Training the Pup in Social Situations

The English Shepherd has been selected for centuries to keep order on the farm he watches the gates and keeps the appropriate livestock in its pen. Should one of his charges escape through a hole in the fence and the owners are not there to see, he drives them back in and sits in the hole and waits for his owners to come fix the fence. This is done not because of some inhibited prey drive that the dog has, but because of a dominant pack instinct.

English Shepherds are also very valuable to anyone who lives the farm life because they protect your back and are very in tune to anything out of the ordinary. Rams, bulls or hogs can charge you. Protective mama cows and sows are very dangerous as well. It is great to have a reactive English Shepherd watching your back!

These are wonderful instincts and are very characteristic of the breed, but they can cause problems in situations where guests or delivery people arrive.

The following thread, helping owners to learn about shaping this behavior is from the email list of the American Working Farmcollie Association:

RE: [AWFA] Teaching pups how to behave in social situations

It seems to be a pretty common thing for adolescent pups, especially males, to "offer" to protect their people and their territory from visitors or passers by, bicyclists, delivery people, etc. How the owner handles these initial offers to *repel all comers!* can make the difference between a discerning, confident dog and one that chronically overreacts.

Biggest thing, In my opinion, is leadership; When told by his owner to stand down the dog should defer, and a reasonably biddable dog will, provided that the dog trusts its owner and knows they have the situation under control and that the dog is not expected to protect the people or the territory. If this is not in question, the dog know he can relax and let his owner handle the situation. If the owner has not, as the pack alpha, formed a sufficient bond with the dog or earned the dog's respect and confidence, no matter what he says or does the dog may be uneasy with deferring to the owner's decisions/opinions of who/what is "ok" and who/what is *NOT* and may behave anxiously or aggressively when it is placed in the "uncomfortable) position of needing to control the situation himself. Some harder-headed dogs, even with strong leaders, need more convincing that everything's under control and they may (had better!) safely stand down.

There is an adrenaline rush associated with high-energy or high-risk stock work that I believe is addictive-Dog gets so off on the thrill of the activity, positive response from the owner and the "winning" of the altercation that they will tend to seek out opportunities to do it again and again.

We see this when pups "get it" and begin to work in earnest just for the joy of it, it is clear how important the work is to them, because the harshest punishment for a dog that loves his job is to have it taken away (why giving over-enthusiastic or rough pups a "time out" of the action when they don't listen to the farmer works so well). We also see it in dogs taken to herding lessons who then go out and chase the stock because they've "turned on" and want that thrill and gratification again.

Dominant, protective, territorial dogs get a similar thrill from running off an intruder, whether it is a possum, a cat burglar or the UPS guy ;-) This seems to me to be just as potentially addictive. The time to lay down the rules about how to react to visitors, strangers approaching in the park, the vet, joggers, etc, is THE DAY YOU BRING HOME THE PUPPY. This isn't to say you should allow every idiot to let their kid charge your new puppy and grab at it. Make allowances for him as far as how much activity, travelling, jostling, etc, he has to endure that first day or three. But I usually welcome these opportunities to teach both the pup and the kid (and the idiot parent, lol) how these social situations should be handled. You can pick pup up or ask the kids to let him be if they are being too obnoxious, this will let the pup know you can be depended on to protect him. But never, EVER coddle or make allowances or excuses for the pup being rude.

How we handle an incident when the pup behaves rudely is important. Never say "It's ok" or pet or soothe a pup that is being anal about barking at those kids at the park, your company or your elderly neighbor as they hobble out to their mailbox. Instead, treat it like any other rude, inappropriate act- Think about it- Would you tell him "Aww, it's ok" for him to hike his leg on your sofa? I think not ;-) Use a stern voice and tell the pup *no*, no drama, no worries, and have him sit or lie beside or slightly behind you while you talk to the visitor or otherwise go about your business. Use sterner corrections or stronger messages (banishment is a good one, ideally to a place where he is out of the way but can observe your normal, matter-of-fact encounter with the "intruder") and make it a point not to behave as though you are worried or concerned; This would send the message something really is amiss and may inspire him to increase his efforts to get rid of this worrisome "intruder."

