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Social Neutrality

Have you ever seen a dog that would just constantly be looking at its owner, not paying any attention to other people or dogs that are walking nearby? Meanwhile, you probably have also observed another dog that is tugging at the leash and pulling its owner in every direction each time it gets a whiff of a new scent.  

As dog owners, we would like our dog to be the first example rather than the second. This concept of the dog being able to ignore its surroundings and pay attention to its owner is called Social Neutrality.

it is a rather simple concept to understand, yet it is something that many dog owners struggle to obtain with their own dogs. A dog that is focused more on the owner rather than their surroundings is practicing Social Neutrality.

So, why are some dogs focused solely on their owners while others are completely disengaged and oblivious to what the owner is doing? Most of these issues arise in early puppyhood when owners are socializing their puppies.

“This is a well-intentioned thought process, but it often does more harm than good. “

Unfortunately, many owners go about socializing their puppies in the wrong way. An inexperienced owner will let their puppy run up and take treats from every person that the puppy sees as well as let the puppy play with every dog on the street.

The owner justifies these actions by saying, “I want my puppy to see other people and dogs as friends and not to be afraid of them.”  This is a well-intentioned thought process, but it often does more harm than good.

When a puppy is growing up and gets to play with every dog it sees, and then gets rewards from every person that it runs up to, a mindset develops in the puppy’s brain.

This mindset sees other people, objects, and animals as a form of entertainment and then seeks to go after it. The reward of running to those various forms of entertainment begin to outweigh being close to the owner.

The owner then becomes less attractive to the puppy, and the puppy becomes disengaged from anything the owner says or does. This behavior typically then worsens as the dog grows older, and it pulls harder and harder.

Sometimes these dogs can begin to bark and screech when the owner attempts to hold them back from the object they are after. This type of behavior in dogs can lead to more serious issues such as leash reactivity, dog aggression, or people aggression if left unchecked.

So, how would one go about properly socializing a puppy without creating these bad habits?

“These same methods can be applied to an adult dog who has already developed bad habits as a puppy.”

First, the dog should not be allowed to just go about and sniff anything it wants or to run up to people. The owner should walk the dog and continuously give the dog treats for looking up and interacting with the owner.

Everything in the environment to include other dogs or people should be meaningless to the puppy.

If a person comes along and would like to pet the puppy, it is ok, but only after the puppy is sitting and the owner gives a treat to the puppy as the other person pats the dog on the head.

This instills engagement with the owner even when another person is interacting with the puppy. The same thing can be done when the puppy interacts with other dogs. This method creates engagement between the owner and the dog while still giving the puppy the opportunity to experience the world around them.

These same methods can be applied to an adult dog who has already developed bad habits as a puppy. However, working with a dog who has already established poor habits will be much more difficult to deal with.

This will become even more challenging if the dog is struggling with leash reactivity, in which case, a combination of appropriately timed corrections as well as utilizing counterconditioning would need to be implemented in order to change the behavior.

One of the hardest things for owners to do is to withstand their dog’s whining and pulling towards others. Typically, the dog’s behavior changes, and they relax once they get what they want, so owners tend to give in to the dog’s demands. Thus, it only makes the situation worse.

“No one wants to be that person with the embarrassing dog who is constantly lunging and barking at others.”

The good news is that this behavior can be changed. Getting your dog to maintain focus on you takes a lot of time and training, but it is something that will greatly increase the quality of your life as well as the life of your dog.

No one wants to be that person with the embarrassing dog who is constantly lunging and barking at others! Trust me! I was that person, and it was not fun. I would dread seeing other dogs pass us on the street as I knew my dog would go stir crazy as soon as he noticed them.

This made my life with my dog extremely stressful. Thankfully, I learned that there is a way to change this behavior and to have a dog that has Social Neutrality.

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