Several years ago I blogged about how to introduce dogs the right way — slow and steady. Why is it that we humans don’t apply the same relationship principles to our dogs as we would to meeting a new person? Just because two dogs are social dogs doesn’t mean they’re going to get along and fall in love instantly. And, just because two dogs love to play with other dogs doesn’t mean they’re going to go through their whole life never having a conflict or disagreement with another dog. That is the case with human relationships and it holds true even for our canine companions.
Relationships, of all sorts, take time. There are in fact key ingredients to successful human relationships, so I decided to list a few below and see how they compare to our four legged counterparts:
1. Accept and Celebrate Differences. Not all dogs have the same temperament, play style or energy level for play. It’s unlikely that a ten year old dog is going to enjoy playing with a ten month old puppy.That’s not to say that a senior dog won’t be willing to play for a short interval, until he’s tired and grumpy! There’s nothing wrong with the fact that your puppy has boundless energy, and that your friend’s senior aged dog would rather lay quietly at his owner’s feet chewing a bone. Some small dogs have been stepped on (and scared) in the past by bigger dogs, so naturally they feel more comfortable playing with friends their size. In both these scenarios (and there are many, many more) nothing is wrong with either dog if they don’t want to play, or if they don’t get a long. And then, there are some dogs who never get along. I can think of a few people along the way in my life I just don’t like. No hard feelings, I am who I am and I don’t have to like everyone, nor does everyone have to like me. Period.
2. Listen Effectively. Don’t you hate people who always interrupt you? Who can’t pay attention? Remember your likes and dislikes? Isn’t it always so nice to find someone who you can relate to, someone who listens to you. You’re not alone, your dog feels that way too. There’s nothing worse than being misunderstood. Dogs become effective “listeners” by ensuring that during puppyhood they are appropriately socialized to other dogs. Puppies who miss out on early socialization with hundreds of dogs (yes, I said hundreds) are less likely to accept or understand every type of dog they will meet throughout their lifetime. Dogs become good “listeners” by being able to understand dog body language — the subtleties of dog-dog communication. Ever met someone socially awkward? Dogs can be that way too. If this is your dog, it’s important that you learn to read the communications of other dogs for your dog so that your dog doesn’t get himself into a situation he doesn’t know how to resolve. The perfect example of this is a dog who continues to harass another dog to play even though the other dog has been moving away, turning his head away, growling, snapping, or trying to end the play session. If your dog continues to pester, there’s bound to be a fight… a fight that could have been prevented by your watchful eye and understanding of canine body language and play. Dogs who were socialized very well are typically great listeners, and are unlikely to ever be in a fight. They know when to walk away, and they know then it’s appropriate to engage in play. Dogs who listen effectively also know when the other dog wants them to take the lead. Just like some people love someone who can control the conversation, make all the plans, and lead the way, some dogs like dog friends who take the front seat.
3. Make time to spend time together. No great relationship was built in one meeting. Yes, there will be dogs that your dog immediately adores, just like there will be some people you meet and automatically click with! But that instant chemistry isn’t an everyday occurrence, at least, not for most people. The same is true for most dogs. It took almost three months of living together before our border collies went from co-existing roommates to best friends running and playing together. We were careful to supervise all interactions to make sure every time our collies were allowed to be off leash together (indoors and out) they were comfortable. If anyone showed any signs of stress, we intervened to ensure they wouldn’t write each other off for good. And then, like magic, one day our older collie, the one who had been more aloof, invited his puppy brother to play. We gave them a lot of opportunities to be in neutral places away from home, too, so that their relationship could develop. When you just put two dogs together it is never safe to assume that they will automatically just love each other, but you can expect that with the right coaching, training, and encouraging any two dogs can learn to co-exist. It’s hard work! But aren’t all relationships hard work?! All relationships that are worth it, anyway.
Moral of the story? Love takes time! Well, maybe not if you’re an insect — love is pretty primal at that level. But you are not an insect, and neither is your dog. Be aware, and understanding, of who you dog is and what his/her specific needs are to be happy. Make sure you’ve invested the time and training necessary for your dog to be a good communicator with other dogs, and lastly, you have to be realistic that having a well socialized dog takes a lot of time and effort. It doesn’t’ just happen. Socialization also never stops. The misconception that socialization is only during puppyhood is a big one! You’d become socially awkward too if suddenly you never left the house again and were isolated from regular interactions with other humans. You might even start talking to yourself. Not healthy! Please make plans with your friends for this weekend!
Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT, CTDI
Dee is the owner of Applause Your Paws Dog Training, South Florida’s largest privately owned pet dog training company, and Miami’s number one user rated and reviewed dog trainers on yelp.com. At only 33 years old she’s semi retired these days from training dogs, but maintains her great sense of humor and no nonsense attitude when it comes to training dogs to be the ultimately human companion. With her new found freedom found through her successful business, Dee volunteers regularly in the animal welfare community, mentors other entrepreneurs, and dedicates her time to reading, writing and traveling. Dee shares her home with her English husband, two border collies, a yellow labrador, and two cats. Her key to success? Be so busy working on your own grass that you don’t have time to worry if someone else’s grass is greener. Woof.
[photo credit for featured image: wwww.AustralianDogLover.com]