Why Social Distancing Can Actually Help Improve Dog Behavior
Many people may think the mark of good dog behavior is a dog who is friendly and happy to be touched by strangers in public. However, this kind of random attention while on walks or in a public setting could be disrupting your dog’s training. As we all learn how to maintain social distance in this new day and age, it’s helpful to know that it is also important when training and reinforcing good dog behavior.
CONSIDER THIS: WhAT DOES “FRIENDLY” REALLY MEAN?
What does friendly dog behavior look like to you? If it means your dog is excited and happy to interact with every stranger, it may be time to reconsider your expectations. The mark of good dog behavior isn’t necessarily that they are outgoing and love being pet by strangers. Dogs that shy away from this kind of random socialization get a bad rap for not being “friendly.” But that’s not necessarily the case.
Just like us, dogs have different personalities. Some dogs love all the attention, and some are happy to have their space. As long as your dog is able to control their energy and access a calm state of mind, there really isn’t anything to be concerned about.
Despite your dog’s personality style, you still don’t want to overwhelm them by allowing every Harry, Joe, and Sally to come in for a “hello” or friendly pet. For outgoing dogs, these random interactions can ramp up their energy and make it difficult for them to follow directions. For shy or nervous dogs, meeting strangers can make going out in public a nightmare. It can also cause them not to trust you if you don’t help protect their space by allowing unwanted interactions with strangers. Just like some people, some dogs naturally prefer social distancing—and it’s OK to respect that.
Dog behavior while on a walk
If you’re training your dog to walk on a leash, it’s important to stay in constant motion. This helps your dog focus on the activity and be more aware of your commands. Stopping to let strangers pet your dog or allowing your dog to visit with other animals disrupts the flow of the walk and makes it difficult for them to learn how to regulate their energy. These frequent stops and starts can hurt your efforts to train good dog behavior while walking and make it nearly impossible for your dog to learn to walk calmly while on a leash. If your dog is anxious, these random and unpredictable interactions can increase their nervousness.
Tip: Set the tone for the type of dog behavior you’d like to see on your walk. While you can certainly acknowledge other people with a nod or wave, don’t stop for a pet. Say a quick hello and keep walking as you pass.
Dogs and social distancing in public spaces
When you’re in a public space, whether it’s a park, trail, campground, or patio, you need to be your dog’s advocate. Depending on your dog’s personality, he or she may already feel nervous or anxious when in a public setting. Sometimes, that nervousness can look like aggression, but the core feeling is the same—fear. To help your dog and everyone around you feel safe and comfortable, it’s important to set boundaries and communicate them. Bottom line: it’s not OK for a random person to come up and pet your dog without permission. If someone tries to do this, no matter their age, it’s more than OK to say “No, thank you.”
Tip: When you arrive at a public place, give your dog time to assess their surroundings, adjust and become calm before introducing them to anyone new. Once your pet is familiar with the area and is calm, you can allow interactions with other people…if your dog is in to that sort of thing.
When to get help
There’s a difference between a dog that is shy around strangers, and one that has behavioral issues around people. You certainly don’t want them growling or nipping at people. You also don’t want them to get overly excited as they lunge towards people or jump up on guests.
If you want to improve your dog’s behavior in public, consider in-home training lessons. In this safe setting, your dog can learn and practice what to do and what not to do around strangers. Our Dog Gone Amazing trainers can meet you at home or in a public place of your choosing and provide one-on-one help to teach your dog how to behave wherever they need it most.
To learn more about our training lessons, click here.