This is an excerpt from Heroly's weekly Canine Club podcast, where our behavior modification specialist Jonas Black gets real about ditching dog parks and introducing structure in dogs' lives from the start for socialization and to correct aggression.
We're talking proper puppy socialization to prevent unwanted behavior, and it sounds like a party to me.
I want to cover something that I get calls on about every. single. day. That is: My dog is aggressive towards other dogs.
The answer's not necessarily straightforward, but the majority of the time it's because we have a lapse in psychological development regarding socialization from a young age.
We tend to look at puppy socialization in a very 'just get your dog out into public and expose 'em to all the shit' kind of way. While that works in some cases, it doesn't work in all.
With many dogs that I work with, the owners say the age-old, I took my dog everywhere when he/she was young, but my dog's still being a dick. What did I do wrong? I did everything right!
Well, you didn't look for the proper signals that the dog was actually engaging in the environment properly, especially when it comes to interaction with other dogs.
The dog park is Mt. Doom: Anxious environments instill unwanted behavior
The last thing you want to do is socialize your puppy at a dog park.
Don't do it. Trust me. I've heard too many horror stories from people who tried this, and what ends up happening? A lot of the time is you don't know what you're getting with other people's dogs, right? It's a grab bag of behavior.
Overall, a proper dog greeting is supposed to be calm and anything but a hyper situation. A dog park provides a place for ultra-anxious dogs to charge and roll puppies, instilling more of a fear reactivity in that environment. The puppy should be more in a structured environment there, and it also points to the fact that the other dog(s) don't really know what to do in that setting either.
When my dog grows up, I want her to be _______
When it comes to socialization, I would much rather have you take a different approach. When exposing your dog, make sure that she's engaging in the environment. When it comes to the other dogs for interaction, get some friends with fidos where you're like, "Man, I hope my dog grows up to be like [insert friend's dog name that's a super Good Boy or Girl]."
That's what you do. You socialize with a balanced dog. Not one that's overly eager or anxious, because you can create such trauma inside the psychological development that you inadvertently have now cultivated fear reactivity. This means that the dog doesn't want to interact with other dogs, because the canine thinks the others dogs will be invasive of their space. You can't really fault a dog for that.
How to rehab canine aggressive reactions
And then of course the question is how can we rehab a dog from having bad socialization? Well, it's easier than you think, and I'm about to give you the key to the success of my rehabilitation program:
1. You properly leash train the dog.
2. You place train the dog.
Oh, there's the place command again. There's that leash command again (for those of you listening weekly).
1. Proper leash training
The starting point to any canine rehabilitation protocol is structured pack walks after reducing leash reactivity. The ideal structure block for dog walks:
-No sniffing marking unless you deem it.
-No leash reactivity (you want a loose-leash relaxed walk without them dragging your ass down)
From there, when the structure is in place, you add another dog on that walk (hence, pack walk). Once those two sets of paws are moving together, those are literally steps towards proper socialization. If you have trained the dog with a structured walk, the dog has to focus more on this act than the additional dog.
Now that the dogs are coexisting in the environment and actually doing the same thing, they're showing tolerance. You can encourage this behavior with positive reinforcement, which is a multitude of things. It doesn't just mean treats, because ultimately it's not up to us to decide what the dogs primary motivator is.
Remember that. I'm gonna slap my desk right now: Motivation is not up to us to decide.
Find out what your dog's is, as it could be a ball, affection, chin scratches etc. It could be you doing a little dance. It could be listening to Haddaway's "What is Love?". Some dogs have the quirkiest motivators, but once discovered you can correct unwanted behaviors and reward the good ones with the utmost effectiveness.
2. The Place Command
I like to teach a strong place command that anchors the dog to one designated spot. When you're done walking, put the dog that's reactive in place, and then let the canine relax with his new acquaintance in the same environment.
From his designated place, if the 'aggressive' dog looks at the other dog without any sort of tense body language, you can positively reinforce that behavior with that core motivator we just talked about.
The one thing that you do not want to do, and I'm about to piss some people off man:
Do not have a treat pouch with you when your dog starts to react towards another dog, Don't give that treat to distract the dog. I don't care what they tell you. I don't care what Big Box dog training tells you. It doesn't work. You will never truly cure leash reactivity by reinforcing the behavior with a treat. You're just cultivating the unwanted habit, and you're better off correcting the behavior. This is where stimulus counter conditioning really comes into play, and this is where those other forms of positive reinforcement mentioned are freaking amazing.
Puppy socialization doesn't mean a 'throwing shit at the wall' approach to environmental exposure...
It means providing engagement for your young dog in a proper, structured way where you're also the advocate who maintains that controlled, calm environment.
From puppyhood and beyond, provide a balanced socialization protocol that includes structured walks, place commands, and positive reinforcements based on what best motivates your canine. How you reinforce a dog's behavior during engagements is ultimately what either cultivates dog-to-dog reactivity (aggression) or eliminates it.
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