Well, at last, after 15 years, I am writing my first blog! It's taken too long, but I'm excited!!
We see lots of tips and information about socializing puppies....but there is something that comes up a lot when I work with aggression, that more people need to focus on. This is on leash versus off leash socialization.
What I find so often is a term that I have coined "daycare" syndrome. This is when dogs are amazing off leash, good at reading body language and able to play and socialize with other dogs at daycare, off leash dog parks and other off leash situations. These dogs are usually raised by wonderful guardians that are trying to do everything right!! They go to the dog park every day to socialize and get out their dog or pup's energy, send their pup to daycare while at work, and don't even realize that their dog is getting zero experience greeting or even walking past other dogs ON leash!
It is often, in my experience, when people's lives change, they move to the City or for other reasons, that they start to walk their dog on leash. This is when they realize they have a fiesty fiedo!! This is also a very confusing and frustrating time for these guardians. They feel they have done everything right, and now their dog looks aggressive with barking, lunging and growling at every dog she sees walking past on leash. It is embarrassing and upsetting.
This brings me back to socializing!! Off leash socialization has it's positive aspects, and I certainly don't disagree with it. It can help with bite inhibition, teaching body language and so much more!! However, just as much emphasis has to be put on teaching your dog how to socialize on leash. Whether it's just passing by another dog or having a quick sniff n' go.
What do we usually mean by "on leash walks" when we are talking about socialization? Well, we are talking about the typical exposure to sounds, people, bikes, kids, and other novel experiences in the environment of course. But I am specifically talking about dog to dog. I don't mean close up, bum to nose or nose to nose greetings, this can cause undue stress to many dogs, especially if you have a puppy rushing up to them!! But just the experience of walking past a dog, politely, and learning that she can't meet every dog she sees, is a very important skill that teaches both impulse control and good leash skills!!
WHERE TO BEGIN:
Ideally, walking tools are very important, so I definitely recommend front connection harnesses. There are many on the market and some are harder to find around the lower mainland than others. Freedom Harness (my personal favourite), Sensation (also Sensible) and Walk Right are my top picks and are relatively easy to find. This will help with pulling, prevent injury to the trachea from the collar, and of course, help with frustration from the pressure on the collar as well.
Next, when your puppy sees another dog at a distance, just simply say "yes" and offer a treat! This goes a long ways to teaching your puppy that on leash, when there is another dog, good things happen!! Now every time your pup looks at the dog that is in the area, you continue to "yes!" and treat! (You can also click and treat if you use a clicker, I will talk about this in another blog!).
Over time, your pup will start to look at a dog and before you can even get your "yes!" out, she will be looking at you as if to say "hey, there's a dog, do I get a treat?!", and you will now be "yes'ing" the 'look at the dog, look at me', instead of just look. Over time, seeing other dogs will make your dog happy. Why is this? Because we know that food changes the emotional response of a dog, treats=dogs=happy thoughts which in turn causes puppies to like other dogs!
There will be times when you may decide that you would like your puppy to greet another dog. This is important but.....when your puppy is young, you want her to think all dogs are great, all dogs are safe and friendly!! So, if you decide your puppy is going to greet another dog, here are some tips that I have learned over the years!!
Ask if the dog is friendly! I know this seems obvious, but many people want, so badly, for their dog to be friendly, that they just keep trying. This is not the time to make your puppy their guinea pig!! Most importantly, if you don't get the words (is your dog friendly?) out in time but you hear "beeee niiiiiiice" from the other owner, leave! I always mention this in group classes!! If your dog is nice, why would you ask your dog to be nice, my experience has taught me that you are saying that because your dog is NOT always nice when greeting other dogs!! This is the time to politely say to your puppy a happy "let's go!" and simply walk away!! Do not allow your puppy to greet and take the chance that this will be a bad experience.
Quick greetings only!! On leash greetings should always be quick whether you have a puppy or adult dog!! Dogs cannot read each others body language properly or move about freely when on leash. The three second rule is perfect. Count as the greeting begins ... as Terry Ryan says "one banana, two banana" and on "three banana" you should be encouraging your puppy away with a happy "let's go"!! Don't pull your dog away, simply encourage with your body language and voice!
Lastly, from the time you adopt your puppy at a young age, get her into the habit of asking for permission to greet. There are many reasons I like to do this, but my very top reason is, when dogs are pulling towards each other to greet, they are already quite aroused and this can cause something to go wrong. When dogs are calm before greeting, they are focused on what they are doing and not usually staring each other down. You can't control the dog that is greeting yours, but sometimes if they see you are trying, they may not let theirs come barrelling into your pup's space which is rude and can be upsetting to any dog! To teach your puppy to sit first, it is ideal to practise with a friend that has a friendly dog. Simply ask for a sit from about 10 feet away to begin (it's easier if you are further away to begin with), if you need to use a treat at first to help, that's ok, you won't need the help soon enough. Once you have a sit, say "go say hi", or whichever words you will use consistently. Let your pup say hi, using the three banana rule, walk away and practise again. You can begin at a closer distance after working at 10 feet for 3-5 times, then work about 7 feet, then 5 feet. Just give distance when asking for the sit, they shouldn't be a foot from each other when asking for the sit, 5 feet is as close as I would go before the "go say hi" cue.
Socializing and just being able to pass dogs on leash, is one of the most important things you can teach your puppy. It sets the stage for the rest of their life. It is much easier to teach it from the beginning, than to have to "fix" this behaviour later, so treat is as a priority when you adopt your puppy.
If you have a dog, or even pup, that is having issues already. I work with many, many dogs with these issues and we can modify them! But it is much easier to prevent them at the beginning!!
Look for a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner in your area!