Socializing a boisterous puppy
What about the puppy who is dominating the playgroup or escalates corrections and quickly becomes over-stimulated, spinning into a blaze of frenetic puppy energy? Many times, a puppy like this throws the group off by going over threshold quickly and beginning to make mistakes, such as slamming other puppies or escalating play to a level where he starts to mouth people or other puppies. You may also see this puppy start to guard toys or water bowls in the room and correct other puppies for coming too close to him when he is in this state. In this instance, you are looking for a balanced safe socializer dog who is willing to engage the pup in play, but will correct the puppy for becoming over-stimulated.
Which personalities will work
In this case, an All-Rounder or a very stable Magnet Dog will likely do the trick. If you have a super social Mr. Particular, he might be able to do the work. However, you’ll want to watch these interactions closely, as his tolerance for inappropriate behavior will likely be on the low side.
Which personalities won’t work
While the Cool Kid may do just fine socializing a shy dog, with a boisterous puppy you run the risk of him becoming a little too aggressive or becoming frustrated easily.
Life of the Party dogs are also not likely the best choice for socializing a boisterous pup. A Life of the Party has the tendency to become over-stimulated himself, leading him to make the puppy more aroused, which is not the best practice in this situation.
Teaching dogs to work through acute anxieties
While working as a dog trainer, you will undoubtedly find yourself working with clients who own anxious dogs. We’ll talk about how to use a safe socializer dog to help work through acute anxieties. But first, it’s important to understand some of the technical terms when dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from real or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (known as physiologic reactions) associated with fear. The most common visible behaviors are elimination (i.e., urination and/or passage of bowel movements), destruction and excessive vocalization (i.e., barking, whining).
In a bout of acute anxiety, symptoms develop quickly, over minutes or hours, in reaction to a stressful event. Similar to a panic attack in humans, acute anxieties can develop in response to a number of stimuli, including seeing other dogs on walks, the onset of a thunderstorm or loud noise, being left alone or having a resource taken away.
Sometimes the symptoms occur before a known situation. For example, a dog who has an anxious or reactive response to seeing another dog on leash in a particular park may begin showing symptoms of anxiety when he enters the park, even if there are no other dogs around. This is called situational anxiety.
Generalized anxiety is characterized by persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday things. Dogs with the disorder experience excessive anxiety and worry even when there is no apparent reason for concern
When clients come to me with a dog who is phobic or anxious in his surroundings, or has separation anxiety or isolation distress, they often wonder if bringing a second dog into the picture will ease the dog’s anxiety. The quick and dirty answer is that this works sometimes, but not most of the time. In order for this idea to work, the safe socializer must be emotionally stable, completely friendly and comfortable around people and other dogs, have a good relationship with the dog in question, and be trained enough to stay in the home with the other dog and not cause trouble. This is a tall order. And even when you find a dog who meets all of these criteria, it only works some of the time. In my practice, I would say that having a safe socializer as a constant companion or emotional support for an anxious dog may ease some of that dog’s anxiety approximately 25 percent of the time.
About 50 percent of the time, having a safe socializer dog will do absolutely nothing. And the remaining 25 percent of the time, having the safe socializer dog might actually hurt your cause and make the safe socializer become anxious. While I have found that adding a second dog may not always be realistic when working through generalized anxiety, using a safe socializer to work through acute anxieties is plausible in many applications. Here are a few possibilities:
Remaining calm and collected around scary stimuli
If you have a dog who is shy or nervous about certain stimuli, but is friendly and social with dogs, having a safe socializer dog may be a great way to habituate the fearful dog to a perceived threat. When using a safe socializer to help a demure dog build confidence in a perceived threatening situation, it’s best if the dogs have a relationship before beginning.
So get the pups together and have a few play-dates before working it out in real life. Once the dogs are friends and very comfortable with each other, introduce the scary stimulus while keeping the shy dog under threshold. If the shy dog balks at a stimulus, allow the safe socializer to engage in play with the shy dog, and then attempt to work them together for a few minutes close to the stimulus. With a little work, you may find it easier to get the shy dog comfortable with scary situations. When the dogs work past the scary stimulus, allow them to engage in a brief play session and end your training session on a high note.
