Is your Greyhound a Snob?
So your dog is a “hound snob” – now what? Well, first of all, embrace it! After all you adopted this breed most likely because you were drawn to their beauty and calm, gentle demeanor right? Well maybe your Greyhound, like you, is drawn to those that have those same characteristics in his canine friends too! If you think about it, we are drawn to those that have similar interests and behaviors as us in life. If during your crucial development time in life, you had limited exposure to people who looked or acted differently than you, most likely you would gravitate towards and connect with those you were most comfortable. Most Greyhounds have lived the first 2-5 years of their life with little or no exposure to other breeds. They spend their time with dogs that look like them, have similar energy levels and even mannerisms. They even often are with their “family” (littermates) for an extended period during race school. Suddenly they are adopted and exposed to cats, children and dogs that look (and act!) nothing like them! One of the things we love about this breed, and dogs in general, is their ability to adapt so well to those new creatures they encounter post-adoption. That said, some Greyhounds do struggle with socializing with other dogs so what is the best approach?
First, our goal is to set our companion up for success in his new world! We must have realistic expectations. Expecting any dog to love every dog they meet is as unrealistic as it is for us to love every co-worker, family member, neighbor or person we see at the grocery store so we need to be realistic. We also need to be experts at reading body language so we can pick up subtle signs when our dog is uncomfortable. Greeting strange dogs on a walk and meeting face to face can be a recipe for disaster. It can create a great deal of frustration and/or social pressure. (Read my blog on this topic – link below). Dogs gain information via scent and by reading body language so a tight leash prohibits a proper introduction using their key communication skills. Expecting a dog to meet another dog on a leash is setting them up to fail as it creates a lot of social pressure also for the dog to interact with everyone they meet. Do you want to meet and engage with every stranger on your walk? Most dogs don’t either.
We also need to make sure we are a master at reading body language. This will help us identify how our dog is feeling in different situations so we can respect their boundaries and space. Dogs will usually avoid conflict but if they are forced into situations where they are uncomfortable and we do not recognize the signs of their stress, problems can escalate
Like I mentioned above, it’s natural in my opinion, for dogs and people, to gravitate to those most like us. A calm Greyhound will often have little use for an over-exuberant puppy or an in your face Golden Retriever complete with lots of hair. They look different and can have very inappropriate greetings skills by a Greyhound’s standards. Also depending on the amount of neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal), some dogs can be harder for other dogs to read due to the lack of exaggeration in the jaw to notice a show of teeth, growl or other communication. Think pugs, boxers and other breeds with larger heads and juvenile features. What does a happy pug look like? Sad Pug? Angry Pug? It’s much the same look! Imagine how confusing that can be for a species that relies on body language to communicate and one that has been raised with dogs that look just like him for most of his life! Now add in a dog approaching like a Doberman who’s ears are constantly up in alert position and who tail is pretty much non-existent due to surgical altering. Can you see why your dog might be a bit apprehensive or even downright afraid and therefore growl or want to create some distance?
We can’t really talk about socialization without addressing what science tells us about puppies and development. They go through critical socialization windows that impact their behavior for life and the socialization window ends at about 16 weeks of age. During these first few weeks, their brains are a like a sponge and they soak up new information that will impact how they view their world as an adult. Most Greyhounds have had very limited socialization with other breeds during the crucial socialization period. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn new things or adapt but we have to realize there may be limits with a Greyhound or any breed for that matter. I compare a Greyhound to a person that maybe didn’t go to preschool and elementary school so missed some socialization. It doesn’t mean that this person can’t learn but the reality is in high school or as an adult, the missed socialization when young could impact their behavior and sociability.
All dogs as they mature also go through developmental stages, which in turn also affects sociability. As age increases, socialability generally decreases in dogs. Again not so different than us humans. In Kindergarten, all children play together regardless of race, sex, brand of clothing worn, etc. but in high school that all changes and we get pickier about our friends. Well dogs are much the same and usually puppies love everyone, but as dogs mature they are more selective about their friends too.
Greyhound adopters often are given their advice to expose their greyhound to LOTS of experiences and they will be fine. The problem is exposure alone is not socialization. It must be a positive experience from the dog’s perspective for it to be a good opportunity for socialization! The examples we often use in the dog world is if you are afraid of water, throwing you in the deep end of the pool will not help! Also if you are afraid of heights, I wouldn’t just put you on the 50th floor of the building until you shut down and tolerated it. It’s the same with dogs. It must be slow and positive. Think quality too and not quantity. It’s better for one polite dog to meet your dog then taking him to a dog park or day care.
Many so called “trainers” use a technique called flooding*. Not only is it not recommended but it can backfire and make things worse. Other trainers try to correct the problem by out of date tools that science has proven raise anxiety and aggression – tools from water bottles, yanking on the leash and saying “NO”, to prong or shock collars. All these negative tools may suppress barking or growling but they do not work to change the dog’s emotional state as his opinion about the trigger. Sometimes the behavior stops initially but returns and is worse since suppressed behavior is not changed behavior and these tools open up the door for other behavioral problems called “fall out”. Again think to that person afraid of heights. If I put them on the 50th floor and they scream and I say “stop it” and spray them or shock them, is the person still afraid of heights? Yes and I may have silenced their screams or warning signs but signs but made the problem and association with heights worse! There are lots of studies on the harm from negative training, along with its ineffectiveness. *
What you can do to help your dog socialize with other dogs is what we call counter conditioning and desensitizing in order to change the dog’s emotional state to whatever it is that triggers the negative behavior. In this article, we are talking about other dogs but the behavior could be fear/anxiety with people, noises, touch, new surroundings or changes in the environment, to name a few. We use food, play, petting and praise to create positive associations. Food is a powerful motivator in counter conditioning because there are circuits in the brain that turn on the hunting circuits in a dog’s brain and turn off the fear and anxiety circuits. You can work with a force free trainer or behavior consultant that follows the science of training to help you learn more to socialize your dog. If you would like to read and learn more on your own, Patricia McConnell, author and PHD, Pat Miller and DVM Sophia Yin have some excellent books, blogs and information too.
- Am I being realistic?
- Do I know how to read my dogs body language for discomfort?
- Does the dog have a choice in this interaction?
- Can he disengage or move away?
- Is my dog over threshold and if so do I have a plan to quickly remove him in a positive manner?
Remember we love our Greyhounds for their looks, calm demeanor and gentle temperament. Maybe they are just like us and prefer the same in their friends too!
Flooding is a behavioral technique that involves exposure to an aversive stimulus at full intensity until habituation occurs (i.e., the animal no longer reacts to the stimulus). Read more about Flooding by TV Trainer, Victoria Stillwell.
Negative training study:
Psychology Today: Is Punishment Effective way to Change Dog Behavior
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement
WRITTEN BY CAROL SUMBRY
Carol Sumbry is a Behavior Consultant and Dog Trainer. She is one of only four certified in dog behavior by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org) in the state of Wisconsin. She is also a Certified Dog Trainer who has been training for almost 2 decades. She has fostered dogs and done sighthound rescue (Greyhounds, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds) for over 20 years. As the Dog Training/Behavior Manager at a humane society for over a decade, Carol works with challenging dogs, high energy dogs and shy/fearful dogs. Voted Milwaukee‘s Top Trainer, Carol is also an evaluator for therapy dogs through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs organization.
Courtesy of and Copyright by Carol Sumbry. This article may not be reproduced or distributed without written permission from the author, Carol Sumbry, Pooch Ped Dog Training, Waukesha, WI