becomes reinforcing for Tory and she'll likely snap at more dogs because it worked in getting herself space previously and then my dog gets more snappy.

5) What if your dog goes back after my dog snaps at your dog?

This dog was at least 40 kilos. Tory is around 20 kilos.

When he did come over, I just kept walking. Tory followed and just ignored the dog. He had a sniff but couldn't keep up with her and then left.

There are so many problems with this. The guy must have said 'come' at least 10 times. Not once did the dog respond. The cue 'come' now means nothing, other than keep ignoring me and do what you want. The dog is also being set up to fail. If your dog gets to meet and greet every dog they see, they will get frustrated when they can't ie when they are on a leash. The frustration will then likely develop into reactive behaviour. Then you have a problem. Especially if they are giant breeds.

If a dog like Tory, is continually rushed by other dogs she will get more snappy. I don't want that. But it's also unfair for me to punish her for doing so. It's very normal behaviour. So I need to advocate for her and do what's best for her which was simply walking away. I don't care if people think I'm rude doing this. I'm walking with Tory for her. Not for me or anyone else. I'll do what's in her best interests. I'm also very anti-social, just like Tory, so I didn't want to stand around and chat to someone I didn't know either.

Dogs will do things depending on their 'reinforcement history'. Tory stays very close to us because we have created a solid history of reinforcement through ourselves. We interact with her a lot when walking. We play games with her and we do things that she likes. She's getting old now so we can't do too many crazy things so we do a lot of search work with toys instead. she loves this and so this reinforces that being around us is good. It pays very well. She's a very happy employee.

If you let your dog develop a history of reinforcement from all the things in their environment as opposed to you, your dog will likely not respond or want to be around you when you're out. If you let them greet every dog they see, then they will be conditioned to see a dog, get excited and then run off over to them. Not everybody likes this.

With young dogs, keep them on a long lead. Don't let them rush every dog they see. Interact with them when out and about. Find something they like. We use food a lot because we know most dogs like it and it's the easiest way to reinforce simply being around you.

It's a mindset shift we need. And it's common sense. Socialisation isn't about getting your dog to play with other dogs and getting told off. It's about teaching them how to behave in certain environments and situations. You need to set them up for how you expect them to behave in the future. Yes, that incorporates social interactions with other dogs, but it also means you need to teach them to ignore other dogs just as much. It also depends on your lifestyle too. If you want to take your dog to the pub, you need to teach them that that's chill time and for them to simply lie down. Unless you want them bouncing around greeting everybody which might be funny until they spill someone's pint.

And if you do decide to let your dog greet all the dogs, or most they see I guarantee it will eventually go wrong. Don't do this to your dog. Educate them. And this doesn't mean 'discipline' them. Training should be fun.

Train them. Educate them so they know what is expected as they get older. This can all be done with simple management and creating that 'reinforcement history'.

Training is play. Play is training.

Go play with your dog.

Here are some links to help you understand if you should let your dog say hello to another dog and then how to teach your dog to ignore others and remain focused on you:


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