Finding the balance in Social Interactions between dogs
With all the discussions on whether/how dogs should interact with other dogs and just how social they should be, I thought I would share our philosophy at our training school:
Our personal ideal for the average companion or family dog, living in our part of the world where we have lots of access to outdoor areas for recreation with our dogs - is that dogs are tolerant of other dogs and able to pass other dogs on walks without stress, to meet other tolerant dogs for short polite greetings (both on and off lead, where appropriate) and perhaps find the occasional friend to have a game with (optional).
This is a high ideal and we certainly don't expect that every dog will be able to cope with all of this. We also work with a lot of rescue dogs and dogs that did not have adequate socialization as puppies and our expectations for such dogs would be different and we would work within their limitations to provide appropriate enrichment and training without causing them anxiety and stress.
However, for those dogs that start with us as puppies or have no prior social or emotional problems, this is what we aim for:
In PUPPY CLASS where dogs would be considered "dog-social" we have a brief time for WELL MANAGED off lead play. We prevent bullying, over-arousal and guide the process to encourage socially appropriate behaviour. We also spend 80% of the lesson focused on building a bond with the owner and so the "fun with other pups" portion of class is short, but we believe important for creating dogs that know how to communicate effectively with lots of different types of dogs and develop a tolerance for dog-dog interactions.
In our ADOLESCENT classes, we focus on continuing to strengthen the bond between dogs and owners and as these youngsters move from being "dog-social" to "dog-tolerant" we emphasise and strengthen the skill of ignoring other dogs and only allowing brief greetings on loose leads for dogs that are comfortable with each other.
By the time dogs reach our ADVANCED ADULT classes, they usually work off lead 90% of the time, but have little interest in interacting with each other. The bond with the owner and the enjoyment of training at this stage is sufficient to keep their focus and we regularly have 10-14 dogs all playing with their owners at once off lead without anyone interfering with anyone else. This does not mean that our adult dogs are anti-social. Most of them have friends they walk with and are used to encountering strange dogs at the beach or up the mountain without hassle.
And while most of our advanced dogs ignore each other completely in class, we do have a few that over time develop special friendships. Like Gambit and Stella in the first photo, who regularly play after class once everyone else is gone and their humans help us pack up - or Laika and Charlie, the original odd couple who, despite being two of the quietest, gentlest dogs in class, have an absolute love affair going and just like to sit together and cuddle if they can. The last photo is of Stella and Laika enjoying some affection from each other's moms and demonstrating their tolerance for each other and for sharing.
While we accept that not all dogs are like this and we respect and work within every dog's limitations, to give them the space they need to thrive and be comfortable, we do strive to raise dogs to be dog tolerant and enjoy healthy social interactions. We have found this to be the happiest outcome for most of our clients and their dogs.