Many young dogs and puppies need to be taught how to interact properly with older dogs. Young dogs, who are bold, can have a tendency to run up to older dogs and greet them head on. This is considered rude among dogs, with more social dogs greeting each other by circling and doing the “butt-sniffing” dance.
Older, social dogs, can teach young upstarts how to behave more appropriately by disengaging, giving hard stares, baring teeth or snapping/lunging at younger dogs who are disrespectful. If this is done normally and socially, it’s all part of the puppy learning how to interact with other dogs.
Unfortunately, the first time another dog has choice words with your puppy/young dog, socialisation often stops for a lot of puppies. Owners, wanting to protect their pup from other adult dogs, keep their pup on the lead, usually a tight lead, around other dogs or don’t let the pup interact with other dogs at all. In the first instance this can cause their dog to become frustrated and then reactive towards the other dog over time. In the latter case, it leads to complete under-socialisation of your pup. Both are not good.
A way to compensate for this, is to engage your dog throughout the walk. Ask for calm behaviour before your pup goes to greet another dog. Train your dog to turn away from the other dog when he approaches. This can be done by asking the dog to hold a high value toy in it’s mouth with her back to the other dog, trade the toy for treats, let the dog greet the other dog, always either off leash or on a loose leash, and after the interaction has occurred, play a really exciting game with the toy and your puppy. This classically conditions your pup that approaching dogs mean load of fun stuff with mum/dad and that there’s a great game on the go when the other dog leaves. You also have the benefit of training your dog to come away from the other dog when called.
Give your dog constant or near constant verbal feedback. Tell him he’s good when he’s being good around other dogs, if he starts getting a bit pushy or “starey” tell him to cut it out, and immediately give him proper feedback when he stops his nonsense by telling him he’s a good dog and giving him a treat.
If your pup does get involved in a spat with another dog, the order of the day is a shed load of kibble (again classical conditioning) after the bad event. Do this even if he started it. You are not rewarding him for fighting or rewarding his fearful response if he was the victim, you are telling him that regardless of the event, kibble and play with you is always on the go and it’s not the end of the world. Walking in a group of mixed sex/mixed age dogs is a great way to do this. Plus it gives loads of opportunity for training under distraction.
I worked with a nervous toy breed a few weeks ago. The girl who owned her was also nervous because of Fifi’s small size and didn’t like bull breeds due to their unfortunate reputation. Fifi was shy around other dogs, especially big balck dogs and would tend to scream and run away. We had a great session, working at appropriate distances around other dogs and Fifi was becoming more confident. We went into an enclosed area of the park where a young woman was exercising her young, black collie cross. All was going well and Fifi was actually playing with the young black dog when she ran away, chased by the other dog. Her owner panicked and stood on the long line causing Fifi to be snapped on the end of the line. This could have been pretty disastrous as Fifi could have associated the trauma of the line becoming taut with the other dog and it could have made matters far worse. Fif was screaming at the fright and the other dog was a social superstar and immediately stopped the chase. I asked Fifi’s owner to ply her with high value treats so that she learned that this wasn’t something which was seriously bad. Fifi gladly took the hotdogs, indicating she wasn’t too stressed and after a few minutes fully relaxed and started to play with the other dog again. After that, we met two great, friendly, boisterous white Staffordshire Bull Terriers who were off leash without incident, which also gave Fifi’s owner a confidence boast around these types of dogs. This shows that even after a potentially traumatic event, your dog often has the capacity to recover faster than you do and has forgotten about it by the time it meets another dog if the event is handled properly.
Until next time