The “Only Dog” Syndrome, part II

When I adopted Kita, I made a lot of training mistakes, but there’s ONE thing I did exactly right.  From our first day together, we walked, morning and evening without fail — mostly in a park down the street.  At each walk, we encountered other human/dog pairs on the same mission.  In the evening, EVERYBODY in the neighborhood seemed to be there with their dog(s)!  So Kita, though she was the “only dog” in our household at the time, got lots of socialization!

Kita met small dogs like Jack Russell Terriers and big dogs like Great Danes.   Kita met friendly dogs who wanted to play and adult dogs who hid (often between MY legs, oddly enough) when she wanted to play.  Kita met dogs that scared her (her first meeting with the Great Danes, Kita backed up snapping her jaws in panic) and dogs that were a bit reactive towards her (terriers especially barked and snarled at the ends of their leashes.) Kita met dogs that bowled her over in play, some who lifted a lip at her and some who didn’t tolerate other dogs, but liked her!

In other words, Kita got a lot of real-life experience with other dogs of all shapes, sizes and temperaments.  Plus, she got the experience while she was still young enough to be treated as a puppy by older dogs.  Adult dogs are programmed to be nice to puppies.  They will tolerate rambunctious behavior.  If the puppy makes mistakes in doggie protocol, an adult dog will usually reprimand the puppy in a much more restrained manner than if an adult dog acted the same way.   These lessons in proper doggie etiquette can’t be learned from humans!  Only dogs can teach other dogs the way to behave!

A puppy that does not have this early interaction with other dogs will have a hard time learning those lessons in later life.  The average “only dog” meets other dogs just once in a while.  So, most of them are insecure around others, and react in inappropriate ways out of anxiety and stress.  Get two under-socialized and insecure dogs meeting and the problems escalate!  Add to the equation owners who are nervous because their dog shows some teeth, barks and/or growls and the stress levels increase exponentially!

A lot of clients tell me their dog “goes ballistic” when seeing other dogs on walks.  Not surprisingly, most of these are “only dogs” and have had no close interaction with other canines since they left their litter-mates at 7-8 weeks old.  Now, they are teens/young adults and since dogs are very social animals, they see one of their own kind and get really, really, really excited.  The adrenaline goes through the roof, they don’t know how to behave, they’re “tied up” (on a leash) — so they go off the deep end.

There’s an old saying — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   It’s really true in this case!  Getting your only-dog puppy out of the house and meeting other dogs takes time and effort, but is at least 16 times less trouble in the long run than dealing with an unsocialized dog later in life.

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