Is Maintaining Good Public Relations Affecting Your Dog’s Behavior?

I’ve mentioned many times before that Lucy is a bit socially awkward, lacking some crucial skills that has held her back from making friends easily with other dogs. She has no trouble bonding with people. It’s the four-legged variety that gives her a challenge. In reminiscing the other day with another dog trainer friend who also has a socially awkward pit, we realized how many silly things we’ve put our dogs through for the pure sake of public relations… between dog owners. I am not proud to have done these things.

Several years ago, after many on-leash greetings gone sour, I decided that it was in Lucy’s best interest to stop saying hello to other dogs while on walks. The greetings gave her many opportunities to practice undesirable behavior and I felt it was important to teach her to be calm around other dogs instead. Because she didn’t have the best canine communications skills, she always inevitably did something rude to the other dog, like putting her chin over their shoulders. Bad things often ensued.

I had a good understanding of dog behavior and a clear enough mind to decide that it was a bad idea for her to greet other dog’s on leash, except for with Bob… and except for when I felt pressured by the need to maintain good public relations with fellow dog owning neighbors. Bob was an older brindle pit in our former neighborhood who was the coolest of dogs. He had quite the nice relationship with his owner who found poor skinny Bob abandoned at a park when he was younger. Bob’s owner loved Lucy and truly felt that Lucy loved Bob and so for public relations sake, I allowed Lucy to practice unwanted behavior whenever we ran into them on the street. I didn’t want to disappoint the guy.

She was rude, unbelievably rude and Bob had the patience of a saint. It wasn’t that Lucy didn’t like Bob. She was very much interested in him. It was that she didn’t know how to tell him and so she did it the only way she knew how, by throwing herself head first into him and letting out the ugliest sounds ever as an attempt to greet her neighbor. Bob always did a look away (a cut-off signal) and would hike his leg up to pee (a stress signal). I would bet money that if Bob saw Lucy coming down the street today, he would look away and urinate. She didn’t want to fight because after her intense greeting, they would stand around each other as Bob’s owner and I chit chatted. She’d occasionally sniff his rear. She meant no harm with her behavior, but boy did it get her into trouble with a lot of different dogs that were not as tolerant as Bob.

To this day, I look back and wonder what the heck I was thinking allowing her to be that way with him and I realized that it was because I was afraid of disappointing a stranger (a neighbor whose name I can’t even remember). I didn’t want to seem rude. Things can get so political between dog owners. And yet, I disappointed Lucy. I placed her in a compromising situation where she was allowed to rehearse behavior that got her into trouble with other dogs repeatedly. I was doing poorly advocating for her.

So, when I get clients who are torn between doing what’s needed for their dog and doing what’s expected of them by other people, I tell them this story. Today, I have no problems telling neighbors that my dog can’t say hi to their dog. They’ll survive and my dog will be better off for it.

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