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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,
I welcomed a Shiloh Shepard (sub-breed of German Shepard) March of this year, and have been working on socializing him. One of the best ways that I know how to do this is to take him to the dog park, and expose him to multiple breeds, temperaments, sizes, etc of dogs. He was only three months when I got him, and he has quickly grown to the size of a relatively mature dog but he is still only 9 months. While he has definitely come a long way in terms of socialization he still has a lot to learn in terms of how to react/greet unfamiliar dogs. My concern lies in when should I intervene at the dog park? Many of you are probably familiar with experiences of "aggressive" behavior between your dog and unfamiliar dogs, especially when at the dog park.

While he is at times larger than the other dogs who approach him, my dog is often the youngest one. And although he may appear to be able to defend himself, due to his size, he is still gaining his confidence and learning about his capabilities. When other dogs approach him (even if they are a fourth of his size) he will automatically retreat into a position of submission. I don't know if it is because of his size, or if other dogs can sense his lack of confidence but he is often met with "aggression".

Since I am trying to socialize him I usually do not step in to defend my dog against other dogs unless I hear him cry out. Because to me that is a sign that he is in significant pain, or a heightened state. I really want him to learn to be able to hold his own ground, plus the other dog usually backs off after a while and they start to play. However, other owners often seem to get irritated with my lack of interference, and today I had an owner tell me that I needed to step in because my dog seemed "very unhappy". After explaining to another owner that my dog is only 9 months old he seemed to be able to understand his behavior more, and was less alarmed at his acts of submission.

When should I intervene? And does an act of submission mean that my dog is severely uncomfortable? Or is it just a normal part of the interaction between dogs?
 

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This is one of the reasons I don't go to dog parks, there are too many variables and too many dogs whose reactivity you just don't know. One bad fight will be remembered for a long time by a dog, too much risk IMHO.
Why not get a group of friends, people who have the best interests of you and your dog in mind, together to socialize your dog?
Or you could walk your dog and if you want it to greet another dog you see being walked, both dogs would be on a leash, so less risk.
 

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Honestly, that is not a dog that I would consider to be a good dog park candidate, at least not right now.

It is not uncommon for dogs who are very nervous to be targeted for aggression. A lot of the aggression seen at dog parks is more like bullying- dogs with not great social skills that are highly aroused and lash out because they have no other way to vent their own anxiety/frustration. People continue to take these dogs to the dog park because they don't consider them actually aggressive, don't think their dog would ever actually harm another dog, and usually think their dogs are enjoying the interactions (even if they are not enjoying it in a healthy way, clinically speaking).

I actually focus on exactly the opposite with my dogs- I want my dogs to understand that they don't need to stand up for themselves because I will stand up to them. I will allow them to dish out healthy corrections to other dogs- snarls, air snaps, rushing another dog and then stopping as soon as they retreat if they're very, very rude, but I only put themselves in situations where their discomfort or irritation will rise to the level that they feel they need to correct another dog with dogs I know well.

Allowing your dog to correct another unknown dog is something that can very easily end in a fight. That is another very common issue at dog parks- squabbles break out because one dog is being rude to another, the "victim" tries to tell it to stop in a normal way, and the dog being rude responds by launching an attack. Sometimes these are just little tussles, and sometimes it ends in the injury of one of both dogs. Sometimes it has a very severe ending.

What you are doing now is consistently putting an anxious, nevous dog who will mature to be a very large animal into situations where he is trying to diffuse what he sees as tense situations (being rushed by other dogs, likely rudely) by offering appeasement behaviors (what you refer to as "submission") like flipping over on his back/crouching with ears back/making himself small and unthreatening. He is slowly learning that not only do the other dogs not tend to respect this, but sometimes they attack anyways/because of it, and he gets no help from you. IMO, this is setting up a dog to have issues with other dogs off leash in the future.

