Yielding and Pack Drive
There was a time when our dogs were able to roam neighborhoods, playing with kids and carousing with other dogs. Dogs grew up with finely developed social skills, kids weren’t bitten and there were hardly ever dogfights.
Times have changed, as has the law. We have leash laws and dogs are now required to stay locked up or leashed, and don't have a chance to develop those social skills. Although the leash gives the owner a (sometimes spurious) sense of control, it cancels the dog's ability to flee (flight response) a dangerous situation and may make it more fearful and likely to snap (fight response).
To help overcome this, we have created dog parks where unknown dogs are released off leash into a fenced area where they run, shoulder bump, jump over one another, scoot under one another and challenge one another to play. Properly supervised and unwanted behaviors (mounting, bullying, resource guarding etc.) immediately stopped, they come away better able to read other dogs' body language, and became truer to their nature as a social creature.
Dick Russell was the first dog trainer in the western hemisphere to offer ”Large Field
Socialization” and was the first to recognize “Yielding” as an easy way to establish respect, trust, and leadership. This is different than a dog park because in open field socialization, all the dogs start the activity on leash and stop the activity at the same time back on leash. The owners and dogs all walk in the same direction, in a big circle and do not engage with their dogs, as that is left to the trainer who uses spatial pressure and yielding to break up a potential conflict BEFORE it’s too late. The dogs quickly switch into “pack drive” where they and are all working for the good of the pack. Next time you are at the dog park, walk around the blacktop path and your dog will parallel play keeping you in sight. Turn and go in the opposite direction and your dog will soon follow. Now, imagine if all humans were walking and changed direction at the same time and there was an expert in the middle reading body language, all dogs in the park would be in “pack drive”.
Obedience training is very helpful in establishing you as your dog’s benevolent leader. But in order to have a relaxed, confident pet, that you can take anywhere you want without them becoming frightened or defensive, they will know that you have their back.
If your dog is fear reactive towards other dogs while on leash, the first thing is to give them a job to do (“heel” position while walking) and implement a zero tolerance policy when it comes to meeting dogs on leash. Only let them meet other dogs off leash in very calm, controlled environments, with multiple dogs, and always keep it short and positive.
Do this for several months, combined with engage / disengage games (play interrupted by a
“come” or “look” command), and you will eventually have a completely different dog. Your dog may not be overly social, but they will just ignore when they don't like a dog, and they will engage a bit more when they d
Rick Alto is a member of the Friends of Brewster Dog Park Board of Directors and the owner of ExFed Dog Training.