Socialise now play later?
Those that have read my article “Socialisation what is it exactly?” will understand my idea of socialisation; but I still meet a lot of people who want to see their dogs play with other dogs. Now this isn’t the view of some left wing client I meet, but instead it is the most common desire I see.
First I think that it is important to understand why people universally want their pups to play with other dogs. When your dog plays with another dog you enjoy watching this take place.
That’s right “you enjoy”, and of course there is nothing at all wrong with that.
Now I’m not saying all dogs don’t like playing, but I think that when a dog owner “likes” to see their dog playing, the dogs owner is receiving positive reinforcement, and as we know, positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated.
I know this is a or maybe even THE reason for this activity because I hear so often how many times people let their dog run up to your dog under the reasoning that “he/she just wants to play“.
Now to these people they don’t care if you want your dog to play, they don’t care if your dog wants to play, they don’t care because they are seeking positive reinforcement as perhaps is their dog.
I also meet many clients that want more reliability or let’s call it’s “obedience” from their dogs. When I ask what is the biggest distraction your dog has, they often say “other dogs“.
So when I say you may have to reduce, restrict or eliminate playing with other dogs they tell me “no he/she likes if and oh I only want to train using food too“
To train a reliable dog you need to first have control of your dogs rewards. Your dog playing with other dogs is not something you can control easily, in fact if your dog is playing and you try to intervene, how do you think your dog might feel about you? Will your recall cue “come” be known as the “fun is over?” command?
I am socialialising my dog through play
Some people have mistaken Socialisation for play, play is a very important part of your dog or puppies life, I don’t trust this to other dogs, instead I tackle this exclusively.
Smaller or more submissive dogs can influence your dog to be more assertive and even dominant whilst bigger, older, fearful or dominant dogs may cause your dog to be submissive or fearful or even combative.
Dogs that are matched to your dog’s temperament might be the perfect play mate, maybe even better than you!
So why not let them sort it out themselves?
Let’s for a moment suggest that dogs are like people in their social relationships. What stops a person just sorting things out physically is often the law. If a person attacks or hits another under most circumstances they will be in trouble. Dogs know no such limitation although very harsh penalties do exist.
Perhaps a person would talk out any differences they had with another person, that too is of course not possible with our canine friends. It is very much a cause and effect style of trial and error.
In the end there are two potentially serious problems when you set out to get your puppy or dog to play with other dogs:-
1. Your dog may gain a huge value for other dogs and this may compromise your obedience.
2. In seeking play for your puppy or dog, it may be attacked and this might cause severe behaviour problems afterwards.
If we go back to the reason this all comes about it is due to US liking the activity and therefore seeking to repeat. Is it really worth it?
Well before we consider if it is, here are a few things people say:-
Dog owner: My dog loves to play but when I call him/her they come straight away.
Question: Do you really think your dog would leave playing if he or she loved it? Maybe your the one who “loves it” and your dog just navigates the waters?
Dog owner: My dogs interaction with other dogs teaches my dog self control.
Question: Does the other dog who is teaching your dog know what your goal is for your dog?
Dog owner: I just want my dog to grow into a well adjust pet.
Answer: So do I, and I am giving you some boundaries here to work within and also trying to help you understand a little about socialising your dog.
So how about if I could offer you play with control?
Let’s go back to my article “Socialisation what is it exactly“. “Socialisation is showing your puppy something new and assigning a value to it“.
When you get your puppy from your breeder, unless there is a genetic problem with this breeding, your puppy will likely have a high value for other dogs.
Remember that your pup has been raised with other dogs and leaned most skills from them, so as soon as you get your pup you can assume you will need to curb this high value if your to is have some control.
When I run Early Education classes, (puppy school), I will often have the whole litter in the class as it is a breeder organised class. Throughout the 6 week course the puppies are not here to play with each other but learn to work for their owners around their (fun) litter mates. The puppies do get to greet each other and they even might have a little play here and there but we focus on making the owner valuable through play, rewards and communication.
As your pup develops into a young adult there are Development Periods (see the article here) that present themselves which could also produce behavioural problems, but if your the centre of your dogs attention you can reward what you like walk away from what you don’t.
Once you get your dog into early maturity 15 – 18 months, you CAN allow play, but by now your dog isn’t learning life skills, it’s just having a good time and will likely respond to your call now.
Your dog as a puppy will have learned that other dogs are not that fun, but will be comfortable around them. The development periods are over and your dog can think through these interactions rationally and not through immature emotions which can have major influences on social behaviour.
This past weekend I had a dog staying with me and he was showing an excessive amount of submission around my dogs so as he seemed to have a negative value I wanted to help lift his value to a neutral or even a positive one. A dog that displays excessive submission can often be a target for some dogs.
I let our mature German Shepherd Diesel out in the back yard with him, after he was overly submissive they had a little play. Now Diesel is pretty neutral to other dogs and will recall away from them and walk by them on leash, I would say he is well balanced.
Play did occur but not to the level where both dogs were insane, this helped the Golden Retriever to feel better around Diesel for sure but it did not in any way compromise Diesels reliability.
The next day I let Diesel do the same and this time the Golden showed no submission at all, so I will not need to repeat this exercise as the value with Diesel is now good, and the Golden does not show any submission when seeing my dogs or a few dogs he met on the street when I had him out. Note I did not keep going until either dog was out of control.
I am not anti play, in fact here is an article I wrote back in 2009 called “The Importance of Play“. Playing with your dog is not an option (in my book) its an obligation, its fun, rewarding, bond building and great exercise for you both; but you do have to remember that I do see a lot of dogs in Behaviour Consultation that have developed many problems through unregulated or uncontrolled play or owners that were just trying to Socialise their dogs and something went wrong.
Puppy owners need to be sure of what they are exposing their pups to before they start, allowing your pup to play with other dogs and stopping “once it becomes a problem” is not the right choice.
If you have a dog that does have a problem with other dogs, be it that your reacts aggressively or is just out of control around other dogs because he or she wants to play and wont take no for an answer, I certainly can help you diagnose why these behaviours are occurring and develop a Behaviour Modification program to help.
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As always we welcome your comments, give us your thoughts below.