I would suggest finding dogs you know for him to socialize with, and if you absolutely must go to the dog park, being more involved in making sure he is having a good time. If he is constantly offerring appeasement behavior to the point that other people are commenting that he seems like he's having a terrible time, he is having a really terrible time, and you're gaining nothing. An unconfident dog is not suddenly going to become confident one day. What he will do is try being aggressive eventually as self defense drive kicks in closer to a year of age (starting around now at 9 months, even), realize aggression is the way to get his own space around other dogs, and then start using aggression as a social tool. Now you have a dog that cannot be trusted around other dogs.

The only dogs that I suggest using this technique with- "fend for yourself, you're fine" sort of attitude- are those that already are confident and comfortable with other dogs. This is the absolute worst thing to do with a dog who is nervous enough to be flipping over around other dogs and then getting attacked for it.

The way you turn a dog like this into a confident dog is by communicating that he is safe. You will step in when he is uncomfortable, you will make sure he isn't getting rushed by other dogs, and that other dogs are actually pretty great. To teach him other dogs are not a threat, you need to avoid the dogs that are a threat. Right now, he is learning that dogs are a threat. Eventually, he will lash out, and it is unlikely to be a healthy level of correction. More likely, it will be a desperate attempt to get space from a dog he doesn't want so close to him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Honestly, that is not a dog that I would consider to be a good dog park candidate, at least not right now.

It is not uncommon for dogs who are very nervous to be targeted for aggression. A lot of the aggression seen at dog parks is more like bullying- dogs with not great social skills that are highly aroused and lash out because they have no other way to vent their own anxiety/frustration. People continue to take these dogs to the dog park because they don't consider them actually aggressive, don't think their dog would ever actually harm another dog, and usually think their dogs are enjoying the interactions (even if they are not enjoying it in a healthy way, clinically speaking).

I actually focus on exactly the opposite with my dogs- I want my dogs to understand that they don't need to stand up for themselves because I will stand up to them. I will allow them to dish out healthy corrections to other dogs- snarls, air snaps, rushing another dog and then stopping as soon as they retreat if they're very, very rude, but I only put themselves in situations where their discomfort or irritation will rise to the level that they feel they need to correct another dog with dogs I know well.

Allowing your dog to correct another unknown dog is something that can very easily end in a fight. That is another very common issue at dog parks- squabbles break out because one dog is being rude to another, the "victim" tries to tell it to stop in a normal way, and the dog being rude responds by launching an attack. Sometimes these are just little tussles, and sometimes it ends in the injury of one of both dogs. Sometimes it has a very severe ending.

What you are doing now is consistently putting an anxious, nevous dog who will mature to be a very large animal into situations where he is trying to diffuse what he sees as tense situations (being rushed by other dogs, likely rudely) by offering appeasement behaviors (what you refer to as "submission") like flipping over on his back/crouching with ears back/making himself small and unthreatening. He is slowly learning that not only do the other dogs not tend to respect this, but sometimes they attack anyways/because of it, and he gets no help from you. IMO, this is setting up a dog to have issues with other dogs off leash in the future.

I would suggest finding dogs you know for him to socialize with, and if you absolutely must go to the dog park, being more involved in making sure he is having a good time. If he is constantly offerring appeasement behavior to the point that other people are commenting that he seems like he's having a terrible time, he is having a really terrible time, and you're gaining nothing. An unconfident dog is not suddenly going to become confident one day. What he will do is try being aggressive eventually as self defense drive kicks in closer to a year of age (starting around now at 9 months, even), realize aggression is the way to get his own space around other dogs, and then start using aggression as a social tool. Now you have a dog that cannot be trusted around other dogs.

The only dogs that I suggest using this technique with- "fend for yourself, you're fine" sort of attitude- are those that already are confident and comfortable with other dogs. This is the absolute worst thing to do with a dog who is nervous enough to be flipping over around other dogs and then getting attacked for it.