Don’t push the fearful dog into interacting with the scary stimulus for too long! Many well-intentioned trainers feel so good after having a small breakthrough when working through a fear with a dog that they continue pushing forward with the dog instead of quitting while they are ahead. This can lead to a backslide in progress or (even worse) behavioral fallout down the road. So if you are working with a fearful dog, and make a step in the right direction, it is better to end the training session on a high rather than push on the dog too much.
For example, let’s say you have a dog who is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, and the mere presence of a vacuum cleaner in the room prevents the dog from coming into the room at all. Introduce the safe socializer to your fearful dog first without the vacuum in the room and allow them to engage in play. After a few sessions, bring the vacuum into a corner of the room, where the shy dog knows that it is there, and allow the dogs to have a play session. Graduate to moving the vacuum into the middle of the room, and then eventually turning it on and pushing it, all while the two dogs play together. The positive association of another playful dog may entice and encourage the shy dog to relax in the presence of the stressful stimulus.
Remember to keep the shy dog under threshold while you are doing an exercise of this nature. If you move too quickly, you may never get the shy dog to the point where he feels comfortable working around the stressful stimulus. Note that safe socializer dogs generally do not work in this application when dealing with a dog who is reactive to stimuli while on walks. In fact, when using a safe socializer in this application with reactive or aggressive dogs, you run the risk of the reactive dog redirecting aggression onto your safe socializer. But don’t fear, you can use a safe socializer while working in respect to reactive dogs. I’ll get to the logistics of that in the next chapter.
Tackling tactile troubles
If you are working with a friendly dog who is phobic of walking on new surfaces, past scary objects or into what they perceive as a dangerous space (i.e., elevators or new rooms), then having a safe socializer may be a good thing. Here’s how to work with the two dogs in these situations.
- Allow the phobic dog and the safe socializer dog to bond. For this, both dogs will need to be social with each other and enjoy being around each other. Schedule several play dates with the safe socializer and the phobic dog and work training exercises with both of them. Take them for walks together or allow them to play off leash in an enclosed area.
- Introduce the safe socializer to the stressful situation. For example, if the anxious dog is afraid to walk up and down stairs, bring your safe socializer to the stairs that you will work with. Be sure that your safe socializer is confident walking up and down the stairs before introducing the phobic dog to them.
- Introduce the phobic dog to the stimulus with the safe socializer. Start slowly. Let’s talk about those stairs again. If your goal is to get the phobic dog to walk up a flight of stairs that she is afraid of, take it one at a time. Start the safe socializer in the middle of the flight of stairs. When the phobic dogs puts a paw on the stairs, mark and then release the safe socializer into a play session at the bottom of the stairs with the phobic dog. Repeat until the dog has a “yippee!” response. When you are ready to move forward, reset the safe socializer in the middle of the flight of stairs. Mark the phobic dog for placing two front paws on the stairs and reward by releasing the safe socializer into a play session at the bottom of the stairs. Progress slowly until the phobic dog is turning around on the stairs and gladly running up and down the stairs!
Note that when working with a safe socializer in this situation, the safe socializer may be utilized as either a lure and/or as the reinforcement itself. Remember that reinforcement is unique to the individual who is being reinforced. In order for you to utilize a safe socializer in this application, a play session with a dog must be a stronger reinforcement to that individual dog than treats, petting and praise, or the avoidance of pressure, pain or fear.
Which personalities will work to help overcome anxiety
Here is where the Life of the Party shines! The Life of the Party is generally a pretty buoyant guy. So small things like a vacuum cleaner sitting in the middle of the room or a plastic bag rustling across his path do not tend to concern him. The Cool Kid may also be a good choice for this type of work, since he tends to be confident and rise up to a challenge that another dog may be nervous about.
Which personalities won’t work
The Wallflower. Mainly because he is the one who needs to work on this habituation plan in the first place. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And in this case, two Wallflowers don’t make brave decisions!