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My Dog & I: Single But Social

It’s a blessing to have a Dogfriend in your life!

A perfect best buddy and a patient and supportive partner who needs care in return and gives you a reason to get off the couch and out into the world…

As the two of you grow into a wonderful symbiotic duo, reading the other’s mannerisms and learning the cues and signals that communicate your secret thoughts; it seems as though the relationship could not be easier…

Now, if only we could stay on the mountain together and never have to walk down the street or encounter other people or other dogs or cats or cows or policemen or UPS drivers or… well, you know, the rest of the world!

I have recently had a lot of calls from folks who acquired new dogs or puppies when we were all in various degrees of social isolation. Many of these dogs have not had the opportunity to fully experience society due to the Pandemic. The dogs have become truly entwined with their Human Family and now believe that this environment is the only “safe” place to be. Now, as we begin to move slowly back amongst the population, our pets have no information about how to react appropriately to new friends, strangers and even other dogs.

It seems to come as an unpleasant surprise when these new encounters are greeted with fear, overreaction and even aggression…after all, if you have never encountered something, you are usually at least, cautious about how to deal with it.

So let’s talk about the importance of teaching our dogs how to interact with the world at large.

Our dogs are not behaving “badly” when they bark, lunge or jump at these new encounters…however…it is still important to inform them that this behavior is not correct and to show them “how” to behave.

Teaching your dog to meet, greet and interact with new people, dogs or situations without overexcitement involves a bit of planning.

Firstly, try to set up your new encounter safely.

Introduce your dog to the new experience in small bites,(no pun intended). Ask a friend or neighbor to help. You won’t need to get too close…especially at first, as all you want to do is accustom your dog to the existence of the new stimulus. Use a good leash and collar and try to not to take tension on the leash as you approach the situation. If you need to interfere with the dog as he is pulling against you, try to use small, firm tugs on his leash and stay calm.

Do not tell your dog, repeatedly that “It’s OK”.

Simply continue to move around and past the offending situation as calmly as possible and keep your body language steady. Do not give up until your dog has calmed down and is walking beside you again as you stay in the vicinity of the other person or dog. He will calm down when he realizes that he is not in imminent danger and that you are not fazed by the encounter. You will communicate this by quieting your body. Once the craziness has calmed, you can simply move away or stand quietly in position, allowing the dog to remember the encounter in a nice way. As soon as possible in the near future, repeat the exercise with the same stimulus. Do this as many times as you need to until the encounter is a non-event. Repeat the exercise with a different player.

For the dog that is SOOO excited to meet another dog or and you are comfortable that there will be no aggression, you will use a long line so that you can stop contact that is too rough or simply inappropriate. You can use an area that is fenced in so that there is a limited area for play and once the two dogs have met and your dog has been corrected for being too enthusiastic, you can let the line go but leave it attached so that you can grab the end if necessary.

Try to arrange play dates as often as possible.

So although your dog may not have the skills to deal with the world yet, it is not too late to show him the way… The only way to learn how to do something well is to practice so start somewhere and don’t give up and stay home because you don’t think your dog can cope…teach him how to by taking him out there.

Those of us who are privileged to have large back yards or live in the country are not always in the best place to socialize our dogs. It is so easy to simply let the dog out to exercise or play but it does not teach him how to deal with social situations and fixing that issue can be time-consuming and costly. Some of the most social dogs I have met, live in high-rise apartments and have to be taken out to walk, go to the bathroom and play with others…go figure!

So even if you and your dog live alone, remember how important it is to expose him to the Society he will inhabit. You can have an “exclusive” relationship while teaching him how to socially engage!!

– Janine Lazarus w/ Goodladd Dog Training. Hashtag Lewisburg City Paper #129. December 2020.

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