I have teenage children; both girls. It has been an incredible journey watching them grow up and develop their social skills and their own personalities.
I remember when they were in early primary school and they played with everyone!
In later primary school they began to become a little more selective with their friends. Apparently boys had germs 😉
Early high school they really began to refine their groups of friends. This seemed to be based on similar likes and dislikes.
Late high school they developed their ‘squads’ (as they are apparently called nowadays). All members of this ‘squad’ have similar interests and personalities that compliment each other. Even the way in which they speak is similar.
Watching my daughters socially mature I began to draw parallels between the way in which they socially mature and the way in which our furry canine companions do too! After all our canine companions go through similar stages of development; puppy, juvenile, adolescent, adult.
Why is it that we tend to accept and encourage our human offspring socially maturing and growing up, however we often try and delay the social development of our canine companions?
We seem to think that our furry canine companions should want to play with all other dogs forever. But is that realistic or fair?
I see many clients who bring their dogs to see me because their dog has begun showing what are referred to as ‘distance increasing behaviours*’; growling, showing teeth (lip raising), snapping or lunging towards other dogs.
Often when I ask owners about the history of their dog they will recall that their dog started showing what are known as ‘avoidance behaviours’ much earlier on; the dog was more hesitant when meeting other dogs, would turn its head away when another dog approached, would roll over and show their belly or lay down when another dog approached, would run away from other dogs (often owners think this means that the dog wants to be chased), the dog was really focused on their ball, owner or another activity such as sniffing and would prefer to do this than play with the other dogs.
Many owners understandably are confused at to why their dog that used to play with every other dog happily is now starting to show these behaviours. Often my answer is that quite simply their dog is growing up!
So what can we do?
- Change exercise locations. Yes your dog may have once LOVED the dog park at peak times, however often dogs prefer quieter interactions when they mature. Hey, I used to love nightclubbing however now I would prefer a root canal without anaesthetic!
- Take your dog to locations at quiet times and be prepared to leave and find a different location if it’s too busy.
- Watch and learn your dog’s likes and dislikes and adjust their exercise to suit. If you dog likes sniffing then take them to a location or training club where this skill can be practiced. There are many fabulous dog sports available that dogs and owners can participate in; tracking, scent work, agility, dock dogs, rally o, doggy dancing.
- Learn to interpret and understand your dog’s body language. Body language is the way dogs communicate. A positive trainer can help you learn to understand the way your dog talks!
- Reward your dog for any low level request for distance; such as a growl. If a growl is REWARDED then the dog will never need to escalate to a bite! Reward by verbally praising and removing the dog from the situation.
- Be your dog’s hero and do not allow other dogs to bully or harass it.
It is important to remember that dogs really are quite simple and honest creatures. They will only repeat a behaviour that works and only escalate a behaviour if they need to.
*There can also be underlying behavioural reasons that can contribute to these behaviours so please contact a qualified positive trainer so they can help explore the reasons further.