Mastering Dog Socialization: A Guide to Reducing Rude or Rough Interactions with Other Dogs
You did your best to socialize your dog early and often, yet you may still have a dog with less than excellent manners. Regular exposure to other dogs is only one piece of the socialization playbook. Socialization through exposure alone only works for a small slice of the dog population. If your dog is overexcited and rude already, more “practice” or exposure will likely get you more of the same. You’ll need to take a more active role for the dog who consistently becomes overexcited, rude, or rough in their interactions.
The idea behind this exposure-only socialization model is that the excitement response will desensitize with enough exposure. This often fails because excitement is typically self-reinforcing. It produces desirable outcomes from the dog’s own point of view. An undesired, self-reinforcing behavior becomes more prevalent over time. You’ll generally see pushy, boisterous, amped-up interactions intensifying rather than reducing with the exposure-only approach. What’s missing with this approach? Accountability for bad manners and overindulgence. Immediate feedback provides the incentive to start practicing polite manners and self-control. The only way this happens in the state of nature, or the exposure-only approach, is if several other dogs can consistently issue measured, yet effective, corrections to the misbehaved dog – a rather tall order for our canine companions.
I’m all for excited and vigorous play when I know that the dog can be trusted, and the situation is appropriate. The issue lies with the dog who can’t control himself; the dog that’s consistently stirring up trouble or is getting left at home due to a lack of self-control. If those dogs learn to control their behavior, they could safely participate in all the fun dog stuff there is to do – which is our goal!
I bet you are still reading this because you gave the unguided exposure model an honest go. Now your dog doesn’t get to do all the fun things he used to – or he still does, but you’re constantly dealing with the repercussions. You’re intrigued by the idea of another approach to socialization. Well, lucky for you, there’s a better path that leads to a happy, well-mannered dog.
Changing a dog’s social behavior requires you to be an active participant and provide the experience of the well-structured canine hierarchy, consistently dealing out fair and effective feedback for social missteps and rude behavior. When issued properly, that feedback will interrupt your dog’s behavior in real-time and give them some information about the outcome of those choices. Just as we reward behaviors we’d like to see more of, we provide corrective feedback for those we want to lessen or eliminate. Stepping in to fill the social void, you’ll now provide valuable feedback the very moment when you observe the dog misbehaving (i.e., sprinting up on another dog too fast, excessive crotch or booty sniffing, jumping up on the back of a new dog before they’ve each had a chance to greet, barking rudely in the dog’s face, humping, nipping, unreciprocated rough play) to stop the behavior the moment it occurs, and dramatically reducing the tendency to act it out again.
There are several ways to go about this. The method that tends to be the most flexible in our experience is a (1) gradual progression of temptation, (2) granting as much freedom as can be safely given, and (3) a shock collar, aka e-collar, for feedback. (You can learn more about the safe and humane use of e-collars here.) The gradual progression prevents the worst-case scenario: an out-of-control dog in an out-of-control situation. Granting freedom where possible creates learning opportunities that are otherwise missed. The e-collar provides valuable feedback, with precise timing, consistently, at any range.
For best results, you’ll want to introduce the e-collar ahead of time and give the dog a chance to receive feedback in a setting free of close social interactions. This allows the dog to learn that feedback directly results from his behavior and doesn’t have anything to do with the other dog or person. Working with a trainer can help you accomplish this efficiently and safely.
Now you’re ready to work on your dog’s rude or excessively rough interactions. Here are some scenarios where the shock collar or “E-Collar” will provide feedback:
- You enter the dog park, and your dog starts sprinting full speed at another dog to greet him; you tap your e-collar stim button (set to a level that dramatically slows the dog’s pace, but no higher than necessary to accomplish that).
- Your dog has been sniffing the other dog’s butt for over seven seconds, and now that dog is trying to walk away while your dog continues to keep their nose in there; you then tap your e-collar stim button for that (again, high enough to get him to stop, but no more).
- Your dog decides to play a game of chase with another dog, and while chasing that other dog, he collides full speed with a bystander dog; you should tap the stim button to send feedback at a level that is felt and valued, marking the collision as a mistake (if you see it coming you could even provide feedback pre-collision to slow him down and help avoid it).
- Suppose your dog starts humping another dog that he was wrestling with. In that case, you should tap your stim button to stop the misbehavior and mark it as a behavior to avoid going forward.
Starting to get the idea?
While there is room for confusion during socialization training, most dogs quickly integrate the new rules while retaining their desire to play. Others need a little time and space to understand how they fit into the social world now that their inappropriate interaction, or play style, isn’t allowed. For socially inclined dogs, the desire to interact and play will win out if encouraged and given the opportunity.
Some behaviors might quickly disappear once you’ve added corrective feedback to your training kit; more deeply rooted behaviors will require more consistency and a more profound knowledge of the above strategy. Should you have concerns about your progress or would like some help facilitating this strategy, please work with an experienced and proven trainer. There is no guaranteed quick fix when dealing with a living creature; however, we believe this is the best path to having a social, happy, and polite dog.
This blog post covers the basics of socializing rude or rough dogs. If your dog is getting into fights or has aggressive tendencies, please Contact Us and one of our experienced trainers will help you get on the right path.