Dog Training 411

posted April 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Mary Green

QMy male 8 month old bulldog seems to be like Oscar the Grouch when meeting new dogs. I went to visit a friend and meet her three-month old female bulldog and my bulldog growled at her and nipped her on the face. Then we were standing at the checkout buying dog food and an adolescent boxer pup came in and  my bulldog growled at him. My bulldog is so sweet at home. He loves all my children and always wants to be near me. We have a male Maltese who is neutered and they get along just fine.  I really must learn how to teach my bulldog to be kind and tolerant of animals.  

AThere are a lot of dogs that get along well with the dogs in their own family, but do not readily welcome outsiders.  The fact that he gets along with your Maltese is not necessary indicative of his sociability with other dogs.  It is good that he loves your children, but there are many dogs that love “their” children but may not love visiting children.  

Maybe when you were introducing your bulldog to the three-month old bulldog puppy, she came on too strong!  He may have been well within his rights to correct her.  He may have given her a warning that she didn’t heed.  He may have been more interested in exploring a new environment than meeting a new prospective friend.  It could be that when the young boxer came up to say “hi” your dog was minding his own business and was just telling the boxer to keep its distance.  Lots of adult and even adolescent dogs are not tolerant of puppies invading their space and coming on too boldly.

In order to increase your dog’s tolerance to other dogs, be careful not to force your bulldog to make friends.  It may be best to meet new friends in a neutral setting.  Use the leash for safety, but be careful not to telegraph your tension with a tight leash.  Try not to let visiting dogs overstay their welcome.  Be sure your dog has an escape route, or a place he can go to be alone.  

Do not punish, scold, reprimand, or correct him if he growls at another dog.  You never want to erase the growl; it is a warning sign that your dog is uncomfortable!  Instead, practice at a safe (comfortable) distance away from the other dog, and feed your dog something wonderful.  Instead of your bulldog becoming anxious or nervous at an approaching dog, he can learn that the presence of another dog means really yummy treats coming his way.  Say something like, “Look, Buddy!  Here comes a lovely boxer!”  Your jolly voice can convey the message of “all is well,” instead of a harsh “No Growling.”  Teaching your dog a cue that means to look at you is effective in breaking the eye contact that can often trigger an aggressive action between dogs. 

The behavior your dog is showing now at eight months could well be related to his early socialization experiences.  “Dogs have a sensitive period for socialization between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks. This means that pleasant exposures to people, other dogs and other animals during this time will have long-lasting influences on the sociability of your dog. Well socialized dogs tend to be friendlier and less fearful of the kinds of individuals they were socialized to.”1  

Still, that early experience should not be the end of your dog’s socialization.  There are lots of dogs that as puppies were well socialized and got along well with other people and dogs, and began showing fear or aggression later in their adolescent stage.

Whether or not your bulldog was adequately socialized to dogs as a puppy, you are right to take measures to help him become tolerant of other animals, and more dog-friendly, even if he does not want to be best friends!

QMy poodle, Chloe, is really a great dog except when I am on the phone.  If I stay on the phone for too long (in her opinion) she starts to get into trouble.  She will steal things and chew them up, or bark and carry on.  This can be very annoying.

AThat behavior would come under the category of Attention Seeking.  She knows that when you are distracted, she can engage in some naughty behavior that you can’t possibly ignore.  We have had good success using a “go to your place” cue and teaching the dog to stay on her mat while you are doing your activity.  Teach her to go to her mat by luring her with a treat a few times, then tossing a treat to the mat as you tell her to go to her mat, until you can say “Chloe, go to your mat” and she will go directly there, and you give her a reward.  To get her to stay on her mat while you are on the phone, have a supply of chew toys handy so that you can keep her interested in staying there.  She would not otherwise have access to these special chews.

1.  Socialization: It Isn’t Just for Puppies by Daniel Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. 

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