Lyra's socialization - the role of Environmental Cues
Someone recently asked me if I allow Lyra to socialize with other dogs. The answer is, “it depends”. With my own dogs, she has full access. Since my dogs do not play with her, there is no reason to restrict her access to them. Juno does play with her on occasion, but I have no reason to separate them. If I felt that Lyra was beginning to prefer the dogs in my house to me, I would have to rethink my strategy.
As far as other dogs….I allow Lyra to interact with dogs as long as we are not in a working environment. If we are at a park where I plan to train, or a dog training class, or in my training yard, then she is not allowed to interact. She may be close to other dogs and she may watch parts of their training, but she will not be allowed to meet and greet. The sooner Lyra recognizes a working place as a place to focus on me, the easier our distraction training will be.
I do allow people to greet Lyra in working environments, but not for extended periods of time. A greeting of twenty seconds is more than enough; after that she needs to come back to me. I do not allow other people to feed her in working environments.
How about non-working environments? My house? My backyard or a friend’s yard? In those places, she is welcome to play with dogs, people, children, or whoever else she might find for entertainment. I don’t mind if people feed her or play with her. She is smart enough to pick up environmental context. We work in working places and we play everywhere else.
In the end, I want a balanced dog who can tell the difference. Environmental cues are important to a dog. If you always work in places that look like dog shows and training classes, your dog will have a much easier time focusing at those places in the future. At the same time, dogs are smart enough to know when they are not going to be asked to work, and there’s no reason to deny them access to the world. If I had a dog that had an obsessive temperament – for example, staring obsessively at dogs, I’d consider restricting all access to dogs. But with a “normal” and balanced dog, I allow the environment to dictate the expectations.