Raising a Good Puppy

I had yet another bad dog owner interaction this morning.

Now, maybe it's 'cause I'm and old curmudgeon, but I seem to have been interacting with a slew of people who should not own dogs (heh... how's that for judgmental... and you kids get off my lawn).

This morning's interaction was between a medium sized 6 month old dog and Archer.

Archer is 10 and has interacted with tens of thousands of dogs. He makes it a point to meet a new dog on every way (3 to 4 walks a day) and say, "Hello," and generally get to know a dog. He's very well socialized and can interact successfully with most dogs... and the dogs he doesn't interact successfully with, he just walks away from.

So, we are walking. We see a dog on a leash. I make Archer sit and I ask if my dog can say hi to the other dog. Yes, I always ask because it's polite and sometimes there are reasons why some other dog may not be okay to say hi to Archer.

The owner we met this morning said, "my dog's not really well socialized so I don't think it's a good idea." He says this as he's walking toward Archer and his dog comes over to say hi.

His dog (who is about 25 lbs vs. Archer's very tall 95 lbs) does a friendly vocalization and jumps up so he's snout to snout with Archer. Both dogs have wagging tails and there's no sign of hackles. The owner yanks the leash and corrects the dog. Sigh.

Dogs are Different than Humans

One of the core things to understand about dogs is that they have different social norms than humans. Humans would not put their nose in a stranger's butt as a way to greet.

I don't speak dog. Yes, I'm met many thousands of dogs and watched Archer interact with them. This means that I have a gross understanding of dog... like wagging tails, hackles, and some rough notion of the meaning of vocalizations (are they friendly or hostile?)

With Archer, I have always let him interact with other dogs in his own way unless there's blood or some signs of extreme unhappiness. An example of extreme unhappiness was when two German Shepard bitches growled and barked until Archer was curled up in a ball on the ground.

By letting Archer speak dog and learn dog, he has gained a very good dog vocabulary. He is polite in meeting dogs. He can politely say, "No thank you," when a dog tries to mount him. He can get a fun dog to play with him. I can take him places and let him interact with all manner of two and four legged creatures.

Letting Dogs learn to Speak Dog

The puppy owner this morning was trying to apply human norms to his dog's interaction with my dog. This is not okay. His dog will never learn to speak dog... will never be well socialized with other dogs... never get to be a dog... if the dog isn't allowed to interact with other dogs as a dog.

I think it's a good thing to apply human norms to a dog interacting with a human. It's not okay for a dog to jump up on a human. It's mostly not okay for a dog to vocalize toward a stranger human.

However, in order for a dog to be a dog... in order for a dog to be a happy dog... it must be able to socialize and interact with other dogs... as dogs do.

How Dogs Socialize

Dogs are very social creatures. They run in packs but they also like to mix it up with members of different packs.

The way dogs learn to socialize is, as puppies, to interact with lots of other dogs and puppies.

Dogs have lots and lots of ways to help puppies understand what acceptable behavior is. For example, next time you're playing with a puppy and it nibbles at your hand, give a high pitched "yelp." The puppy will immediately back off and maybe put her ears down. A few seconds later, the puppy will be back at play with you.

The yelp is a way that puppies tell other puppies, "you bit me too hard." It's important for puppies to learn to control their mouth (it's their primary means of manipulating their world) and puppies are wired to back off when another puppy yelps.

If a puppy jumps up on you, turn your back. The social shunning of the puppy tells the puppy that what it did is not okay. If you yell at the puppy or otherwise interact with him, he will treat the jumping up as a game.

Watch the way puppies interact with each other and with adult dogs. You'll see a how the puppies give each other feedback and how the adult dogs give the puppies feedback. And over time, the puppies will grow to learn what's okay and what's not.

Be Kind to your Dog

A key way to be kind to your dog is to let her socialize with lots of other dogs. The socialization is emotionally good for the dog and will teach the dog how to be a better dog.

Don't apply human norms to dog interaction. Just let your dog go at it with other dogs unless there's clear danger or distress. Let the dogs work it out for themselves.

Unless your dog draws blood from other dogs, let your dog interact in all different situations with other dogs. Even if your dog is on leash and gets more aggressive with other dogs, let him interact from on leash... he will learn to be more chill.

But, please, please, please... if your dog meets another dog and there's some jumping and vocalization and rough-housing... just let it go because your dog will come back from that walk happier and better off.