“Don’t worry,” the woman said cheerily, as Brian angrily barked at the dog hiding behind her leg, “He brought it on himself; he needs to learn to be more polite.”
I could have cried, because it could all have gone so differently.
Not two minutes previously, Brian and her dog had done a perfectly lovely and appropriate greeting. However, having said hello, Brian had moved on to the more interesting aspects of his walk. He ignored the dog and moved away as much as he could (he was on lead at the time), communicating disinterest as hard as he possibly could.
The dog didn’t take the hint. He carried on sniffing and nudging at Brian, who is not renowned for his patience with pushy dogs and who tends to be a little bit OTT with his responses.
Cue an angry and vocal telling off. Not the best experience for anyone involved.
The thing is, the dog’s owner wasn’t entirely wrong. Her dog, like all young dogs, DOES need to learn to be more polite. Puppies aren’t born with perfectly formed manners; they tend to be more sociable by nature than adult dogs and they do need to be taught how to interact appropriately with other dogs.
But it’s not the responsibility of stranger dogs to teach them.
There’s a whole range of problems with leaving our dogs to sink or swim when it comes to their social interactions. They get very mixed messages, because not every dog will react the same way to prolonged or unwanted attention (Seamus, for example, would have been DELIGHTED to have been at the centre of that much canine focus, but that doesn’t help any dog to learn when to back off).
There’s also always the worry that bad experiences will teach them the wrong lesson (“Got shouted at. That sucked. Maybe should shout first? Yes, shout first”).
In puppy classes we talk about keeping our greeting short, especially on the first meeting (who wants to discuss their life story with a complete stranger?) and teaching our puppies to exercise self-control before they get to say hi to other dogs.
Both of those things require us to carefully manage the situation to make sure that all the dogs involved have a good experience and that our puppies don’t get to reinforce bad habits. We have to make sure that we’re giving a consistent message, and that we intervene when self-control fails. We don’t just need to teach them how to greet, but also how to end a greeting and walk away. If we can make that the habit, we set our puppies up for good experiences and better relationships with other dogs.
And let’s face it, most experiences are better if they don’t start (or end) with being told off by a complete stranger!
Wishing everyone a week of good socialising!
Laura & Brian (the puppy police) & Seamus (the puppy enabler)
P.S. If you want to practice these important socialising skills (and have fun with other dogs at the same time), we’re offering two Social Skills for Puppies sessions in December (just in time to be ready for meeting all those other family dogs over Christmas!). If you have graduated (or will graduate) from one of our Puppy classes from October 2019 onwards, you’re welcome to book in and join us to practice nice greetings and nicer play with help from the WCC puppy team!
Limited to four puppies per session (and yes, you can do both).