DH and I took the kids to a huge park this evening. We also brought Seiran (6 months) and Floki (7 month Belgian Mal) with us as well. It has a perimeter fence around the park as a dog walk. That way parents can walk the dogs and have full view of their kids the whole time. It’s a really nice setup. I was holding Floki’s leash and on my motorized chair, and DH was walking Seiran. A ton of people approached and wanted to pet the puppies. Had I been alone, I would have said no, but DH is super outgoing and wants all the people to love on the people as much as he does. Sigh.
We are done at the park, and as we are leaving, DH remarked on how well behaved and outgoing the dogs were. I told him not to get used to it, and explained why. He couldn’t understand why a super social puppy would turn into a not so people friendly adolescences. He’s not a dog person, but bless him, he’s learning. So I explained it to him in non dog terms, and it finally seemed to sink in. This is what I told him:
Think of it like this. As a small child, you would normally hide behind your parents leg if someone you didn’t know came up and started talking to your parents. You’d peek around their legs curiously, but wouldn’t be confident enough to come around and say hi. After a few years, you realize people talking to your parents is perfectly safe because your parents taught you that an adult talking to an adult was fine and normal. So you gained more confidence and started saying hi. The following year, you were even more confident because you started school and learned social skills outside your normal parental supervision. You learn how to make your way through some things that might seem a little scary, but quickly learned that school and friends and recess were fun, and you blossomed. Fast forward to high school. This is when you start to realize some people are crappy. Just crappy people. You learn not everyone is out with your best interests at heart, and you find your grove with your own people, and kinda rag on other groups. Insecurity comes back, and flight or fight becomes an everyday occurrence. THIS is the equivalent of a dog from 8 weeks to 8-12 months. Your once super social child is now a leery teenager, and has learned not all people that approach are good people with good intentions. The difference between a teenager and a dog is verbal language skills. Your dog can’t say “hey, get out of my bubble, I don’t know you, and you’re invading my space.” So they give body language that you’re likely missing before that snap or growl or lunge. They give you the warning, and when you don’t have them covered and keep people out of their bubble, they lose confidence in you, and take it into their own paws to get the bubble takers to go away. But just like a teenager, you manage your dog. You need to teach them what is okay behavior and teach yourself to read your dog to see if he is comfortable in the situations you are putting him in.
Luckily for both species, teenage years don’t last forever. And if you learn to properly communicate with your dog via reading body language, and prevent people from pushing their way rudely into your teenage dogs bubble, he’s gonna learn that you can and will protect him, and be fine ignoring those people rather than snapping and growling. Then they turn into adults and learn a whole need set of life lessons, and aren’t so self aware. The angsty teenager because a (hopefully) well adjusted adult that doesn’t freak out over every little thing.
Hopefully that helps someone, it helped DH.
But the basics are simple. Your dog is telling you he isn’t comfortable in these situations anymore, and when you respect that, and keep people away, they relax and learn people can walk by and you won’t allow them to enter their bubble, and if someone tries, you’ll put a stop to it. This is how you get a well rounded adult GSD that can be in social situations without engaging in social behavior. GSD’s are not social dogs, so you’re essentially trying to put a square peg into a round hole at this stage, and if you try to force it, you’re going to end up with a reactive adult dog that is ten times worse managing than they were as adolescents.