Monday, July 16, 2012

SociaBulls: On No Dog-Greetings

When we were originally thinking about starting our own dog-walking group here in Chicago, Lark from HikeABulls was beyond supportive giving us a lot of advice about how to set up a positive structure to allow all the dogs to be successful.
We've realized one of the most important elements is that our dogs never greet each other; we always have about a leash-length of space between dogs. We know people have different philosophies about dog greetings, and since we had been getting several questions about it, we thought we would share why this is so important to us, along with photos of our latest walk.

Helping the Dogs Relax
Back when I first adopted Miss M, I never thought twice about meeting dogs on our walks. But reading 
this great article from Our Pack made me realize how unnatural and uncomfortable these types of greetings can be.
Especially in our group, being around other dogs can be exciting enough, so it is important to keep everything low-key so we can have a stability. When the dogs learn that they won't be greeting one another, it lessens the anxiety and overall excitement levels allowing us to walk together as a calm pack.

Learning Restraint and Positive Social Interactions
When we take the pooches on our daily walks around Chicago, we probably encounter at least 10-20 other dogs during our walk. I've found when our pooches are allowed to meet other dogs, they are conditioned to drag us to meet EVERY dog they see. Besides being respectful of dogs who need space and not knowing if other dogs are friendly...this can be time consuming; I need to get to work in the morning!
We've also found that most of the time when dogs do greet, they typically initiate play. This causes leashes to get tangled or dropped and people and dogs to potentially be injured.
SociaBulls has become a good place where many of us are practicing restraint, being positive dog ambassadors, and learning that just because we see a dog, you don't need to meet it. It's nice to know that this is a place where we don't have to be anxious about someone approaching us while also keeping group energy levels down.

Creating a Positive Experience for Everyone
We've actually had several people email us off-line wondering whether dogs who can handle it should be allowed to greet. Besides all the reasons we listed above, we also feel allowing dog-greetings wouldn't be fair to all the members. We love how our group welcomes all types of dogs at differing socialization levels, and we don't want anyone to feel self-conscious, possibly push their dog beyond a comfortable level, or feel ostracized from the group.
We also like to remind people our group walks are just a piece of dog socialization, and there are many other types of positive supervised activities where pooches do have the chance to directly interact.

These are just our experiences and reasons why our SociaBulls group decided not to have dog greetings. How does everyone else handle dog greetings? (and I know many people feel strongly one way or the be nice!)

Fantastic advice about starting and structuring your own dog-walking group.
A SociaBulls member learning when it's not time to play.

Join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabulls page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.  

Please Note: As the weather has warmed up, bikers, runners, dogs, and kids have come out in full force in many of the areas that we walk. While we had previously been introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, we've decided that in order to continue to keep our group safe and make our walks a positive experience for everyone, we are putting new members "on hold" for the summer. You can still submit an application, and it will go on our wait list in the order it is received. Once things quiet down a bit more in the fall, we will resume introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, and will be contacting people on the wait list in a first-come, first-served manner.


Anonymous said...

We do a sort of similar walk here in Baltimore (Pits on Parade, monthly) though it is not geared toward reactive dogs as the premise of the walk is to show off and educate the public about this wonderful breed...since it is so public and we are trying for a great image, reactive dogs are not encouraged to attend, HOWEVER a dog is a dog is a dog... so despite some of the best ambassadors strutting around, the rule is a leash apart. And I think it's great. Knox was never reactive (but always loved to play) which can be mistranslated by on lookers as rough. I think for these walks, regardless of how awesome your dog is with other dogs, minimizing interaction is great. At the end of the walk, away from the public, we'd let knox say hi to his good buddies, but this was after the walk was completed and everyone was dispersing.

I love this walk you guys do and you have structured it so well. Props to you guys!

SherBear said...

