Why we shouldn't let our dogs meet every person or dog
When we are socialising our dogs, we can make the mistake of thinking that the best thing to do is to allow them to meet everyone and every dog we come across. This is an easy mistake to make; we want to do our best by exposing them to as many different kinds of animals and people, ensuring that they don’t develop fear of things they will come across in their lives. However, it is really important that we understand better ways to socialise them, and why they are so important.
When we allow our dogs to meet every person and dog they see, we are creating an expectation that they will always be able to do that.
This, of course, is not always the case! There are a multitude of reasons they won’t be able to do this. Perhaps we are needing to move on to get somewhere, identify a dog as an unsuitable match for our dog, or are simply being respectful by not allowing our dog to approach every person (some of which will not want to interact with your dog!). What we are doing by enabling this behaviour is setting our dogs up for frustration when not meeting the expectation we have set for them in the past. When we break expectations, undoubtedly causing frustration, we are setting our dogs up to display undesirable behaviours. This includes barking, jumping up, nipping at the lead or at the handler, or tugging as hard as they can repeatedly on the end of the lead. We can then get exasperated with our dogs and react in ways that are not conducive to a healthy relationship.
Furthermore, we don’t want our dogs to have negative experiences by rushing up to a dog that perhaps might not appreciate our dog's behaviour. We also don’t want our dog rehearsing undesirable play-styles and behaviours by having them reinforced with dogs who don’t have very good social skills, or other humans that reward our dogs with cooing and cuddles for jumping up on them. As always, we want to set our dogs up for success!
Another reason we don’t want to create this expectation is because we want our dogs to be able to focus on us in a wide range of environments with a wide range of distractions. This is both for their safety and for the wellbeing of our relationships with our dogs; if everything else is far more exciting than you when you are out and about, you will likely become frustrated with your dog for not being able to ‘pay attention’ when you ask them to.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO ENSURE OUR DOGS ARE SOCIALISED WITHOUT CREATING THIS UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION?
1. Understand that socialisation doesn’t mean being able to interact with everyone.
Socialisation is not just about learning how to engage with others, it’s about being able to be calm around others.
2. At absolute most, go by the rule of threes.
- This means that you want to reward your dog for ignoring or being calm around at least one in three dogs that you pass, without being able to meet that dog.
- For the second dog they see, perhaps they can have a quick sniff if it is appropriate to do so - a quick three second sniff at most - in passing.
- For every third dog they see, and when the situation permits, you can make a choice to allow your dog to have a play with this dog. In these cases, it is important to assess the situation and whether or not this dog will be an appropriate play mate for your dog. The same goes for humans.
Your dog will need to rely on your judgement to make the right calls for their socialisation as they learn how to interact appropriately in each new environment, with each new distraction. This will take time, perseverance, and patience, but will be more than worth it in the long run!
3. Spend time practising calmness in different environments, going at your dog's pace. We want to keep stress levels manageable, avoiding exposing your dog to one trigger after the other without breaks to decompress. We can begin by practising in our houses, our yards, moving onto car parks, from our cars in people-parks, and so on in increasingly exciting and distracting environments, always going at your dog's pace.