The way you turn a dog like this into a confident dog is by communicating that he is safe. You will step in when he is uncomfortable, you will make sure he isn't getting rushed by other dogs, and that other dogs are actually pretty great. To teach him other dogs are not a threat, you need to avoid the dogs that are a threat. Right now, he is learning that dogs are a threat. Eventually, he will lash out, and it is unlikely to be a healthy level of correction. More likely, it will be a desperate attempt to get space from a dog he doesn't want so close to him.
Thank you. This helps a lot. But I really think people get alarmed because of his size, and they assume he is older than he is. It does look very awkward for a german shepard to submit to a terrior for example. I wasn't taking it as a sign of anxiety because my dog only submits for a moment, and then quickly starts to play with the dogs once they retreat. He has no problem interacting with dogs in general. But I do see how these interactions could lead to unwanted behavior in the future.

My only question now is how do I teach my dog how to correct other dogs? That's what I meant when I said I am trying to teach him how to "hold his own ground". I do not want him to be aggressive, but letting other dogs know his boundaries doesn't seem to come natural to him. Is this something that your dog just learned with age? Or was it a trained reaction?
 

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Short answer: you don't.

Usually it is something that comes with age, sometimes starting as early as 9 months, sometimes not until a year or two.

Some dogs never seem to get that they can do it, and for those you have to try even harder to be the one to keep other dogs from pushing their personal boundaries.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of putting dogs in situations where they are correcting other dogs that you don't know. If you don't know how a dog will respond to a correction, it is a risk to allow your dog to correct another dog.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Short answer: you don't.

Usually it is something that comes with age, sometimes starting as early as 9 months, sometimes not until a year or two.

Some dogs never seem to get that they can do it, and for those you have to try even harder to be the one to keep other dogs from pushing their personal boundaries.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of putting dogs in situations where they are correcting other dogs that you don't know. If you don't know how a dog will respond to a correction, it is a risk to allow your dog to correct another dog.
Thanks. I appreciate your help. The whole socialization concept just seems very ambiguous to me. I've had similar conversations with many people and my vet and while most people stress the importance of socialization to me there seems to be a fine line between "exposure" and "training". Or in other words, you're supposed to expose your puppy to multiple dogs, and situations so they can learn how to react while also not exposing them to situations that can instill long term negative behaviors.

My dog does the "lying on his back and exposing his belly" thing to most dogs, even outside the dog park. For instance, last week I pet sat my friends German Shep for 7 days. At first my dog reacted in a way that I would guess you would call anxious (lying on back-showing belly), but after time they were best friends and inseparable. Such experiences have taught me not to intervene and to just let him learn.

But from your advice, what I've gathered is that I should always focus and respond to his body language. Which make sense, I certainly want him to know I'm there for him.
 

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So many negative opinions surrounding parks.

camy243, Don't let your dog get into any scraps at the park, and try not to let the dog to be dominated too much. For a dog to be that submissive around other dogs isn't overly normal but the key here is confidence. I assume you're letting your dog roam around to meet other dogs?

If so, there's better ways to do it. IE, met a large GSD at the park one day, the fellow had just adopted it, wanted to get it socialized. Had it muzzled, on a long line. The GSD decided to aggressively play with the 10 pound minpin, the pin corrected that in a hurry - never seen a GSD dance in my life before but that dog backed off in a hurry. It's likely more wary of small dogs now - even tho the Pin didn't touch him. That's not the right thing for a dog to learn.

I would leash him for the next trip, let other dogs approach yours. Let your dog do it's default, barking, submissive - whatever. But the key here is like fishing - your dog is going to want to meet the other dogs - your dog will figure out on it's own what it takes to bring the dogs in. Right now, your pup doesn't know how to do it properly.

I meet alot of puppies at the parks, 8 weeks and up, start them young.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I just had a funny "aha" moment a few minutes ago when I walked into my home and greeted Deacon. He met me at the door as he always does, and excitedly waited for my attention. I'm working on him not jumping up on me when I come in, so when he doesn't meet me by jumping up on me I reward him by saying "good boy" repeatedly at which point he ROLLS OVER ONTO HIS BACK AND EXPOSES HIS BELLY...for me to rub (which I always do). I think I may have accidentally trained him to greet people and dogs this way. That would explain his lack of anxiety, and ability to quickly get up and play when he greets other dogs like this at the park. Perhaps he is not being 100% submissive at all? And this is just the way he thinks he is supposed to greet other individuals.