Never, ever allow a pup that is offering to protect you to position himself between you and the visitor unless you want things to escalate- Dogs are more responsive to body language than to words so, regardless of what you're saying to him, if you have him positioned between you and the "intruder" you are ASKING HIM TO PROTECT YOU.

Whether he receives a positive response from you- Crooning, petting, or allowing him to assume the protective position between you and the "intruder", even negative attention from you in the form of an exciting drama reward- as well as whether the dog succeeds in "running off the intruder" or "protecting his charges" (poor UPS guy dives into his truck and drives off at high speed- Mission accomplished!), will dictate how the dog behaves the next time.


RE: [AWFA] Teaching pups how to behave in social situations

Oh, well said, Tish!

Finnegan at 7 months is beginning to feel his oats in terms of the joggers, the neighbors, the cyclists... He certainly does seem to get a high off rushing to the edge of the road. So I've started to keep him on a drag line, which seems to ground his brain cells some, and lets him hear me give the flat "no" and "down".

This morning he barked (the Hooligan roar is just starting to emerge) at the neighbor getting into her car (an acre and a half away!) and then flopped into down position, rolling his eyes at me over his shoulder. I guess we're halfway there....LOL


RE: [AWFA] Teaching pups how to behave in social situations

One thing that I have done with my dogs is to have a "stand down" command of sorts. When a car pulls up in the driveway, Skye will announce them by barking, Finn is quiet, just extremely ready to greet them. I say "It's OK, you can say Hi" and then the dogs happily go forward to meet and greet.

This really came in handy the other day.... I heard Finn bark, more of a roar really and I could tell he meant it. I ran outside and saw Finn holding four people at our side property line. It turned out to be our neighbors who never come over, and Finn is used to "visitors" pulling up in cars. I was about an acre away and I could tell from that distance that it could easily escalate. (Picture Gandolf in the Two Towers facing down the Balroc saying "YOU SHALL NOT PASS"!!) Using my loudest voice, I yelled over "It's OK, you can say Hi" which sounded really lame to the group of people held at bay I'm sure...But it was like a switch was thrown, he looked over at me, hackles went down and he ran over and started to sniff them and be petted. Two minutes later, he was sitting in the one person's lap. He trusted my judgment enough to let me handle the situation as I saw fit. And if I say they're OK, they're OK.

Finn, at two years old, is just coming into his protective mode. I'm not sure if it's the two year mark, or the litter of pups on the ground but I am very thankful that I have used the "OK" thing consistently and he took my word on it.


Re: Teaching pups how to behave in social situations

Judy said:


Good point, Judy, in similar situations a lot of owners yell at the dogs using a mad, concerned tone, and this usually makes the dogs think that the owners are barking sternly at the intruders too.


RE: [AWFA] Teaching pups how to behave in social situations


This is great! I'm going to remember this and use it. You must have been so proud of him! How did you start this training? Just by consistently saying that before letting them greet the guests? Any hints for someone wanting to train a dog to do this?

I had my Malamute/Husky cross trained to "ignore". He'd go on long horse back rides with me and other dogs would come out and challenge him. I'd simply say, "Chick ignore" and he'd stick his nose up in the air and we'd travel on. Of course, he had great faith in the fact that if the dogs took it to far and came up behind him to attack him, I'd whip my horse around and chase their butts home. :) I actually did it more for the safety of the other dogs than him anyways. Chick Bowdrie was 120+lbs of solid dog and he went straight for the jugular if he felt the need to protect me. Not many felt the need to contradict him as he resembled a very large white wolf. :)


RE: [AWFA] Teaching pups how to behave in social situations

It's exactly the same idea that you used with Chick....Your dog respected you and had faith in your judgment. That only comes with being a consistently effective leader.

Of course it also helps to say the words before every happy friendly encounter with guests. So there is a certain amount of conditioning going on....


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