Pressure is on more than ever before, to create these super social dogs so that they can go everywhere and anywhere and be seen but preferably not be heard.
But have we ever thought that maybe some dogs actually don’t want to be in those social settings.
We socialise our pups from a very young age and we expose them to the world hoping they will always be happy and friendly and sociable but sometimes this is still not enough. Why? What are we doing wrong?
Dogs are no different to people; I say that all the time. They have personality traits like people and they can be super happy social butterflies or they can be shy, nervous, introverted or just sensitive. This can be due to genetics, early learning experiences, good and bad with their breeders, early learning experiences in general in the first twelve months of their lives or a combination of all. Either way, the personality trait plays a big role in how the dog will grow up, how it copes and how it sees the world, how it sees humans, other dogs and even children.
If you look at this from a human’s perspective, you have people who love the nightlife and parties, people who prefer the opera and mingling with their close circle of friends, people who like to stay at home and read and those that prefer to be alone or out in the wilderness. Dogs are no different to people!
There are many dogs on this earth that just love everything and everyone and even when they have been mistreated or have suffered a trauma, they still have an incredible love for the world, its people and its dogs. These dogs are the optimists of the world, the lovers and not the fighters and these dogs are what everyone wishes they had. But in reality, not all dogs are like that.
And then there are the dogs that even with all the love thrown at them, all the positive interactions experienced, all the training and effort put in, they still find life and its expectations tough and find being around dogs and people hard. And their reactions, their behaviour, their responses just don’t seem to make sense to you.
When puppies go to classes, the expectation should not be to force them to play and love everyone and to be super sociable; it should be to help them develop coping skills so that when they are confronted by situations that may make them feel uneasy, they know how to deal with it without panicking or resorting to aggression. When we see shy pups in our classes, we point it out to the owner so they can start altering their training a little, giving them more space and time to adjust to things but more importantly, begin to understand and accept their pup may always be sensitive to these situations.
For older dogs that have not had positive learning experiences, this is even more important and if the dogs are not comfortable in some situations, take notice and help them through it rather than force them to deal with it. Again acceptance and patience is critical when it comes to working with a socially sensitive and anxious dog.
The aim of this newsletter is to create an understanding on the motivation behind the behaviour, for the owners of these often mislabelled ‘antisocial’ dogs to know there is support out there and that they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that things can be done to ease some of the stress. But more importantly, knowing that if your dog is just not into dogs and people, it is okay, as long as it does not pose a threat on society.
This article is not about dismissing aggressive dogs and accepting that their behaviour is fine. If a dog displays aggression, no matter what the underlying cause it, it has to be worked on so the dog no longer feels it needs to behave like this and most importantly, that everyone is safe. If a dog wants to bite me, I don’t say, “There, there, you are scared and it is okay that you want to bite me, here is my arm”. I certainly don’t raise my voice and try to intimidate that dog to back off; it is already struggling as it is. And I discourage the owner from doing that too as it can harm their relationship. Instead I thank it for the warning and then tell the owner we have work to do! It may require months of intensive training teaching it alternate ways to behave in a more appropriate way but at the end of the day, it all comes down to better management of the situations your dog is in.
For those of you that have met me or sat in my classes, you may have heard me mention that my own dog Stanley dislikes people, dogs and even children and some may say that is terrible, wow, the dog trainer’s dog is antisocial!. He will tolerate them and quite often even take a treat from them but he doesn’t like to be approached or touched by them. Some may ask if he is of any use to me because he doesn’t like so many things and may feel sorry for him. But here is the thing. He is amazing in every way I need him to be and in areas he finds hard, I manage him really well so he never has to feel so stressed. I did a lot of training with him so we can still go to the beach, the bush, on long walks, away on holidays with us and I can even walk him through busy crowds, I can have visitors over and he has learned to trust me when we are at the vets. I accepted it long ago that he was just not going to be sociable with the whole world and for him, not being around people, parties and dog parks is an actual relief!
If your dog is not so keen on people, then you need to manage it in these circumstances and be your dog’s advocate. Whether it is at home or in public places, people don’t have to touch your dog and they should respect your wishes. People do not have the right to just come over to you on the street and start patting your dog without asking first and in reality, it is no different to having some stranger come over and pull your baby out of the pram or pick up your child. You wouldn’t let that happen to your child.
Look at it from your dog’s perspective; being randomly accosted by a stranger is frightening and rude and being shy is hard enough as it is without someone’s big hand coming over the head. If your dog likes people and dogs, then being greeted is fine but if your dog is not a fan, then being greeted is awkward and often quite scary.
If you are a super social person and you own a dog that isn’t, then this is when things can get a bit tricky because we have an incompatible relationship and different expectations and sometimes, making some compromises is the only way around it. You may need to accept that when you have visitors, your dog needs to remain in the bedroom or outside where it feels safer. You might need to say no to the friends who want to bring their dogs over. You need to think about what is best and safest for your dog.
If you love walking your dog but your dog finds being around other dogs really hard, then avoiding the dog park might be the solution. You still need to teach it to cope walking past dogs on the street as exercise and mental stimulation is important so you may need to seek assistance and do some training targeting this area specifically.
You can still enter the dog parks but choose to go when it is quiet so your dog can have a run around without the pressure of being harassed by another dog.
And then focus on your walk and your quality time with your dog rather than feel that it is missing out on ‘play’ time. If your dog is not into dogs, then play time is the last thing it wants!
If you feel that walking is very stressful yet staying at home is rather calming, then it is okay to keep your dog at home. If your dog is not destructive, not demanding to get out and is quite happy to sit on a couch or by the window watching the days go by, then let it be! This is fine too and it is all about finding that balance.
So for those of you out there with a socially anxious dog, seek help if it is having a negative impact on its general life or if it becoming a threat to society. Speak to your vet or ask for a referral to a Veterinary Behaviourist who can address the anxiety and fears. And then get onto a trainer who understands mental health issues in dogs and can support you as you work through it. Avoid trainers who believe your dog can just get over it or who insist that if you force the issue over and over again, your dog will be cured because sadly, this only makes things worse.
Remember they are already sensitive as it is so harsh punishment and training with harsh methods will only work against you and your dog needs to trust you. Help them so they learn to have options and more control over situations that can really scare them. Avoid taking them unnecessarily to places that really scare them. Don’t think about it like your dog is missing out on something, if anything, your dog will be rapt to have a day of less stress!