Why dog socialisation classes aren’t the answer

Recently I wrote a post about dogs who bark at other dogs as I often receive enquiries from owners who’s dogs aren’t best keen on the presence of other dogs.  Many of these owners will go on to say that it’s their fault because they didn’t take their dog to socialisation class when they were young.  Or they ask me whether I run socialisation classes, to help them sort this problem out.

The idea of dog socialisation classes…

…is that it gives your dog the opportunity to become used to being around other dogs and interacting with them in a socially acceptable way.  Because it’s run by a trainer and in a controlled environment, these classes can be a nice calm introduction to the idea that it’s fine to be around other dogs, and it can in fact be quite nice.

However…!

How effective they are depends very much on the personality of your dog!  The below are just some of the experiences that different owners that I have helped with their dogs or puppies have had at dog socialisation classes:

  • The dog refuses to go near any of the other dogs, and just hides – growling at any dog that comes close.
  • Their dog just barks at all the other dogs.
  • All the other dogs are barking and their dog becomes more fearful of other dogs, rather than less.
  • All the dogs there seem to get noticeably better at fighting!
  • They are encouraged to just let their dog off the lead to sort it out for themselves, without having good recall established already.
  • Their dog is the smallest, so they are petrified of their dog getting bullied, their dog picks up on their anxiety.
  • They get thrown out of the class for having an “untrainable dog” (there’s no such thing)

If you are lucky enough to have a naturally placid and relaxed dog, or a confident and assured dog, then these problems are unlikely to arise for you, so you won’t have any problem.  Plus it’s a good opportunity to get your dog used to responding to your requests, despite there being lots of other things going on.  E.g. if your dog goes towards the one that is hiding and growling, then it’s a good chance to invite your dog to come away, so they learn to accept your decision in that type of situation – and not to bother dogs who are wary of them.

Doris scared

It’s all about your relationship with your dog.

In reality, it is unnatural for your dog to socialise with dogs from outside of it’s own pack (you and any other pets that you have, or maybe extended family and their pets too), just the same as humans used to live in clans, and would stick to their own, rather than risk trusting anyone who might not have their best interests at heart.

Your dog needs to learn that they can trust you, and that you are capable of making great decisions AND you have their best interests at heart.  So if you think this other dog is okay, then that’s okay with them.  That is the missing piece when it comes to dog socialisation classes.

Why wouldn’t my dog trust my decisions?

Simply put, we interact with dogs in a human way, they understand that interaction in a dog way. Their doggy understanding of default human behaviour is that we are not in charge, and we are in fact dependent on them.  The more confident/placid dog can deal with this, but many cannot, so when faced with another dog, they will make the decision that this dog needs telling to stay back (regardless of how many socialisation classes you’ve taken them to), and leave their pack alone.

However if you make the effort to convince your dog – in a way that makes sense to them – that you are the leader of your pack and they can trust you, then they will feel very differently about the presence of other dogs!

So don’t beat yourself up…

…if you haven’t taken your dog to socialisation classes before and think that this is the reason for poor behaviour around other dogs. It’s mainly because you are a human, and they are a dog, and you wouldn’t naturally know how to show them that you are the leader, so they can trust your decisions that there is nothing to worry about, would you?!

Please do not rely on the internet to find information of how to show your dog that you are the leader of the pack, as there is a lot of conflicting, dubious (and, in some cases, dangerous) information available.  Choose a reliable source, that you can stick to consistently.  I can highly recommend the teachings of international best selling author Jan Fennell.  She has written a number of books and I recommend to my clients that they read “The Dog Listener“.  If you would rather have someone teach you 121 what you need to do, then I would be happy to help.  Jan Fennell taught me what I know, quality assures what I do and recommends me through her website.  I am based in Leigh on Sea and provide dog behaviour consultations all over Essex, and in East London, Suffolk, Kent and Hertfordshire.

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