Dogs meeting other dogs: Should we be encouraging this?
Anyone reading that title would think this post is off the wall. Of course dogs need to meet other dogs!! No doubt there is will be lay people and dog trainers who will disagree with what I have to say here. That’s fine, just read with an open mind as dogs meeting other dogs is not as simple as you might first think.
What is the problem with dogs meeting other dogs?
As a dog trainer working in Dorset I am called to review many types of training issues. A key one is that the owner’s dog wants to get to all the dogs it meets in the streets and parks. It will pull the lead to get the owner to follow or ignore the owners recall when in the park as it is having great fun playing with the dogs. Sometimes these dogs are almost fixated by other dogs. There is no sign of aggression just a keen interest to initiate play with any dog it sees.
The owner has become low down in the interest stakes when another dog is around. This means the owner will have less control regarding lead pulling, recall and general obedience. This has a spiral effect in that the more the dog ignores the owner with no consequence and the ignore is rewarding so this behaviour becomes more reinforced. By consequence I mean the owner takes actions to stop the dog having the ability to get to the dogs or ignore the owner.
So where does this keen interest come from?
It is normal for all dogs to be interested in dogs. What isn’t normal is when this becomes an obsession and this behaviour impacts on the owner to be able to control and interact with their dog. From personal observations and a lot of experience many of these problems develop when the dog was a puppy. I have a big issue with puppy parties, puppy meet and greets and the enclosed dog parks if they are run by people who do not understand the long term impact these can have if not run correctly. There will be exceptions, but on the whole these classes are a free for all where the timid puppies become more timid and the bullies are rewarded. The puppies learn it is great fun or a very scary experience and these experience can shape the later dog. We will touch on the negative experience in a later post. It is the same with puppy class training where the dogs are allowed to get to each other freely and never learn there is a correct way to meet dogs.
There will be some good puppy classes out there where those running the classes understand the long term impact of a free for all. However, sadly they are in a minority so when the puppy gets older and starts to want to get to every dog it sees then we need to stop blaming the dog and look back on what we have allowed to happen. It is usually with great intention we started the ball rolling with allowing the puppy free access to other dogs other the guise the dog needs to meet other dogs.
How dogs should meet
In my puppy and dog training classes I explain the importance of your dog understanding that other dogs are not as interesting as they think. It is about the owner controlling that interaction and ensuring the puppy or dog learns there is a correct way to meet dogs. Puppy parties and meet up sessions are a great idea if all those there sign up to ensuring their puppy will meet in the correct way and start to learn another dog is not a trigger for fun and games. Enclosed dog parks are usually not even managed and its down to the owners to monitor!!!
A great way of seeing this in play is go to a gun dog training session and see how those dogs interact with each other. It is almost a quick hello and then down to business. Rarely will you see owners allowing a free for all for the young dogs and you wont see a free for all amongst the older dogs. This is the philosophy I adopt at my gun dog training centre
Dogs and owners need to learn that the meet and greet of dogs starts with a sit away from each other. This allows the owners to assess how the dogs are reacting to the presence of another dog. If there are concerns about the reaction of a dog then the meet and greet should not take place. Take the effected dog away some distance and get them to sit again and observe their reaction.
If whilst sitting the dogs are reacting normally then release them and give enough slack lead so they can meet. Dogs rarely meet head on and will go side on to each other to smell the important areas. This smelling is normal and essential so let it happen. If one of them starts to take over and starts climbing on the other then remove the dogs and get them to sit again. We are trying to reward the behaviour we want and ensure there is no reward for unwanted behaviour.