When I knew I was bringing home a puppy whose genes made her likely to love everyone, I got excited.
I imagined meeting all kinds of people and their pups on the street, impromptu play sessions, and never crossing the street at the sight of another dog.
I had reactivity fatigue. And I was ready for a social pup.
But it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. And that’s a good thing.
Because it led to the best thing I ever taught my friendly dog.
Learning To Be Less Friendly
Although I find it adorable for a friendly dog to go prancing up to everyone he meets, not everyone agrees with me.
So one of our early training goals for Honey was to teach her how to ignore people and other dogs, no matter how badly she wanted to meet them.
It was a tough lesson.
In fact, her “friendliness” almost led her to fail her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. The test administrator had to give us a second chance. And ban her favorite trainer to his car so she had half a chance of ignoring every person walking by her.
Honey was pretty young when she took her CGC test. Now that she’s older and has learned better impulse control, she’d find it easy.
And that’s good. Because we’ve seen many benefits from Honey learning to be less friendly.
Benefits of Being Less Friendly
Although I would never have believed this five years ago when I was struggling with a reactive dog, there are benefits to teaching your dog to be less friendly. At least if by less friendly, we mean able to ignore strangers and other dogs.
Here are a few I’ve noticed.
When Honey was a puppy, she loved to jump on the face of every dog she met. Some dogs find that rude. Actually, all dogs find it rude. It’s just that some are more forgiving than others.
Honey learned how to pause before approaching other dogs. And it has given her the time to read another dog’s body language before jumping right in, saving her from potentially nasty bites.
Which led to the next benefit I’ve found.
Honey’s willingness to hold back on her full-on-golden-retriever-i-love-you-do-you-love-me-too greeting has made her an excellent host to foster dogs.
Most dogs arrive at our house feeling frightened.
At their first introduction, Honey will do a bouncy play bow. But at a distance to be less scary. And if she isn’t encouraged, she’ll step back to give the new dog a chance to sniff out her surroundings in peace.
Okay, I confess. Honey is still not capable of a calm greeting when someone encourages her. I’d love to teach her how to sit quietly for greetings. But the best she can do right now is jumping two inches off the ground and wiggling around in paroxysms of puppy joy.
However, people who are just going about their business do not have to worry about Honey dragging me over to meet them.
For this reason, we get a lot of smiles from local runners.
Helping Other Dogs And Their People
I remember always trying to find safe situations where I could work with my reactive dogs.
One day I had a great idea. I took Agatha and Christie to the dog park where we sat at a picnic table more than 200 yards from the entrance to the park. It was a perfect distance for rewarding Agatha for being calm with the noise of other dogs without worrying about any encounters.
Until one crazy dog person let her dogs leave the park without leashing them and they took off running toward us with their person chasing after them yelling their names.
I thought I had created a good training situation and just ended up traumatizing my dogs and getting yelled at by a bad dog owner for bringing my leashed dogs to an area 200 yards away from an off-leash dog park.
Now, I occasionally see people working with their reactive dogs on leash. And I know it’s helpful for them to have a calm, nonreactive dog walking by so they can work with their dog. I’m just thankful Honey and I can offer that help.
Blogging Made My Dog Less Friendly
My very first dog reacted to other dogs. So I’ve always known how helpful it is when other dogs walk by us calmly instead of adding to the insanity whirling at the end of my leash.
But blogging introduced me to more experienced people working with their reactive dogs. And it increased my commitment to teaching Honey how to be less friendly (or obnoxious, if you like).
I’ve learned not to enjoy her exuberant greetings so much that we caused problems for other dogs.
Honey has learned to be just a little less friendly.
And we’ve both learned that play time at the right time and the right place with the right dog is so much more sweet when you’re forced to be “less friendly” with every dog you see on the street.