This morning I paid a visit to my local vet.
In front of me was a gentleman with the cutest looking husky pup.
The pup was very timid; he sat in between his owners legs and the counter, not moving.
I already thought this was strange (usually pups are quite the explorers) but thought perhaps the owner had given him the command to sit and stay put.
Next another puppy (Shepherd) came out of the vets office. This puppy behaved the opposite; pulling the leash and being very excited, especially when seeing the husky pup, who was still in his corner. What happened next can be explained from two points of view. Below my interpretation of the scene.
From the husky owner's point of view:
Oh look at that, another puppy. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet the puppy and play?
Then you would see that nothing bad happens and that you don’t have to hide behind my legs.
Come on, I’ll help you by pulling you forward with the lead… yes that’s it. Now stay nice, stay nice.
You see, all good fun right. Now that’s a good boy, standing still and not trying to hide any longer.
By now the shepherd pup was getting so confused that the husky didn’t move that he started barking. And heeeyyyyy, a reaction!! The husky was desperately trying to get more distance again and started moving backward. The shephard thought – finally, some fun! He started barking louder and jumping up and down. The husky was picked up by the owner.
From the husky’s point of view:
It might be his personality, it might be his early life experiences. Fact is that he was already not at ease in this vet clinic. He was already “freezing” in his corner, a sign that a dog isn’t coping well. Now there is a big intimidating pup running straight up to him. He hides behind his owner, looking for help and support. Instead, the owner drags him forward forcing him to meet this scary dog. Again he freezes – “please don’t hurt me, I don’t know what to do but I’m afraid”. Just when he thought this was a good strategy - the scary dog starts to bark!! Oh wow, this is too much. The husky changes his strategy to “flight”, as he pulls back again behind his owners legs. Unintentionally this only makes the Shephard more aroused – he starts to bark even louder and is jumping up and down - very intimidating.
It’s a misconception that if we force dogs we can teach them that things aren’t as scary as they seemed. This is also referred to as “flooding”. Sometimes this strategy does work with humans, but a dogs brain works differently. When dogs go into a situation with fear, the brain will only be programmed to be more fearful when a next, similar, situation occurs.
Therefore, these are not the “meetings” you want your pup to experience. Not for the husky (being forced to do anything will destroy its self-confidence), and not for the Shepherd (having “success” by running up to another dog and barking in order to get a reaction). Socialization is good, meeting other dogs is good, but there needs to be some management around this. Dogs should always have a CHOICE whether they want to meet or not. Also, learning to be social around other dogs doesn’t mean there always has to be physical contact. They can learn a lot from each other at a distance as well.
To conclude, when you take your dog to the vet, whether it’s a puppy or not, do not force them to make contact with other animals. It’s generally already a very stressful environment that we do not want to fuel further. Instead, try to keep him relaxed by keeping your distance.