I would agree that it is not normal behavior, and can see how it could come off as him being "unhappy" if not given the context. But as soon as he did it today I realized that it was the exact body language that he exhibited earlier at the park. It seems more likely to me than him being anxious to meet new dogs since he only exhibits this odd behavior during the initial contact and has no problem playing after.
 

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That doesn't sound so bad, and shouldn't be too hard to fix from a human standpoint. Ignore the behaviors you don't want, reward the behaviors you do. The trick will be to get him to stay on his feet when meeting other dogs at the park.

To go back to one of your posts, socialization isn't exactly ambiguous. One dog park doesn't equate to highly social, but it's a good start. Walking around the same block meeting the same dogs and people doesn't equate to highly social. Some people spend a couple of years with their dog in the same park thinking the dog is highly social - but then end up moving. New dog park, new environments - dog freaks out.

When I had puppies over the years, they went everywhere, met everything possible in every environment - adults, kids, seniors, dogs, cats etc. No surprises. Highly social and confident means you can take your dog anywhere, into pretty much any scenario and they won't freak out. You have confidence in them, they have confidence in you. Trust and respect is a 2 way street, once established, your dog will have the confidence to follow you anywhere. Stay the course, you'll be fine :)
 

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Yeah, I've been lucky with my local dog park, managing two successful outings. But I stand outside, checking out the dogs and owners before I go in. First time out, I immediately got a bad vibe with a chocolate lab that kept humping/mounting all the other dogs. I stayed out and wasn't going to put my pup through that, but then saw the malefactor leaving, so I gave it a try. She went in for five minutes and did OK with two adult dogs for her first outing. This past Saturday it was even better, with another pup Shepherd joining in, one-on-one fun and very, very relaxed play.

That's what you want. Positive experiences. No sense in socializing only to get your dog all riled up, intimidated, or overly defensive/aggressive as a result of an out of control situation. That's not socialization you need. So my advice to you is, learn to read dog body language. See how the other dogs are interacting in the park before you go in. See how they eye your dog before you put him in there. And try to get a sense as to whether their owners will work with you if the situation gets dicey.

Also be fair. I usually strike a conversation, letting folks know my pup is energetic and has less than perfect recall, and that she may make a mess of things. My dog used to be timid when meeting other dogs (before I took her to the park), but she got over that--only then did I dare to take her, and only to check things out.

I got her over her timidity by sharing a bit of time with my neighbor's full-grown Labs (she's a Lab mix herself), knowing they are the sweetest dogs around. With that under her belt and a couple of outings around the neighborhood where she could experience dogs from "afar" not being a threat to her, she got her confidence up. I'd suggest that for your pup before engaging in another "Thunderdome" experience, as some describe dog parks. ;-)
 

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When I had puppies over the years, they went everywhere, met everything possible in every environment - adults, kids, seniors, dogs, cats etc. No surprises. Highly social and confident means you can take your dog anywhere, into pretty much any scenario and they won't freak out. You have confidence in them, they have confidence in you. Trust and respect is a 2 way street, once established, your dog will have the confidence to follow you anywhere. Stay the course, you'll be fine :)
Yes, this is good advice. In addition to Tessa's daily walks (we vary our routes around the neighborhood), where she gets to see people and dogs at a distance, we have a weekly ritual. On Saturdays, we go to Petsmart for her weekly weigh-in (they have a nice big scale in the back, by their clinic entrance). There she cavorts with staff, eyes other dogs and their owners in the store, sometimes from feet away, and she walks the isles with me sniffing away (the treat isle is her favorite!).

Bad thing about this is that we have yet to walk out without buying something, but hey, the girl loves to shop. :D
 
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