Shorty's Guide to Making Friends
I constantly see posts online asking about how reactive dogs can become friends with other dogs – what do you do? How do you do it? How long does it take? and so on. While every dog is different and the process for every dog is going to be unique, I wanted to write about Shorty’s experience.
When Shorty came to the shelter, she had spent the first year of her life in the home – literally. Her family lived in an area that was dangerous to dogs, so they kept Shorty inside. Well meaning but not ideal, as we all know. When Shorty first came to the shelter, she would roll onto her back slowly when meeting other dogs – now this was back in the good old days when dominance and submission primarily applied to the popular perception of dogs. Everyone thought Shorty was perfect because she was “submissive.” In the back of my mind, I suspected that with a bit of confidence, along with her general sassiness, Shorty would become a reactive dog. And she did. She did not want to greet dogs on leash, and she really did not like the “my dog is friendly” crowd.
Shorty had some good dog friends, and we worked on our leash manners while out and about. Then, the inevitable happened. She lost her best friend, Carmac, to kidney failure. Shorty was a “me too” kind of dog – despite her reactivity, she loved having another dog in the home, as did I. Preparations for the Malinois puppy began, and a big part of those preparations was working on Shorty’s dog skills.
My first step was to recruit friends for parallel walks and hikes. I was fortunate to have access to a group of people who did parallel walks in quiet, on leash areas on Sunday mornings. These were group walks, in which everyone walked in the same direction, and no dogs had to say hello to each other. If strange dogs were approaching the group, the more social dogs would make a buffer zone around the less social dogs, to ward off those unwanted greeting. Shorty and I got down to parallel walking – we started a good 10-15 feet behind the group, and Shorty earned her Sunday morning breakfast on the walk. Over many Sundays, we moved up to walk at the back of the group, and then eventually closer to some of the more social dogs. Weeks went by and we moved up to bum sniffs and in time, we had friends! Dog friends that Shorty would be excited to see, and sniff, and wiggle around.
We also went on hikes with friends with well behaved and obedient dogs, starting on leash and moving to off leash with a lot of rewards for appropriate behaviour. We hiked a lot the summer before Mulder moved in. Shorty developed a club of Malinois friends, and out of those friends, we even had sleepovers.
I also had an unexpected sleepover with a non-friend of Shorty’s, in which I planned to do
strictly a crate and rotate scenario. Oddly enough, when I brought Avion’s crate into my home, Shorty sniffed it and then zoomed about my place in delight. After a couple of days of crate and rotate and individual walks, we progressed to walking together and then being in the home just separated by an x-pen. In another day, we were playing in the yard and hiking together. In her odd ways (and perhaps not a surprise given Shorty’s early life was mostly indoors), having a dog in the home exponentially improved his/her friend status in Shorty’s books.
While Shorty was busy on parallel walks and hiking with friends, we were also still doing our defensive leash walking (think defensive driving) while out in the neighbourhood. This meant carrying treats, maneuvering around dogs on and off leash, and advocating for Shorty’s dislike of on leash greetings with strange dogs.
I put in A LOT of work that summer in expanding Shorty’s friendship circle; I determined that Shorty does like other dogs, but she has very poor skills in initial interactions and even her play is awkward at times. The work that I put in paid off – the addition of Mulder to the home was uneventful. I orchestrated it, but it was not difficult (and is the topic of another post).
So for those with dogs reactive to other dogs – look for group walks in your area – check with rescues, trainers, groomers and pet stores. Recruit friends who are good handlers (good handling is key) and go on really boring parallel walks. Keep it short, sweet and simple – reward for good behaviour and set up for success. Every dog’s experience is going to be different, but you will get out of it what you put in.
I would like to thank Arlene, Fay, Sam, Michelle, Deb, Maren and Faren for you and your dogs’ skills in helping Shorty expand her friend circle in the summer of 2014.