Best Thing I Ever Taught My Friendly Dog

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.

Honey the golden retriever sniffs a horse sculpture.

I don’t know if I want to be friendly with you. You’re kinda stiff. And you smell funny. For a horse.

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.

Honey the golden retriever rides a horse sculpture.

Look at me! I’m riding a horse.

 

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.

Safety

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.

Fostering

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.

Honey the golden retriever plays with a foster puppy.

Yeah, I know. I’m the best foster-sister ever. Especially since I let you win.

Neighborliness

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.

Honey the golden retriever sits in the leaves.

The real reason you want me to be calm around other dogs is so you can take all these stupid pictures without worrying I’m going to run across the street to play with that cute dog.

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.

Honey the golden retriever wrestles with Cooper the chocolate labrador retriever.

You’re the best playmate ever.

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.

 

 

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Comments

  1. You have done such an excellent job with her. It’s hard to find the balance. Roxy and Torrey both love to great people, but not everyone loved being greeted.

  2. I love this post. Rodrigo is the friendly dog in our pack and I’ve had to work with him on that. But he’s got nothing on my friend’s Labradors, who love everyone. When we’re out and about, Rigo wants to great and get to know everyone. When we’re on our property, he’s a teeny bit more reserved, but not much.

    Safety is a big concern for us too.

    • Good for you on teaching Rodrigo to hold back a little on his friendliness. I suspect that many people with less friendly dogs can’t imagine it being a problem.

  3. I’m having to make similar adjustments with our new puppy Clover. After 9 years with Lilly (who was NOT fond of overly friendly dogs), it’s a real switch. After our very first puppy kindergarten class (just 4 days after adoption), our trainer teased me that I had the OPPOSITE PROBLEM this time. She just laughed and laughed as I tried to keep a smiling, wiggling puppy from mauling everyone she saw with love.

    • You’ll probably use some of the same skills you used to help Lilly, just turned in a different direction.

      I’ve really enjoyed seeing your FB posts about Clover. It’s fun seeing you fall in love all over again with a dog bringing all kinds of wonderful and different things into your life.

  4. Do you talk anywhere about how you taught Honey to ignore other dogs and to be polite?

  5. This is what we are working with Mauja and Atka on all the time. They think that everyone wants to greet them and be their best friend. Some people don’t appreciate the overly friendly dog, especially when they come in giant size.

    • I know some people who would fear for their lives to see two friendly dogs the size of small polar bears lumbering over for a greeting.

      As for me, I can’t think of a better way to go. :)

  6. Honey is such a great example for other dogs – she really is amazing. Since I’m living with Laika (reactive) right now I’d never honestly given much thought to the idea of making a dog less friendly but now I definitely see your point. And yes, I know the joggers love it as well :) It’s weird thinking back on my previous 2 dogs – my Lab mix was overly friendly to everyone and my Border Collie mix was polite but reserved. Now I have Laika – overly stimulated by every new situation/dog/person we meet. I think a dog like Honey is the nice medium we should strive for.

    • Actually, working with Laika, I bet you’d hate to see an overly friendly dog go rushing up to you and ruin all your training work.

      As for Honey, you realize I really stacked the decks, right? I researched an amazing hobby breeder who was very knowledgeable about genetics and socialization. Plus I’ve had Honey since she was 8 weeks old. With all the benefits, it would be a terrible waste not to try to bring out her full potential.

  7. This is something I need to work on with Blueberry. She isn’t necessarily exuberant in wanting to meet people – but she does like to try and shake them down for treats. Some people think they’ve made a new friend – but Blueberry’s strict policy is, “No treats? Later!”.

    • What kind of crazy person doesn’t have at least a few dog treats in their pockets at all time? :)

      You tell Blueberry to come see us.

  8. Indeed.. I love this awareness… but would like to hear more about the “how” …

  9. Since Jimmy is a tad reactive if a dog gets in his face or sniffs his butt, I trained early and often to look at me instead of paying attention to the other dog. Jimmy has wonderful impulse control but every now and again a dog goes by that CANNOT.BE.IGNORED. And Jimmy will get all snarky and in general act like an ass. It is always a bigger dog and I am pretty sure it is something in the eye contact. In the close quarters of agility training, we were always told to not allow our dogs to stare at one another as it would often lead to squabbles or worse.

    Wilson is so easy. He is not interested in humans or dogs he does not know and hasn’t an ounce of snark in him. Really with humans, he’d prefer no one but John or me touch him although he allows others “if they must”. LOL!

    • It sounds like Jimmy’s reaction is entirely appropriate for a strange dog getting in his face. After all, that’s rude behavior.

      It’s the equivalent of humans who touch the bellies of pregnant women they don’t know or who stick their hands in people’s afros. :)

  10. I wish more folks were like you and Honey! When walking a reactive dog, it’s no fun to have a dog bounding toward you as the owner yells from a distance “He’s friendly!” “Uh, yeah – mine’s not!” And you never know when a not-friendly reaction is going to bring out the worst in the other dog.

    • Yeah, and I really wonder how well that person yelling about their friendly dog knows anything, given that they’ve never taken the time to train him to be polite and attentive to his person.

      I was walking Honey off leash the other day when a little terrier came zooming past us. I immediately put Honey on her leash until I could figure out the situation. But the same never occurred to the terrier’s person when she saw us. Frankly, from what I saw later, she couldn’t have gotten that little dog on a leash no matter what.

      I hope she stays lucky.

  11. Harley is friendly yet reserved when he doesn’t know you. For those he’s met before, LOOK OUT! he is Walmart greeter multiplied by 100. I’ve given up with trying to change him, because all those who know him promote and perpetuate the behavior.

    • I must admit that Harley always looks quite dignified on your blog. But I’ve never seen a Walmart greeter much less one that looks like he’s on speed. Perhaps you’ll capture some video for us?

  12. I know you have this live on a boat dream thing going on, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather bring Honey (oh and the hubby) to a lovely little village in Yorkshire? I would love to have someone knowledgeable and with a well behaved dog to help walk BD and Mity with.

    • If I thought Honey and I could support ourselves by traveling around the world and being a calm presence for other dogs to practice with, I’d try it in a minute.

      On the other hand, I’m not sure how long it would take me to learn to speak “Yorkshire” before planning the trip. :)

  13. I’m working on this with Sampson, it’s hard with two dogs because once I try and treat him I get a face full of chocolate, but I’m still trying.

    You’ve done a wonderful job with Honey.

  14. Thank you for this excellent post!!
    I have two dogs one of which has become fear aggressive, after some attacks of unleashed dogs.Now even friendly dogs approaching are a big big problem to us!So, it’s of great importance for other pet parents to realise that not everybody (human or dog) appreciates such a friendly approach!!Thank you again!! :)

  15. So true. I have two very friendly and inquistive dogs. My partner and I are working on their leash etiquette.