Training Bullytin #4: Independent Dogs
Dogs who fight with, lunge at, and don’t get along with other dogs are a common problem presented to dog trainers. These dogs are often stuck with labels like “aggressive”, “reactive”, or “alpha”. All of which do nothing to explain their behavior or assist in it’s modification. Worst of all these broad labels, for what can be a very narrow slice of a dog’s life, can condemn them to shelters and even euthanasia.
Certainly, some of these dogs can be menacing when another dog is too close for their comfort. But what about when they are alone with their beloved owners? What about when they are playing a game of tug or fetch in the yard? What about when they are posing with the kids for the holiday card? Or when they are enjoying sniffing for squirrels on a neighborhood walk? Dogs who prefer to live without other dogs can lead full and enriched lives as loving family members. For this reason, I prefer to label these dogs “independent”.
Independent dogs can do almost everything the social butterflies of the dog world can do. They can enjoy walks and car rides. They can make perfect sofa snugglers. They can attend training classes tailored specially for them. They take just as good Instagram pictures as other dogs. And they certainly snore, sniff, and fart as well as any dog out there. The only things these guys can’t participate in is anything that involves other dogs, such as dog parks and daycares.
So, why are some dogs more independent than others? Let’s start at the beginning...
Evolution- Latest scientific research suggests dogs evolved from gray wolves as opportunistic scavengers willing to stray from their pack in order to seek food near human encampments. Over thousands of years these more independent wolves became less inclined to seek the company of other wolves and more inclined to benefit from their relationship with humans.
Genetics- Some dogs have a strong genetic predisposition to fight with other dogs. And if we are honest, we have to acknowledge our bullies’ history. The original stock of bulldogs were bred for the sport of bull baiting. When this abhorrent sport was outlawed in 1835 dog fighting replaced it as entertainment for the masses. It can be hard to imagine your snoring lump of wrinkles and slobber descended from dogs bred for the tenacity and gameness to bring down an animal many times his size. But historical documents and modern genetic analysis tell us this is our bulldogs’ past. Experience- Animals must learn quickly what is safe and what is dangerous. A single unpleasant experience with another dog can be enough for some dogs to deem all dogs unfit for socialization. The other side of the experience coin is lack of exposure. When an animal has no experience with another creature his default reaction can be fear. And fear drives aggression.
Dog development includes a socialization period where a young pup readily catalogues experiences as safe or unsafe and a fear period where pups can be extra sensitive to potentially dangerous stimuli. Many rescue dogs are acquired as adults so we simply do not know what they experienced with other dogs during these formative life stages.
What are the signs my dog is an independent dog?
Bullying- Some dogs seem to get along well with most dogs but will target a specific dog for hazing or harassment.
Play Skill Deficit- Dogs with play skill deficit come on too strong for well socialized dogs and seem to be unaware of body language telling him to knock it off.
Proximity Sensitive- These dogs may be at ease with other dogs at a distance but once the threshold is crossed they may react with signs of fear or outright aggression.
Resource Guarding- The guarding of valuable objects (beds, food, toys, etc.) is actually a species appropriate behavior. Going back to considering our dogs’ evolution we know that wolves who do not guard resources go hungry. Some of that wolfy software is still in our dogs and can be displayed around resources the dog holds dear.
Leash Reactivity- These dogs can put on tremendous displays when encountering another dog on leash. It is thought that the combination of being uncomfortable with the presence of another dog and/or being restrained by a leash pushes these dogs over threshold. They may bark, snarl, and lunge at the other dog; all in an effort to encourage him to go away.
Specific or Generalized- Some will take issue with certain kinds of dogs; big or small, male or female, fixed or intact. And other dogs possess a generalized fear that stretches across the species.
What can I do for my independent dog?
Management- The simplest solution for dog to dog aggression is to keep your dog from encountering other dogs. Avoid areas where dogs are known to be off leash. Increase distance when passing other dogs on walks. Practice an emergency u-turn to remove your dog from a potentially uncomfortable situation. Simply, know your dog’s triggers and avoid them whenever possible.
Training- Many dogs respond well to training around other dogs. Modern dog trainers employ techniques that create positive associations to the presence of other dogs; known as desensitization and counterconditioning. Avoid old school methods that require a dog to sit still while other dogs approach. This is called flooding and can be dangerous to all parties involved.
I hope that learning about why and how some dogs prefer to be independent will help you look at these guys in a new light. Independent dogs can be just as loving and charming as social butterflies and deserve all the love a foster or furever family can provide.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to Lone Star Bulldog Club Rescue’s Bright Star Bullies. Bright Star Bullies are bulldogs who are currently living at the Bright Star Veterinary Clinic. Like many rescues, Lone Star is in need of fosters and adopters who do not have other dogs in their home. The pandemic has cancelled all events where new fosters are often recruited, and left current fosters maxed out on bulldogs. So, independent dogs are boarded with Dr. Larsen and her staff at Bright Star Vet Clinic in Sulphur Springs. While Bright Star Bullies are meticulously cared for, boarding is not a good long term situation for independent dogs.
If you think you can fall in love with an independent dog, or simply welcome one into your home temporarily, please contact Lone Star about a Bright Star Bully. Do you know someone who does not have a dog but wants to help dogs in need? Then, please forward this newsletter to you friend and encourage them to consider a Bright Star Bully. Be sure to follow Lone Star Bulldog Club Rescue on Instagram and Facebook where we will be featuring Bright Star Bullies. You can also help the rescue by sharing these posts on your own social media accounts.