What if I told you that it was perfectly normal that your dog didn't like every single dog that they met?
It is quite normal for dogs to be dog selective, they might not like the bouncy puppies the young dogs, or the dogs without any manners. What is less common are dogs who enjoy meeting every single dog they come across, it’s just that you happened to see a lot more of those because they're the ones that are rushing across the park to say hello or having a big play in the middle. The graph below explains this sociability spectrum well.
Not every dog is a social butterfly:
With that in mind, we need to address Socialisation.
Socialisation sounds like it's going out and meeting every person and every dog, however, what we should trying to achieve during socialisation is exposing our dog to lots of new experiences, in a positive way, so that the next time they come across them, they aren't scared, they know it's okay and they know they don't need to react.
If we think of sociability in terms of people, we don't like every person, not every person is our cup of tea. This is perfectly normal and it is accepted. However, imagine you were forced to interact and socialise with every single person you met, whether you like them or not. How would that make you feel about meeting the next person, and the next person, and the next person? If you're not a social butterfly, the last thing you want to be doing is going out and meeting loads of people. So then what can happen is you then start to worry about going out, and worry about meeting new people, which creates social anxiety.
This can be the same situation with puppies and dogs.
Some dogs like to have a little group of friends but are not keen on meeting ‘new’ dogs. However if this type of dog is repeatedly put in social situations where they feel there is no way out, and no one is listening to them, we can start to see them escalate their communication, which is the beginning of fear based reactive behaviour.
This is why I feel it is important to encourage dog guardians to approach socialisation in a different way. When we practice the social side of socialisation, I suggest to guardians that they allow 1:5 people/dog interactions. We teach the dogs that they are not always going to say hello, and we make this rewarding for them. When they do "meet & greet", we keep it short, this can help prevent awkward social interactions.
If you do allow your dog to meet every single person, as we've mentioned, there's the potential for reactive behaviour. On the flip side, there is the potential that your dog doesn't learn good manners, which results in them rushing up to every single dog, every single person because they haven't learned how not to say hello. This in itself poses its own risks.
Imagine if you were in the park minding your own business because, like most people, you are socially selective. Then some random person runs over and gives you a hug... do you think "Its ok, they are just being friendly" or do you think "erm, rude! Get out of my personal space"? Your answer to this probably depends on where you sit on the sociability spectrum, as does your reaction towards the hugger. This is the same for our dogs.
It is our responsibility, as good guardians, to teach our dogs how to engage in social situations well, so we can protect the less sociable from forced interactions, and the more sociable from being told off.
Socialisation done well, creates a confident dog
In conclusion, perhaps we should think of socialisation as habituation instead. Which means, to help create a well rounded confident dog, guardians need to focus on new experiences, positive exposures, to different surfaces, different sounds, and different smells.
Here are some photos of the pups at my classes enjoying some socialisation!
If you have any questions about socialisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch!
The Rewarding Dog Trainer
Helping Your Dog Grow Up Confident