The no greetings rule has definetly helped Nala in our day to day life - she knows she doesn't have to meet every dog she sees when we are out and about (usually she meets none) so she is much more relaxed when she sees another dog. In the span of a week and a half we had three off leash dogs run across the driveway from the dog park over an on-leash Nala and she had zero reaction to them. I of course quickly walked Nala away but she knows her mom "has her back" and will take her out of uncomfortable situations. I am now much more relaxed on our walks and potty breaks which helps with Nala's calm demenor as well. We LOVE SociaBulls!!!

p.s. - Saturday was my first time at Garfield Park and it was so gorgeous! Also didn't take long at all to get there - definetly one of my new favorite locations!!

Julia said...

From the flip side - having a reactive dog and walking with no greetings helps Lily chill out when other dogs are near. Though it's taken much longer than we ever thought, she's learning that she can be "near" another dog without having to be too close for comfort.

She used to react to dogs that were across the street, dogs that would look in her direction, etc. For a while it was a bit of a nightmare, trying to just walk her around our dog-filled neighborhood without her growling or lunging at any pup who dared give her a look... We're now at the point where we can keep a few feet of distance and a short leash, and she can pass by them without reacting!

I do love that Sociabulls has stuck with no greetings, even between dogs that could do it. I remember early on when we had Lily, we would see these little groups of people in parks with all of their dogs happily playing together and get so frustrated that we couldn't be a part of it. I love that we can be at a wildly different socialization level and still be happy participants in Sociabulls!

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

Great post! The no dog greetings rule has been hugely important in working with Zoe. When we first started the group, she wanted to meet every single dog on the street. She'd go into maniac mode and start jumping all over the other dog the instant she could get close enough. Now she doesn't do that anymore (well, for the most part). :)

Rebecca said...

A and E -- Thank you for this and for all of your fantastic posts on city dog behavior! I just adopted a little muppet from the Bully Project in NYC. She LOVES other dogs and people and pigeons and street food...the list goes on. She has only the best intentions, but definitely wants to play with almost every dog we come across. The idea of foregoing dog greetings altogether might be difficult (given the overpopulation of "puggles" and "labradoodles" in the West Village), but seems like we should give it a least until her greeting tactics are a bit more refined. Right now, she can sometimes act like an unruly toddler on a sugar high. Poor little duck. She just wants to make friends! :)

Anyway, just wanted to say thank you. Of course, I love love love the daily antics of Miss M and Mr. B, but your solid and always relevant city-dog advice become -- in an instant -- absolutely invaluable as we navigate first time pittie ownership in a big city. Thank you! R

Christina said...

Thank you for this very helpful post as we get our own dog walking group started.

Rebelwerewolf said...

Mushroom is typically leash-reactive because she wants to play with other dogs. Badger is occasionally leash-reactive because he gets riled up by Mushroom's jumping and squealing. Any sort of on-leash greeting is just going to reinforce behavior we don't want, so we definitely live by "no dog-greetings".

My Two Pitties said...

I think for many dogs and depending on your environment it is the living situation. I live in a city-ish area but take my dogs to off leash places everyday where they meet many dogs. And right now I am staying in the mountains where our neighborhood is a doggy free-for-all, no one really bothers to leash their dogs or keep them in their yard so the dogs wander around. And the ALL get along great. Never had a problem and I have been coming here for 10 years. I think it would be many people's nightmare!

Jen said...

Elka and I (thankfully) don't always encounter dogs on our walks, but when we do, they're not exactly the best behaved. Right now, I'm working on teaching Elka to ignore the presence of those dogs, and "demagnetize" her focus from them.

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to note that dogs in hiking / running groups ARE greeting, just not going nose-to-nose. We humans don't greet nose-to-nose either, right? So we would never say that we haven't greeted somebody just because we haven't planted a giant kiss on their face or hugged them. Humans greet at 3-4 feet apart. If a stranger approaches you to a distance smaller than 3 feet, you're going to be uncomfortable. For dogs, that distance is 8-10 feet. When dogs who don't know each other get closer than 8 feet, they are within each other's "personal space" so to speak. Dogs are very adaptable and many have learned how to tolerate it and even been conditioned to rush up to another dog's face as a default, even though in natural dog language this is quite rude. Pretty interesting stuff!

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