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Beyond Friendly
Dogs with extreme social enthusiasm

It’s almost a cliché—Golden Retrievers who are so friendly, so eager to greet people that they seem in danger of wagging their entire back ends off. Such behavior is by no means confined to this breed, and it’s not exhibited by all Goldens, though it is undeniable that some of them do typify it.

I recently met a Golden Retriever who was as lovable and friendly as any I’ve known. It was fascinating to watch him control himself because although he could do it well, it was obvious that it took a lot of effort. He is a well-trained dog who behaved beautifully, but without that high level of training and lots of practice with self-control, it probably would have been a very different social experience for the both of us.

I suspect that if he had not received the training to back away, to sit and lie down on cue, and to settle and stay, he would have looked like a cartoon dog—leaping high in the air with all four paws extended and a cartoon bubble over his head with the word “Wheeeeeeeee!” in it. As it was, he was wagging his whole body so hard I really did wonder if he had ever hurt himself doing so, and he was looking at his guardian repeatedly as though asking permission to launch himself at me. Despite the restraint he showed, there was something in his expression that made me feel as though he was bursting with desire to leap into my arms or on my lap. It’s to his credit and that of his guardian that he did not do so.

Dogs with extreme social exuberance and their guardians have been criticized. Of course, that’s only when the enthusiasm leads to behavior such as knocking over small children (or even adults) and it is excused with the remark, “He’s just so friendly!”

I love a friendly dog and I don’t consider any dogs TOO friendly. However, I have met dogs with an excess of enthusiasm who would benefit from some training in basic manners. If dogs are prone to boundless social fervor, they need to be taught self-control and to perform acceptable behaviors during greetings rather than being allowed to plow into or over people.

Do you have a dog who is socially enthusiastic?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

Photo by Sami Köykkä/Flickr

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