Dog to Dog Interaction
One of the most frequent reasons a promising puppy is dropped from the Guide Dog program is dog distraction. Some puppies are inherently more interested in other canines, but you can help your pup’s chances by being aware of the environmental and behavioral issues which contribute to excessive dog interest.
Guide Dog puppies must learn to politely ignore other dogs, however dog interaction is sometimes unavoidable for the working Guide. A Guide Dog puppy that has been properly socialized to dogs will be calm and confident when meeting them in its later work.
Dog distraction can be caused by a number of things:
In the home.
Too much time spent playing with a family pet or the neighbor’s dog will cause a puppy to bond more to dogs than people; a potential working dog should seek the attention of humans over other canines. Playing with a another dog for a few minutes twice per week maximum is sufficient for a Guide puppy. All play should be supervised and kept gentle. It is OK for the pup to ‘hang out’ with the family dog for longer periods so long as the other dog is not interacting with the puppy. A Guide Dog puppy should not be allowed to pester another dog constantly. It is OK for an older dog to tell the pup ‘that’s enough’ in its own way so long as it is a reasonable ‘correction’; ideally you should step in as the dominant pack member before the adult dog feels a need to defend itself. Guide Dog puppies should never be left alone with other dogs.
Obsessions with other dogs can be created if the puppy is left in a pen for long periods where it can see other dogs running and playing. A similar situation can occur in a fenced yard with a neighbor’s dog being the distraction. Fence running and fence fighting can promote aggressive behavior.
Developing puppies will mimic the behavior of dogs that they live with. If a Guide Dog puppy sees a pet dog growling and barking at other dogs it may copy that behavior.
Letting Guide Dog puppies greet each other and play at meetings teaches the pup that every time it is around other pups it is playtime and it need not focus on it’s handler. It is OK for the puppies to visit briefly but only with the handlers’ permission. The puppy must show self control to earn the privilege of visiting. Lunging at other dogs while walking on the street is not good for a potential Guide. Raisers should avoid out of control dogs and gain control of their own pup by doing ‘turn and go’ exercises and sit stays. It may be necessary to do these exercises a great distance from the other dog at first, to give the puppy an opportunity to be successful.
The best kind of dog socialization for any working dog is to be introduced to as many different types of dogs as possible for very short periods. This will give the pup a chance to satisfy his curiosity about small dogs and help him overcome any nervousness of different breeds. Obviously the Guide Dog puppy should only meet friendly dogs and initially should interact only with calm, older animals who will not react to puppy antics.
A young puppy who is shy of other dogs or has been traumatized by a bad experience will gain confidence if the other dog is made to lie down. It is important that the pup is not forced to socialize but approaches in his own time.
Puppy raisers need to set up situations to teach the puppy control around other dogs. Outlined below are some step- by-step exercises that can be practiced at meetings.
- Two raisers and their puppies (or preferably a puppy and a calm, older dog) face each other about 25 feet apart.It may be necessary initially to have the distraction dog stay still as the puppy is walked toward it on a ‘Let’s Go’ command. If, as the puppy approaches the other dog, he pulls ahead or is very excited, the handler should do a sharp about turn with a quick snap on the leash to get the pup’s attention. Enthusiastic praise should be given immediately after the corrective snap to reward the puppy for turning his attention from the other dog to the handler. This exercise may to be repeated several times at quite a distance until the pup stops trying to reach the other dog. The puppy should be on a slack leash and following willingly on the about turn before he is ready for the next step.
- The handlers now walk their dogs by each other with the dogs on the outside. In other words the handlers pass on their right side. This is quite easy for the puppies to do successfully and they should be praised for ignoring each other. The handlers do need to watch carefully and be ready to give a quick jerk back and to the left if the dogs attempt to cross in front to visit.
- Once the pup can pass another dog calmly as above, the exercise can be made a little more difficult: The handlers pass by each other again but this time with the dogs on the inside facing each other. The handlers should pass about 6 feet apart and be ready to give a leash correction if the pups try to visit. No verbal correction is needed, the pups are on a ‘Let’s Go’ command. Praise is given to reinforce the pups for ignoring each other and staying by the handler on a loose leash.
- Only when the puppy can stand or sit calmly next to the raiser, with a totally slack leash, a few feet from another dog , has he earned the privilege of visiting. With a determined pup it may take several sessions to get to this point. The approach should be controlled; two or three steps and halt, repeating until the dogs are close but maintaining a loose leash and listening to the handler. The handlers may then tell their dogs OK and let the visit.
- While the pups sniff each other the handlers must make every effort to keep slack in the leash and they must follow the animals closely to preventtangles. A tight leash is always wrong and in this case could provoke aggressive behavior. The pup must keep ‘four on the floor’ while visiting and should be given a correction for jumping or otherwise being over enthusiastic. Sniffing is normal and natural, as is licking, but all behavior must be calm.
- After 15-30 seconds of interaction the puppy should be commanded ‘Let’s Go’ or ‘Come’.The handler should be sure he is in a good position to enforce the command instantly with a pop or two on the leash if necessary . The command should be followed by lots of praise as the puppy follows or goes to the raiser. Under no circumstances should the puppies be dragged apart nor should they be allowed to visit again until they have proven themselves under control and attentive to the handler.
It must be stressed that these exercises are much easier if an older trained dog is used as the distraction at first. At meetings young puppies are often excited to see each other and must be corrected for pulling toward each other right from the beginning. They may initially have to be kept at a distance while working on control. The raiser must have total control of the pup before puppy socializing is allowed. Consistency is the key; if the raiser always follows the rules of dog to dog interaction the pup will learn to ignore dogs at all times unless given permission to ‘say hi’.
A Guide Dog puppy may be made defensive toward other dogs if it inadvertently has a bad experience. A pup that has been ‘jumped’ by another dog should be socialized very carefully thereafter to help gain its confidence. Once again the placid, non-threatening pet dog is the ideal socializer.
Sometimes running into a loose dog is unavoidable. If this happens the handler’s reaction can help or aggravate the situation. Often the loose dog can be persuaded to go home by the raiser bending to pick up some pebbles – any street wise mutt knows what is coming next! If however the raiser is taken by surprise and cannot escape the situation the best thing to do is encourage the Guide pup to relax and be friendly. Yelling at the stray may incite the puppy to join in and teaches him to be aggressive to off leash dogs. Tightening the pup’s leash telegraphs tension; making him feel trapped and defensive. Struggling to make the pup stay may cause the loose dog to ‘help’ you discipline the puppy! If the handler relaxes the leash, says’ OK ‘ and chats confidently the dogs will relax too. Most dogs will give the pup a good sniff then leave. The raiser should avoid routes where loose dogs are frequent and/or enlist the help of the dogs’ owner and perhaps the local Animal Control.