• LET A DOG BE A DOG 

    I truly believe that this is fundamental in having a sociable well rounded dog in your household.

    buster with log

    Most owners (me included) are guilty of humanising their dogs to some extent, this is Ok, as long as there is not too much of it and the dog is allowed to be a dog when going about most of it's general business, especially when out and about amongst other dogs. 

    Dogs are hard wired to explore, it is in their genes, so let them (if safe).  They are also highly social animals too, so let them mix with other sociable dogs (unless you already have a problem dog). Vintage hereditary genes found in many breeds of dog will drive many dogs in some of their behaviours, so let them exercise these traits now and then, let them sniff, pee, run, search, swim, they and you will be happier for it. Dogs are also a predator species not a prey species like horses for instance, the prey drive instinct is much stronger in certain breeds and may cause problems for inexperienced unwary owners if handled wrongly, (see the /which-breed-dog-or-crossbreed-is-best topic for more on this).

    You should not though let your pup/dog just run riot as this will cause you other problems too. You should retain control most of the time and include some regular training sessions, short ones with a pup as the attention span is small. Include also some lead walking sessions, when out walking call your pup/dog to you and put them on the lead for a short spell; do this anytime, not just when you see any other approaching dogs, otherwise they will soon learn that lead preempts something, another dog and something to worry about etc etc and problems will arise. Your friend needs to think coming to mum/dad and putting the lead on is a good thing; have a treat (nice one) on hand as a reward, and give praise; later on praise should be enough. 

    When a dog takes a walk it is picking up on things that we cannot even see, smell or hear as their senses capabilities are far beyond our own. When a dog smells another’s marking it can tell the sex of the other dog, it's age and social standing, how healthy it is (can smell many diseases) and how long ago it was there. If it was a unknown dog and recently in the area then the dog doing the sniffing may well become interested in case it comes across it. Most owners probably won't even notice the difference in behaviour but I can see this happen in my own dog as he prepares for a possible meeting. If they do meet and both are well socialised dogs they will go through a ritualised pattern of innate and learnt behaviour which should not involve any serious aggression. They will assess the situation to see there is no perceived threat, take into account what is in the immediate environment at that time and what outcome they may have on the decision making, and try to ascertain the other dog/dogs intentions and react accordingly (to them). The result could be; have some interaction be it play or otherwise, become defensive, become aggressive, run away or any other that seems appropriate to the dog in question. Sometimes there is no particular order to things as the prior personal learning of each dog will have great effect on what goes on. 

    Dogs need this sort of stimulus and interaction, for them it's the way it should be. They are social animals and have evolved to behave this way, this sort of social interaction is as important as exercise for the healthy mental well being of a dog. You should allow your dog to say hello to others from the earliest safe time (after full inoculations, injections or homeopathic). Early on try to make these interactions happen with friendly dogs, maybe your friends or relatives dogs in a neutral environment (out and about), the more easy going meetings at an early age the better, reinforce the good association by being jolly and upbeat throughout, try not to be tense or fearful your pup/dog will pick up on it.  

    Often I see people running or cycling with their dog on a lead beside them, yes, they are getting exercise but they are not being allowed to carry out any of the things that dogs love and need to do; to explore, to socialise, to pee when they want too (usually on top of another dogs mark or just to empty their bladder). These dogs are getting exercise but not much else of what they require to be a happy well rounded dog. Some owners might think they are “being the boss” by making the dog do this and run with them under strict control, truth is the dog has no choice in the matter and has to go along with it and this will have little if any impact on a dogs perception of who is the boss but may well be detrimental to the dogs behaviour as they miss out on vital dog experiences and skills of life that have to be learnt in day to day interactions with other dogs, people and the environmnet. Dogs that are exercised like this on a regular basis with little or no other forms of exercise, and not meeting other dogs, are often not very good at interacting and socialising with others. Just running, cycling, skating or similar with your dog on a tight lead is not a healthy way to exercise your dog if there is not also lots of other social, play and stimulating time off the lead as well.

    A dog should be off the lead in a safe environment as often as possible giving them free range to do the things that dogs do and if you have gone about everything the right way it should not be a problem but a joy to watch and be part of. If you do have a dog with existing serious social problems then professional help will be required. What I would like to add here is that you should make sure when exercising your dog, especially a puppy and juvenile that you do not overdo it for fear of damaging the young dogs growth plates causing arthritic type joint problems later in life. They should be a year old really before serious long hard exercise is carried out, even later (2 years +) for the giant breeds and dogs prone to such, retrievers for instance.

