A few weeks ago I wrote a post expressing concerns about the new trend in opinions and advice given by trainers, which seems to suggest that dogs should never approach or be approached by other people or dogs out in public at all - ever. I highlighted my concern that we are taking a species that has a high level of social attraction (which we've selected into them and is a huge part of the reason dogs do well as domestic animals ) and are changing the parameters to imply that dogs that are sociable and enjoy interactions with others are somehow dysfunctional and dogs that won't tolerate interactions with others are the new normal.
This week I came across two more articles of this nature and my concerns are growing rapidly. One article seemed to compare dogs that show any interest in interacting with other dogs and people with random strangers bear-hugging others in an elevator and the other actually suggested that actively organising for a puppy to have positive social experiences with other dogs and people is the root of all behaviour problems.
Now, while I am the first to agree that we need to constantly re-examine ideas and practises we take for granted as new information comes to light and I have previously spoken out about how the idea of socialization has been misunderstood or turned into something it shouldn't be in the dog world (e.g. forcing dogs into uncomfortable situations being manhandled by all and sundry or encouraging wild and excessive play with other dogs ), I am absolutely terrified of the ease with which these new extreme views are so easily put forward and the consequences that we will face as dog owners and dog professionals when the public latches on to these ideas and the effects filter through in real life.
So, I want to make it very clear as someone who works with hundreds of dogs and communicates with hundreds of owners every year (and numerous colleagues all over the world): THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH DOGS IS STILL LACK OF SOCIALIZATION - NOT TOO MUCH OF IT.
I have honestly NEVER encountered a single dog owner considering re-homing their dog because the dog was too friendly or sociable, but every week I encounter someone with a dog that had too few positive interactions as a puppy who is considering re-homing. Never have I met a dog owner who deeply regrets allowing their dog to interact with humans or other dogs in a positive manner as a puppy - daily I encounter people who deeply regret not giving their dogs these opportunities during the socialization period.
While of course we need to teach dogs that they cannot always approach people or dogs out in public and we need to reinforce appropriate interactions and not encourage over-the-top behaviour, this should not mean denying dogs all opportunities to interact with others. This new school of thought reminds me of show people who say "I'm not training my puppy to sit, because then he won't know how to stand for the show ring". This is really one of the stupidest things I hear. Dogs can learn how to sit and stand depending on the context and the cue given. The same is true for social encounters - dogs can learn that there are times they can interact and times they should ignore others, depending on the context and the signals which we and others give to them. In fact, well-socialised dogs are good at picking up signals that encourage interaction and signals which are a clear "disengagement" or lack of inclination to be sociable and well trained dogs will happily follow our cues and stay with us rather than approach others in public if that is what is required.
Dogs are a social species - we selected them to have a high level of attraction for each other and us. To expect dogs to show no interest in interacting with other people and dogs at all is putting them in a social straight jacket and is unrealistic and unfair. Of course there are appropriate and inappropriate interactions and ways to approach, but dogs that enjoy social interaction are hardly dysfunctional.
While it may not be appropriate to hug random strangers in an elevator, it is also rude to ignore people completely. Most of us would expect a polite nod or hello when passing someone on a trail and sometimes we may even stop and chat to other hikers briefly. Are dogs NEVER allowed to do the same?
Video: Rosie ignoring some dogs, briefly greeting others and attempting to play in one situation, all on the same walk, but in the context of the signals given by others. It is possible to have a sociable dog that isn't a pain!!