Sunday, October 1, 2017

Socialization for an adult dog

Over the years I've had a lot of people ask about socializing adult dogs in a variety of manners. Some adopt a puppy, bring him to a puppy class and now maybe a year later they want to take him to a dog park or free range day care. Or more often they have adopted an adult dog, already brought him to an environment with other dogs and it went poorly and they want to know how to do it right. My response is very often there is no right way to do it as the dog likely has grown out of the need for this interaction. This usually doesn't sit well with the owner until I make the following comparison and then it seems to hit home.

This analogy doesn't apply to everyone so you may not be able to put yourself personally into it but I think most people can understand where I'm going with it. I am going to compare the social life of dogs, specifically in situations like the dog park or free range day care facilities to how many humans socialize. For some clarification, when I talk about dog parks I am talking generally about relatively big city dog parks. I've lived in Chicago for the last 21 years so I am talking about a smaller plot of land that is a fenced in, paved over square that typically has a high number of dogs (say 10 plus). There are absolutely wonderful dog friendly spaces all over but I won't go into what makes a good and not so good dog park. I'll leave that to another video. In addition to dog parks, I am also including what I call free range day care or boarding facilities. These are where a number of dogs (again say 10 or more) are in one room for an hour or more at a time. Again, I won't go into how I think these facilities could be run to avoid socialization issues in this video. What I am going to compare is how dogs change what appeals to them as far as socialization in the same way humans do.

So we are going to start out comparing young puppies to young adults. I find that dogs from the age of about 5 week to around 9-10 months are very comparable to humans from the age of around 18 (or 21 if you are good law abiding citizen which I was not...) to about their late 20's to early 30's. Dogs and humans usually love to party at this age. Puppies should want to play a ton and with any living thing. We see them flitting around, playing with lots of different puppies and playing until they crash. If you've ever gone out to bars that young adults hang out at it if often very much the same. They come in large groups, there is a lot of moving about interacting with different people. Also humans and dogs at this age will tend to party anywhere. Puppies want to play with every creature out on walks or anywhere they encounter something. Same with humans - they will go to bars, street festivals, concerts, house parties or wherever.

In this video of puppies playing watch how some pair off but they switch partners quickly and fluidly:
This is very much like young adults in social situations. I'm sure you can imagine these pups jumping up on the bar and dancing like I did, I mean other young adults do...

But as humans and dogs age things often change a bit. When humans get to their early 30's they often find that they don't enjoy all the different types of partying they used to. They will find their niche of maybe having friends over for dinner or going to a neighborhood bar or street festivals. There are definitely still some people that want to party anywhere and all the time but they are fewer and far between. This is the same for dogs between the age of around 10 months and 3 years. For humans this sometimes ends around early 40's. For dogs I see that a lot will still have a buddy in the neighborhood that they like to play with or they like to play fetch at the dog park but not so much roll around with the other dogs with the intensity they used to have.

In this video of mostly adult dogs, see how there is not a ton of playing. The two tan/golden dogs in the beginning have a nice play session but when they try to play again later other dogs try to get involved which is not as fun. Through most of the video it is just dogs checking each other out. I would equate that to introducing yourself around at a party where you don't know anyone. You aren't going to introduce yourself and then drag that person into a dark corner to confession your deepest secrets. That is essentially what these guys are doing - just introducing themselves:

Thank you Perfect Paws Studio for the footage!

This stage poses some difficulties for dog owners and humans alike. The time frames I have listed here are not at all exact. Just like some humans maybe liked loud crazy bars in college, they may have grown out of it by the time they graduate. And I have definitely seen some six month old dogs just not be into all the other puppy's crazy shenanigans. If you have a dog as a puppy and have consistently had them in social situations you need to keep a close eye on them to see when they lose interest. Very often people just assume that because their dog loved other dogs as a puppy that they will forever love dogs and this is not the case. There is NOTHING wrong with that dog just like there is nothing wrong with the fact that I don't enjoy staying up until midnight at a loud bar with people I don't know. If you learn about dog communication and watch your dog he will start telling you when he is not thrilled with the situation so you can get him out. The great thing about this is that your dog will start to rely on you to get him out of uncomfortable situations. It is when this doesn't happen that we see more severe reactions. The dog has learned that he is on his own so we will see them growl, snap or even bite. If this does happen you should absolutely NOT punish the dog. He was almost definitely trying to ask for help at some point but learned it didn't happen.

Lastly I see a final stage of socialization with humans and dogs that happens around 3 years old for dogs and somewhere around early 40's for humans. At that point all of those types of socialization becomes unappealing for both species. For humans they often will have a close friend or spouse that they just want to relax with. Maybe have a nice dinner or watch a movie. For dogs it is often just being with their humans. Going for a walk or just getting some nice petting. Yes, there are definitely still six year old dogs that adore playing with any and all dogs they meet just like you may run into some 60 year old humans partying until the wee hours of the morning. If you live in Chicago just take a walk down Rush Street at 11pm on a Saturday and you'll see some...

For the last video, while I don't know that any of these dogs are in the older adult age group they all are examples of dogs that either don't want to play or have had enough.

Thank you Great Dog Productions and Sue Sternberg for the amazing video and commentary. If you would like to hone your skills in understanding dog behavior these videos are the ones to watch!

So if you have a young pup, learn about dog communication (Turid Rugaas is amazing!) and keep an eye out for them to tell you when they've had enough. If you adopt an adolescent or adult dog consult a professional trainer to help you determine if "partying" is something they would enjoy!