Canine Social Superstars – part 2

Happy Hooper
Happy Hooper

In part one, I discussed how the way we breed and rear our dogs has effected their behaviour over the last 30 years.

On leash – dogs are now walked on a leash as they are no longer allowed to roam around the streets. Here in the UK, it isn’t required that they are on a leash in the street but since many pet owners don’t have the necessary bond with their owners or the required level of training, their dogs are rarely, if ever, off leash. The fallout of this is that their dogs never learn proper interaction with other dogs as the leash restricts their movement, body language and as a result their inter-dog communication.

Because they don’t learn this as much as they need to, many dogs greet each other inappropriately which can lead to fights. The dog who started the fight is often not the one who looks like the aggressor, so your social, civil and well adjusted dog gets a hard time from the other owner for rightfully telling another dog not to be so pushy, but it can look different to the uneducated. As a result of this, canine interactions can diminish in frequency and social skills reduce. They don’t learn the off leash communication they used to learn by having freedom to roam around the neighbourhood which they used to enjoy.

Our dogs now need not only to be friendly to other dogs but also to be able to tolerate, without reacting, other dogs which are rude, anti-social or aggressive. This is a lot to ask.

Central heating – Central heating became common place in the UK in the late 70s. Prior to that, coal or wood fires heated single rooms, mainly livingrooms, bedrooms and kitchens.  Internal doors were closed to keep heat in. As a result of this, dogs had less access to the whole house. They would either be in the livingroom along with the rest of the family where they could be monitored more closely, or they were sleeping alone in the kitchen.

In these times, internal doors in the house are open as the house is fully heated. This gives our dogs relatively unrestricted access to the house, which means the kitchen counter, the front door, windows looking onto the street, your shoes, wash basket, etc are more readily accessible and with that massive opportunity trouble.

Changes in societal attitudes – without sounding too cynical, attitudes in society have also changed. My feeling is that there is more “me” and less “we” in society which in turn means that increasingly more and more people aren’t willing to train their dogs for the community’s benefit, accept responsibility when their dog does something wrong or anti-social, and are more likely to blame others for their own mistakes and their dog’s mistakes.

In conclusion, due to all of these factors, we now need to change the way we, as dog owners, educate our own dogs to cope with living in a modern world. Obviously there are no absolutes here but hopefully you get the idea. Proper exercise, both physical and mental is called for. Tonnes of classical conditioning during puppy hood, adolescence and into adulthood is called for so to make up for the reduced natural learning which was more commonplace in the recent past and so that our dogs have a wealth of positive experiences to fall back on should somethings stressful happen. Classical conditioning to loads of stimuli in the environment will hopefully offset deficiencies in temperament which can occur due to modern breeding practices. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a plethora of well educated, responsible, caring owners. There are, I come into contact with them on a weekly basis. But there are also loads who aren’t. This article is an effort to explain why we get some of the issues with our dogs in society and what we can do to combat it. Giving your dog something do do when you are out, such as eating from a frozen Kong, means he is less likely to chew your banister and bark at everyone walking past your front door, for example. There are loads of things we can do to offset these challenges which have emerged over the last couple of decades. We owe it to or own dogs and our communities to do it.

Wishing you responsible and happy dog ownership,


Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant

One thought on “Canine Social Superstars – part 2

  1. John, this post resonates with me strongly because when I adopted a reactive rescue I realised that I was utterly clueless and had to educate myself fast. I later realised that I couldn’t trust a lot of dog owners as once I had some knowledge about canine behaviour and training, I could see that such a lot of people were clueless! You are spot on about classical conditioning and counter conditioning. But most dog owners would not have a clue about that. Humane Operant conditioning is very important too but setting the dog up not to fail in it’s various environments is the most important thing we can do as pet dog owners. As Ian Dunbar says, Operant conditioning rocks, but classical conditioning rules!

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