Dogs are social creatures and need regular contact with other animals and dogs. But not all dogs react with openness and friendliness when they meet conspecifics. Your darling has problems with dog encounters or even with other people? You know every lonely forest path within a radius of 20 km only not to meet anyone? Then your darling possibly lacks social skills. But don’t worry, even this problem can be alleviated or even eliminated with a little training.
Signs of lack of social acceptance
If your dog shows undesirable behaviour when encountering other dogs or people, it can be extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. Especially if your dog reacts aggressively to others, your counterpart may react with fear or anger, and you may be embarrassed or extremely stressed. But most of all, it means an enormous unnecessary stress factor for the dogs.
It is important to understand that your dog does not show this behaviour to annoy you, but because he has either never learned otherwise or had negative experiences and has learned to reach his goal only with this behaviour. The goal may have been to make contact initially or to increase distance.
If your dog shows one or more of the following behaviours when you meet other dogs and people, it may be a sign of lack of acceptance:
- Your dog jumps into the leash
- Keeps a constant lookout for the “enemy”
- Seems hardly controllable
- Shows threatening gestures, such as excessive barking, growling, baring of teeth
- Shows some defensive behaviour
- Reacts with freeze, flight or fight
- Displays fearful or stressed behaviour
What is the encounter training for?
This training is intended to teach your dog to show a different behaviour than the current one we don’t want him to show when meeting people or other people. How is this done? By teaching the dog to show an alternative behaviour in certain situations.
At the same time, the original negative stimulus or trigger is reconditioned into a positive one.
In order for a certain behaviour to be shown it needs a trigger. A corresponding behaviour is then shown in response to this trigger. The consequence of this behaviour determines whether it will be shown less often or more often. If the dog draws an advantage for itself from its behaviour it will show this more often, had it thereby no success new ways are tried.
As a simple example:
Your dog is called by you and he immediately runs to you. Thereupon he gets a piece of food. The consequence was positive and the behaviour “come immediately” is shown more often.
When learning social competence, it is important to learn different signals beforehand and to acquire some basic knowledge about distances and their meaning.
Important signals when learning social competence
- Attention Signal: Should tell the dog that when he looks at you, an action will follow.
- Safety signal: Tells the dog that the behaviour being shown is correct.
- Warning signal: Gives the dog a chance to correct his behaviour on his own to avoid negative enhancement.
The signals should be different. Which signals you train the dog to use is up to you. Be it a whistle, a “good boy” or a “look”.
Training: Distance, perception and reaction
If you now have a dog that reacts to an animated or inanimate stimulus with fear, flight, waiting, threatening or defensive behavior, then dog encounter training is a good training opportunity.
- Initially, care is taken to ensure that encounters take place in a controllable surrounding, the encounter situations are posed.
- You work with two dogs, and in the beginning it can be helpful to choose a second dog that has no problems with encounter other dogs, so as not to make it too difficult for the training dog.
- At the beginning the individual distance of the respective dog is searched, in which the dog is still neutral. This can be quite close or hundreds of meters away.
- Possibly your dog reacts only to certain dog breeds or people, for example, with headgear.
- If eye contact is made with another dog and then with the owner, the dog is immediately rewarded.
- The attention signal also helps to direct the gaze to the owner. If the dog does not react or is very stressed, the distance to the other dog is increased.
- The correct order of rewarding is also important:
Correct: Stimulus- eye contact- reward
Wrong: Reward- Stimulus. Otherwise the reward itself could be seen as negative or the dog does not understand what it is all about.
- If the encounter works well at this distance, the distance can be slowly reduced.
- Also the signal “drop it” can be learned. This teaches the dog that the food can be found on the ground. This can be helpful in difficult situations, as it can also be seen by conspecifics as appeasement or jumping over. (Look I’m not there at all, I’m doing something else).
- In the best case, your beloved friend learns during this training to show a desired behavior more often during encounters. For example, approaching in a friendly arc instead of running full speed ahead to the other dog.
If you have any questions or need help with this type of training, feel free to contact a certified trainer.
A socially competent dog will definitely make meeting other dogs or people on the daily walk easier and more enjoyable for all involved. Behaviourally challenged dogs can learn how to behave differently in such situations through what is called encounter training. Have fun with the dog encounters.