It’s a Dog Meets Dog World

It’s a social time of year! It’s a time to come together with friends and family and enjoy all the camaraderie and the things that make this time of year special to you. Dogs are social creatures too and, like us, seek each other out for companionship.

Also like us, there are socially acceptable and unacceptable ways for them to interact. Interestingly, some of the things that cause us social discomfort are similar for dogs. No one likes the “close talker,” the “space invader,” the “hugger, mugger” or the “stalker!”

In dogs, these behaviours would be:

  • Barking in the face of another dog.
  • Coming in fast and close and lingering waaay too long.
  • Jumping on the head, butt or shoulders of another dog.
  • Staring at an approaching dog – even sitting, crouching, or lying down while staring.
Dog’s social skills are a product of the environment they’re raised in, the early experiences they have and, to some degree, their genetics. Once they come into our care, we need to continue their social training. Understanding basic dog behaviour and body language can make a world of difference.

The “3 Second Rule”
It is acceptable and easily tolerable for a dog to enter the personal space of an unknown dog for 3 seconds. Any longer becomes quickly invasive. Dogs who are less confident, young or who have had negative experiences can quickly become uncomfortable and lash out defensively when greetings last longer.

Go to any dog park or busy trail, and you will see this played out. There’s an initial greeting, usually a sniff to face or butt. If it lasts longer than 3 seconds, you can see each dog begin to “get bigger” – they get still, stand taller, tails get higher. Often one dog disengages, and nothing happens. Sometimes, though, there is a brief and sudden explosion. Despite what it looks like, the explosion is intended to prevent conflict, not to start a fight – they want their space back.

Socially skilled dogs know how to defuse these situations. These dogs will “change the picture” to lessen tension. They will:

  • Feign sudden and intense interest in something else,
  • Develop an itch and begin scratching,
  • Drop their noses to the ground to investigate a smell,
  • Shake off or yawn widely while gazing off into the distance,
  • Drop into a play bow to invite a more playful interaction, or
  • Loosen their body language and trot casually off.
Can you think of human equivalents to these strategies?

Right from puppyhood, it’s important to teach your dog to easily disengage from another dog and return to you.  

This might be a recall, a hand target, coming to heel – there are many options to use. As they mature and their skills develop, they will learn strategies of their own. 

The best reward for disengagement is to offer another opportunity to greet. Usually after 2 or 3 quick meet and greets, most dogs will indicate their interest in each other – play or simply move on.

Be proactive, do some purposeful training and keep all those “get togethers” fun!