Some dogs need space
Some dogs need space! As a dog trainer one of the most common problems I see is dog to dog reactivity. Many dogs find socializing with other dogs very difficult for various reasons. They may be fearful of other dogs because they have had bad experiences or they may never have had the chance to develop social skills with other dogs due to social isolation in their puppy-hood. There could also be a genetic factor which contributes to fearful behavior.
There is a critical period during a puppy’s development where they learn how to cope with potential scary things. If they are forced to face these fears or are not properly supervised during ‘puppy play’ they can easily develop fearful behaviours.
When a puppy is exploring something new they will repeat a ‘greet and retreat’ ritual whereby they approach the situation slowly, sniffing to take in information and deciding how it makes them feel. They will then retreat by moving away again to process their emotions and have a tiny break. Then they will repeat their approach and over a period of time they may then interact with the new situation when they are ready.
When puppies meet another dog for the first time they will do it in this very careful way. Problems can arise with puppies who are chased by other dogs or who are held in one spot by their lead as their owner is chatting and not watching what is happening. The ‘greet and retreat’ ritual is then impossible so causes huge anxiety in the puppy because they cannot decide how they feel and instead of deciding things are safe they develop a fear of the situation and therefore fear of other dogs.
When you are out walking your dog off lead please have some consideration if you see someone else with their dog on the lead. Their dog may well be perfectly happy to socialize with other dogs but perhaps has a poor recall so they are not allowed to run free. If this is the case then its fine but how do you know?!
If another dog is on the lead because it is not happy about other dogs then it is incredibly stressful for both the dog and the owner when other dogs come running over to ‘say hello’. What you can do to prevent problems with dog to dog reactivity:
- Carefully manage a new puppy on the lead and ensure they can move away freely from other dogs if they want to. Allow them to re approach when they are ready.
- Do not allow your new puppy to be chased by another dog
- If your dog is greeting another dog on the lead then keep both leads relaxed and slack and keep them from tangling.
- Do not hold your dog on a tight lead just out of reach of another dog. This causes frustration which can lead to aggression. If they are not allowed to interact then move away to a distance your dog can sit calmly and reward them for doing so.
- If you are walking your dog off lead ensure you have taught a reliable recall.
- Always carry high value treats when you are out with your dog to reward recall and to use when distracting them from other dogs if necessary.
- If you see someone else with their dog on the lead put your own dog on the lead until you can ask if it’s ok for them to meet.
- Never punish your dog for growling at another dog (this is their way of communicating that they are unhappy, if you punish their communication they will jump straight to a bite!) instead move them away from the other dog as what they are trying to ask for is space! Then reward them for behaving calmly at a further distance. If you repeat this often enough you will notice they become more tolerant of other dogs in general over time.
- See further information on the following sites:
Observe the body language in the illustrations below and watch out for these signs when you are out walking your dog.
If you think a dog is not happy then give them some space!