“My dog doesn’t like other dogs… I’d like him to be able to visit dog parks and play groups and not have to worry.”
“My dogs have been fighting on and off for several years and I’d like it to stop. I can’t take them anywhere and I can’t have people over.”
“Our 6 year old (Mastiff/Bulldog/APBT/GSD/Husky/etc.) is reactive to dogs on walks and has trouble greeting. We would like to work on this and hopefully be able to get another dog someday soon.”
Honestly folks, I could go on and on… E-mails and calls like this come in all the time. Maybe when you read the above you see something akin to what you’re going through or perhaps we’ve even referred you to this particular blog in hopes to broaden your view… if that’s the case – please keep reading for the sake of your relationship with your dog. If you’re just visiting, have a new four legged friend or are contemplating contacting us – this will still be a useful read for you. Even if it’s only to see if we’re on the same page as far as training philosophies go.
Socialization is a word we hear often in the dog world. Of course it’s mainly directed towards puppies when people discuss it and there’s a reason for that. Just as with human children and all adolescents of any species, we have a time period when we’re young where we are the most impressionable. We’re basically sponges and absorbing everything around us. While this is an incredibly fun age it’s also a lot of work if you’d like to have a well rounded dog… and even despite your best efforts you may still end up with a dog who grows into something no one could have expected or that simply doesn’t fit your world very well.
This is something to consider when getting any dog, no matter the age… but specifically for puppies… please always remember that this moldable period within their lives only lasts for so long. When you start reaching the ages of 3, 4, 5+ years old and a dog has been repeating unwanted behaviors for a good chunk of their life, you’re in for a very uphill battle in changing those behaviors. A lack of confidence, fearful responses, aggressive responses and overstimulated responses in dogs are not something that is solely a choice for a dog. After a while it also becomes an ingrained neurologically conditioned response, chemically altering a dogs mind state whenever certain “stimulus” is present. In some dogs no amount of treats, love, corrections or time will change this.
A simple example would be doorbells. Everyone’s dog struggles with doorbells just about. Day after day any time that bell goes off something exciting happens. Depending on your dog, it’s either a good anticipation or a scary one. Most are conflicted with a bit of both. They learn to anticipate every time they hear that sound something is happening. A burst of adrenaline hits every.single.time they hear that bell. Often times multiple times a day.
Have you ever anticipated a phone call? Waiting… waiting… more waiting. Maybe it was a good one from a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while or perhaps one from your boss where they’re upset with you. Depending on how you’re viewing the situation, what you feel when your ring tone goes off changes how your body responds. Similar to that frustrating alarm clock buzzer in the morning.
So how does this apply to aggression in my dog? Or my dog not getting along with other dogs? Or my dogs fighting in the home? Well… all of these responses from your dog towards other dogs/humans/scary things… also have conditioned chemical responses as well. If every time you saw another human being there was conflict – wouldn’t you begin to anticipate it? Would you still be as excited to go outside? Would you calmly greet other humans with a handshake if you knew they might punch you in the face?
One fight or “incident” with your dog and another dog is not forgotten 5 seconds after it happens. Particularly ones that live together. It injures the core of the relationship between the dogs. Should something similar happen at a dog park and your dog never see’s that dog again – that doesn’t mean your dog won’t be nervous or lash out at new dogs in anticipation of another fight. Dogs, by design, are predators. Depending on your breed of choice this also changes their response greatly. Many breeds (the ones in particular I listed above in my example “email”) are not often deterred by fighting. They may not start it but walking away from one is difficult and the more times this is repeated and they learn conflict has a high rate of probability, they anticipate it more and may even begin starting the conflict themselves.
It’s often stated that all aggression is based in fear. What I think isn’t usually clarified is that while it may have started as a fearful response, over time, after repetition, the dog becomes incredibly confident in their response and believes this is -in fact- what is supposed to happen when they interact with another dog. The more the owner allows bad repetitions and exposure, the more ingrained this becomes. The dog stops offering other things and being social becomes less appealing every time. This is where they stop offering that handshake and just begin lunging and putting on a display every time they see a dog or hear a jingle of a dog tag around a blind corner on a walk.
So what is to be done about this? Well, I ask you to consider the breed you have first and foremost. Your adolescent German Shepherd Dog isn’t bred to befriend most other animals. Protecting, herding and being a part of a singular pack of their own people and perhaps another dog or two is what they’re made to do. So no, they shouldn’t be friendly to every stranger. They should be alert to incoming potential threats and it’s your job to help them navigate the world and learn who is “okay” and who isn’t. If you aren’t sure how to do that – contact us. If your GSD is now 5 years old, has nipped several people over the years and hasn’t been social with dogs since it was a pup – it’s not going to begin doing so easily now. Improvement can be made but being realistic is important.
If you own any sort of bull breed… please… stop taking them to dog parks. It’s like putting a Great White into a tank with gold fish. Or throwing Mike Tyson into a ring with a kindergartener. Or sending Ted Bundy into a sorority. Bad jokes aside, it’s not that bull breeds will always start a fight. It’s not that every single one is aggressive towards other dogs or animals. It’s that if, and usually when, an argument takes place – no one there is equipped to handle a dog that strong and that intense when they decide to go after another animal. Again, do your research. Learn where your dog comes from. Even if it’s a mix, read up on what may be in there. Dogs were bred for a purpose for a very long time and if your dogs purpose had nothing to do with being social with other dogs – more than likely dog parks aren’t for you. Believe it or not, dogs have no concept of “pack life” aside from those they live with. They have no expectation UNLESS you set one. “Friends” is a human term and is not generally how dogs see strange dogs they have no relationship to, just as we don’t with strangers.
Last but not least – BE REALISTIC. In almost every e-mail we receive, there’s usually going to be a statement made where the person notes that “they want” something. It’s more about what the owner wants than what the dog is capable of. Look at the age of your dog, its past, its breed and it’s overall temperament and most of the time you’ll have your own answer before even speaking with us. I wish we were able to work miracles but we aren’t. Sentient beings have memories, they develop habits and they have feelings just as we do. They more than likely don’t want to go to group play and just because you may want to go doesn’t mean it’s possible for your particular dog. If there’s trouble in the home, you likely have a lot of rebuilding to do and the relationship may never be the same. In some cases it can’t safely be rebuilt and other options should be explored. If your dog has never shared a home with another dog, has not socialized with other dogs throughout most of it’s life and you suddenly bring in a puppy - don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t take kindly to it. Contact us beforehand and we will help as much as possible.
What’s more than likely possible – is working on your dog being neutral. Learning to take in new scenarios with less anxiety and more confidence is almost always doable but this does require knowledge on the handlers part on how to manage and control interactions so they are as positive as possible for the dog. Learning how to stack the cards in your favor is the best way to work on socialization at any age, breed, temperament, etc. and this is what we love helping people do. Navigate the world with your four legged companion safely with both your needs and theirs in mind.