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Why we don't do socials

28/03/2019 - General

A question i have been asked a lot as of late is "Do you do socials" and the answer is always no. Lots of stuff has been going on locally with dog attacks recently and for a while iv been telling myself i need to write a blog post, and this morning i have finally got round to it. 

So, socials, what do we do and what don't we do.

In puppy class, we encourage owners to practice on lead greetings with other dogs, up until 15 weeks of age. Why do we do this, because, simply, its going to happen. Trying to avoid on lead greetings for the whole dogs life is all well and good, but if you actually want to take your dog places, weather it be walks, pubs, country shows etc, your dog is going to need the skill to greet other dogs, on lead, with no fuss. Now, that doesn't mean, greet, play, get our leads tangled and everyone dies, it simply means, two dogs, "Hiya mate, alright dude" and move away. 

In the class itself, we don't do any off lead "play"....we used to, and, now, simply, iv changed my mind, and based on the evidence iv seen, i no longer think its productive.

We do however encourage owners to find their dogs a handful of "mates" that they can play with on a semi regular basis, dogs that will always be in that dogs life (where possible), dogs that their dog can form a friendship with and learn to play appropriately. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is what kind of adult dog do we want, do we want a dog thats obsessed with its handler? Do we want a dog thats obsessed with other dogs? Obsessed with other people? Personally, i want a dog thats obsessed with me, and is indifferent to every other person and dog. That means when my dog sees another dog across the road, or over the park, he/she doesn't bolt off to see then, he/she simply acknowledges there is a dog or person there and has an indifferent response to it. 


I see 5-10 dogs per week for issues with other dogs. Mainly thats recall..."He's ok until theres another dog or distraction" or its lead reactions to stuff "He see's a dog across the street and go's wild barking and lunging" and constantly I'm asking myself why are we not preventing these issues by tweaking that early socialisation at puppy stage.


In the dog sports world its widely accepted that dogs don't meet each other, and thats usually because either    - The dog is so highly aroused its likely to react without thinking on meeting another dog or

                                                                                                                                                                               - The handler is wanting the dog to ignore other stuff so that it doesn't get distracted whilst working.

And from this sports ethos, you tend to end up with what is usually a fairly lovely bi product....a dog that doesn't really care about other dogs (he doesn't dislike them, but isn't interested in leaving his handler to disappear into the distance with them) , a dog thats focused solely on the handler and can perform cues in the presence of other dogs (theres your recall), most importantly, you have a dog thats orientated to you, doesn't run off, and doesn't go bat shit crazy when they see another dog, is that not what every pet owner secretly dreams of?


Then we move back to that initial idea of socials, what are we aiming to get from a social, if we follow protocol with our puppy, have our on lead greetings, puppy has a few friends that he regularly meets and plays with, we should (depending on breeds, genetics, etc) end up with a dog thats handler focused, indifferent to dogs, able to recall, and has a cracking group of doggy mates. 


So maybe this puppy stage went wrong, or Mrs Jones thought it was a good idea to let her puppy play with every other dog she met because "it was cute to watch and she needed an older dog to put her in her place" and now, Mrs Jones has a dog that doesn't recall around other dogs, goes mental when it sees other dogs or people on lead, and then when it does get to play, it jumps all over everyone and pins dogs in a way that she "cant tell weather its being friendly or aggressive"....where do we go from here? Well in my opinion the answer is never going to be, teach her to play nicely. The dog has an issue following cues, jumping up and being inappropriate on lead, why would we ever think that allowing that dog to get a bucket load of reinforcement from practicing that behaviour over and over again that that is ever going to solve the problem. Mrs Jones needs her dog to be able to focus on her around distractions (I'm not talking about the old "watch me" etc, I'm just saying if she asks it to sit, it needs to be able to hear that cue, and sit), she needs her dog to be able to recall to her (no matter what) and possibly practice meeting some dogs on lead. 


Once she has her focus, she can recall her dog on walks when she meets another dog, or if she's on lead she can ask her to sit and not be an idiot. She can recall her dog away from people she is about to jump all over and ask her to do a better alternative behaviour like sit or down when she meets people, and finally with this little bit of obedience and impulse control, she can wave goodbye to the problems she previously had. 


So maybe you are thinking “I want my dog to play with all the other dogs, and i don't want him to be obsessed with me”, Ok great, thats fine, but you just need to be SUPER hot on how your dogs playing, your going to need to train an amazing recall from play, and somehow top that reinforcement that your dog is getting from other dogs, and don't get me wrong, some people achieve this, and never have an issue, but most people don't. 


So if your dog has an issue with any of the problems above, or its attacked other dogs, been attacked, just think twice about where you are going with your plan to rehabilitate that dog, and what actually would be best for that particular dog before you skip down the dog park to “meet some nice other dogs” 


Evening talk coming soon “Dog Attacks, what, how, when, why”