So, I get a lot of mails concerning teenage or adult dogs that have issues around other dogs, most commonly barking and lunging, especially when on leash or separated by fencing. A lot of owners are under the impression that this is due to lack of socialisation and that the problem can be solved by socialising their dog. I’ll explain briefly, the socialisation period in these cases has long gone, although dogs require consistent training and socialising throughout the rest of their lives the crucial period is when they’re puppies upto 3.5 month aprox depending on the breed, the following months are important also but this first period of time is of imperative importance. Failure to correctly socialise the pup in this period of time will significantly limit his future social skills.
Us humans refer to meeting up with friends and family as “socialising” there’s a big difference between that and “socialisation” if we we’re kept at home for the first 5 years of our lives and then suddenly submerged into schooling we wouldn’t adapt properly or know how to behave in social situations, this would not be fixed by mere exposure to mass amounts of other children, we would need to actively learn how to interact and behave in society. With dogs it’s much the same, if the socialisation train has gone then it’s gone, we can however work on the behaviour and improve social skills with the help of a trainer or behaviourist.
Exposing your reactive dog to other dogs without full control of the situation could severely backfire, generally the dog that is lunging and barking is not exhibiting “aggressive” behaviour as it may seem but acting out of fear in order to distance the other dog. Similar behaviour can be seen in dogs that greet in an overly anxious manner due to overexcitment. Although in this case the dog actually wants to greet and is just over enthusiastic it is just as problematic, as other dogs will generally not tolerate these bad manners and with bad leash skills and the incorrect reaction to the situation from the owner it could cause fights and or evolve from just excitement into a negative association with other dogs.
The first and biggest mistake I find is owners punishing these reactions thus making the bad association with dogs worse and confirming to the dog that there really is a reason to be worried when in dog presence, sometimes even before it has happened, it doesn’t “snap him out of it” or “redirect the attention”…it just worsens the situation. We should infact be making our dog feel comfortable in presence of other dogs, building trust, controlling the distance between dogs, giving him enough space and allowing him make good decisions that we can reinforce!