If a dog receives no reinforcement from strangers, the owner will never have to calm an excited dog or manage a fearful one. It gives dogs freedom to focus on their owners because nothing interesting is coming at them from another source. People have the freedom to work or relax with their dogs in a variety of environments without needing to fend off a strange person or dog, and their dogs gain confidence from knowing exactly what to expect.
So when I reported back to my friends, I told them that they should have no trouble raising their puppy to be a well-behaved European dog. Their fellow Londoners would do 75 percent of the work for them by ignoring the dog, keeping their children from interacting with him, allowing him access to a wide range of socialization opportunities, and keeping their own dogs under control. My fiends would only need to build a strong bond with their puppy and teach him basic manners. It turns out that it’s not dog owners who are doing things differently across the pond, it’s everybody else.
While opportunities for full public socialization are more limited in the U.S. than they are in Europe, there are still ways to instill European-style behaviors in our dogs.
• Create a neutral experience for your dog in a variety of places. The simplest way is to kindly ask that no one pet your dog while he is on a six-foot leash. The dog will begin to recognize that being on a short leash means ignoring others, and that being let off-leash is a chance to interact and play. (For those without access to safe off-leash areas, putting the dog on a 30-foot training lead works just as well.)
• Reward your dog with praise and attention when he notices other dogs, people, loud noises or things that are new to him, but encourage him to focus on you and maintain a relaxed and calm demeanor. Too much interaction and exuberance can lead the puppy or dog to distraction in the future.
• Keep high-value rewards with you in the event a person or dog rushes in. If walking, continue to walk, and offer your dog a treat once the excitement has passed and your dog begins to look up at you. If sitting, wait for the other dog to leave and reward your dog for refocusing on you.
• Use food toys to your advantage. Practice going to a busy place, sit down, place a food-stuffed toy at your feet and do not let anyone pet your dog. In a few sessions, most dogs will lie down and settle almost immediately when their owner sits.
By being proactive and putting these tips into practice, we can train others to have the same respect for pet dogs in training as they do for service dogs. Who knows—we may be able to influence greater access for our U.S. dogs, which would allow them to be part of our daily lives the way those in Europe are today.
Kama Brown CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer, author, speaker and the co-owner of FÖRSTÅ Dog, a company dedicated to enhancing canine life through enrichment and scent work.