Anyone who lives with a husky knows all too well that for the most part Huskies only have two speeds; on or off. They are either going about living their lives on high speed or crashed out recharging their inner Husky battery so they can do it all over again. It is because Huskies are highly reactive and boisterous dogs that they can get themselves into much trouble when it comes to greetings. It does not matter whether they are greeting humans or other dogs, in the Husky mind and left to their own devices, they instinctively want to do this at high velocity and with extreme passion.
What’s The Problem?
Most humans and other dogs do not appreciate these highly intense reactive displays of behaviour. As a matter of fact, other more laid back dog breeds, dogs that are fearful, timid, or aggressive, will perceive the reactive husky greeting as a threat or attack. It can easily cause a dog fight to break out and minimally your Husky’s behaviour will certainly serve to annoy other dog owners. You and your out of control Husky will quickly be relegated to being “THAT guy with that crazy dog” and with all the bad publicity that Huskies and Malamutes have gotten in the media lately about being “vicious out of control dogs”, the last thing that any Snow Dog owner wants or needs is another reason for people to want to put these dogs onto BSL lists.
The reality of this situation is that if you make the choice to own a Husky or Malamute you MUST also make the commitment to train them. Snow Dogs must be taught how to slow down and how to politely greet other dogs and other people other wise they just default to their own Husky speed setting of being a “wild and crazy Snow Dog”. It does not matter that reactivity is a natural part of being Snow Dog. If you allow your dog to engage in highly reactive “natural” behaviour, YOU are still responsible for the dog fight it causes, YOU are still liable for the damage it causes, and YOU are only adding to the growing problem of how the public thinks and feels about this breed of dog. If you are not part the solution, then you are part of the problem.
And the solution to this problem is to TRAIN your Snow Dog. They can be trained to have a polite greeting. Someone just needs to show them what to do instead of what their natural instincts tell them to do.
We here at Snow Dog Guru will be running another three part series on training for the polite Husky Greeting.
Are You In Denial?
Owners often are in denial about their dog’s behaviours. They excuse the behaviours by telling themselves that their out of control dog’s behaviour is just him “being friendly”. No, sorry. This is not friendly behaviour. This is rude obnoxious behaviour and the owner is in some part to blame for it. Owners must take responsibility for their dog’s behaviours.
If you happen to have a young Husky that is still learning or perhaps you have a newly adopted Second Chance dog that did not come with any social skills, you will spend a lot of time apologizing to people about your dog’s wild behaviours BUT other people (for the most part) will be willing to cut you and your dog some slack when they see that you are actively trying to make the situation better. The biggest complaint is about those dogs and owners who do NOTHING about their dog’s behaviours. Do not be one of THOSE owners. Do not turn a blind eye to the behaviours and for heaven sakes, put your hand held mobile device away! You certainly cannot correct the behaviour if you are not even actively watching your dog’s interactions with others. At the very least don’t allow an out of control dog off leash so that it can terrorize other people and their leashed dogs.
A big misconception that owners have is that the dog who is about to be “greeted” by the “friendly” dog should be okay with this dog’s approach and that he is a “friendly” dog too. Actually, a dog that understands proper dog greetings and manners would look at this “friendly dog’s behaviour” and wonder about what the heck was wrong with this dog for acting so rudely. No dog would see this as “friendly” gesture. Sorry but not everyone thinks that your little Prince or Princess is the greatest thing since sliced bread so, either leashed or unleashed, do not let your Snow Dog jump all over other people and their dogs.
So how do you go about fixing this behaviour?
Begin At The Beginning
Start with the basics. Many frustrated owners complain that their dogs won’t sit to meet people when they are excited but upon further assessment it becomes apparent that their dog does not SIT at the best of times, never mind sitting with distractions. So make sure that your dog performs SIT reliably before trying to enforce SIT with distractions. Remember the previous article on Teaching Your Snow Dogs to SIT and WAIT? Now perhaps you can better understand the importance of why training your dog MUST begin from the basics. If your dog does not have a good solid foundation of SIT and WAIT, the rest of the training will be compromised.
What Do You Want Your Dog To Do?
It is easier to train for a specific behaviour than a vague or undefined one. Choose the type of greeting you want your dog to use when meeting people. Do you want them to SIT in front of people or lie down in front of people? At home, do you want them to lie down away from the door and wait to be approached by the person? Decide on one correct response and train for that rather than allowing different behaviours at different times. It’s harder for the dog to know what is expected if he is not corrected or is rewarded for different behaviours – for sitting, standing, lying down, or trotting around the room quietly. Even if the other dog behaviours are not annoying and you might be okay with any of them, the only acceptable behaviour is the one that you cued your dog to do. It is not up to your dog to decide which behaviour he wants to perform otherwise why would he bother listening and following your instructions at any other point in time?
How To Break It Down
In order to teach better behaviour, you first have to be able to break down the current behaviours to find your dog’s trigger or triggers. You may think of the act of approaching someone as a single event but there are actually many components here that may act as individual triggers for your dog’s excitement:
- The dog’s proximity to the person or dog.
- The sound of dog tags clinking together.
- The sight of the other dog or person.
- The scent of the other dog or person.
- The feel of the resistance of the leash against your dog’s pull.
- And any fearful, tense, angry energy coming from either owner or the other dog.
Diffusing The Triggers
One key to be able to change your dog’s greeting behaviours is in recognizing the triggers and immediately addressing those behaviours before the triggers begin the escalation process in your dog’s other behaviours. So that means as soon as your dog sees the approaching person or dog and you can begin to see the hackles raise or the dog begins to strain against the leash IMMEDIATELY work to redirect these behaviours. It is far easier to redirect a dog’s behaviours at a low level of arousal than at high levels of arousal.
Regain control of the situation by having your dog SIT or LIE DOWN before the people or dog enters the trigger zone. You can also address your dog’s escalating excitement by redirecting his attention onto you by issuing a WATCH ME cue. Another option can be to choose to move your dog away from the approaching path of the oncoming person or dog. Pick ONE of these methods and use it consistently each time your dog is about to greet someone. Consistency will help your dog understand what behaviour is expected of him.
The point here is to do something other than letting your dog just stare at the approaching stimuli as this will only serve to feed his over arousal. Once your dog has hit maximum over arousal, the chances of you being able to regain control of the situation at that point is extremely slim. Once dogs have hit the top of the arousal chart, they ignore everything else in their environment except for the focus of their arousal. So prepare yourself ahead of time so you know exactly what you are going to do in this situation and more importantly, your dog knows what to do in these situations too.
Remember, retraining a behaviour that comes naturally to a dog is hard work for both of you so have patience and understanding. Think about the last time you had to retrain yourself from doing something that was an ingrained habit. How much fun was that for YOU?
In Part 2 I discuss Saying Hello, Dog to Dog Meetings, and Meeting People Outdoors so make sure you stop by to read this new article.
As always, we here at Snow Dog Guru, encourage you to write in with your comments and questions about this topic. Do you have any stories about Dog Greetings? When we share our stories we may just be helping out someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
At Snow Dog Guru, we want to help ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.