    There will be times when generally well socialised dogs of equal standing may fall out as one wants to be boss or control things or resources that are seen as important to itself (attention, food, toys, even just a footpath through the dogs regular woodland walk) in the immediate environment. This can involve lots of noise, posturing and sometimes physical contact, but not physical damage. A well socialised, well rounded dog will not want to get injured and so lower their fitness in the canine race of life.

    If a dog readily bites others then it has problems that are not acceptable in our human environment. The reasons for its behaviour might be many and really for the species and the circumstances in which it happened might be quite normal species behaviour, just not acceptable to us, they may not have not been well socialised and taught what is acceptable. There could of course be other underlying clinical/behavioural problems, but I cannot cover this here.

    It is in a dogs genetic make up to explore, some breeds a lot more so than others, they will have been bred over centuries to reinforce and bring out this trait. Often what is in the immediate environment will be more interesting to certain dog than you are, If all is safe then let them explore, though with good training you should be able to call them back to you. I won't cover the recall here as a good dog trainer/puppy school should be your way forward here. Just let your dog have a romp now and then, it is a joy to watch and is good for them and you.

    If you have a pedigree dog with strong breed specific behaviours or traits, or also a cross breed dog with a more obvious leaning towards a certain breed then it would definitely be good for all concerned to structure some of their play around things that employ these traits (sniffing, searching, swimming, scenting, pulling things, finding things, meeting people, meeting dogs, etc). They will have strong genetic impulses to do certain behaviours and will be much happier in life if they are allowed to use them sometimes instead of suppressing them completely (as long as it is safe to do so).

    Some more examples would be;

    Spaniels to hunting and smelling things out:- Hide food, treats, yourself, toys around the garden or undergrowth when out and let them find them, start with easy finds then make it harder putting things under pots or the like, make it a jolly affair. When toys are found you can play with them and your dog as an extra treat so they love to find things.

    Retrievers to retrieving:- You don't have to end up with a top gundog but your friend will love retrieving things for you from land and water, again start small and build up to retrieving a dummy with a 100m swim, they will love it. They like to use their noses too.

    Scent hounds like basset, beagle, bloodhound etc :- An obvious one really, give them a chance to use that nose, they most probably will anyway whether you allow them to or not, it would be better to do it though with you, helping you also with your hierarchy and bond too. Do some hide and seek again with whatever motivates your dog, even other members of the family, when doing this though allow them to find you easily to start with so they do not become distressed or anxious, it should be enjoyable for all and they will associate it with this and want to carry on doing it.

    Collies and other strong working breeds like Husky :- Not dogs for the new inexperienced owner really, but if you do have or are getting one then structured play and mental stimulation is paramount to stop undesirable behaviours born out of boredom and frustration. Agility would be good for collies, you could do this at home or if you go to a class make sure it is well run so again no negative associations (like fighting with other dogs in the class or aversive techniques) are learnt and cause future problems. Pulling sledges for Huskies and similar dogs (or a similar substitute like dragging a tyre) would be good. If you have Huskies or similar do some real research on good exercise and well fitting harnesses for them otherwise problem behaviours will manifest themselves, but here again I will add that the Husky/Malamute type is not for the inexperienced.

    In conclusion:-

    Really, all dogs require mental stimulation as well as exercise, some breeds substantially more. Many problem behaviours in dogs are caused or made worse by lack of exercise, lack of mental stimulation and lack of early socialisation and exposure to novel (new) non frightening stimulus. Dogs need to socialise with other dogs and people from a young age to become well rounded dogs in our human environment (but don't go obsessively over the top with socialisation, see /socialising-your-dog) .

    They need to explore the world around them for themselves and be exposed to new things (but don't scare them when learning). Some breeds would benefit from play structured around breed specific behaviours, do your homework on a breed or crossbreed with a lot of one breed in it and work out some enjoyable games for you and them to do together; try to let it all happen naturally at your dogs pace.

    Don't push your dog/pup to learn things too quickly or at a relentless pace as they might often lose interest completely or not understand what is required of them and just shut down (behaviourally known as learned helplesness) and not respond. This is not a good position for a pup/dog to get into. 

    To read more about topics connected to this have a look at my /which-breed-dog-or-crossbreed-is-best page.

    LET A DOG BE A DOG!

    Why not take a look at my first book, a realistic novel about a wolf called Elmer, his family and their life. My hope is that you will learn much about wolves and mother nature, and come to understand why man first thought to domesticate these amazing social animals to give us our best friend, the dog.