If you have a dog who doesn’t seem to know how to behave around other dogs it can be overwhelming. It can be tempting to book your dog onto an intense training day where he will be with a group of other dogs for a day so he can “ learn” how to interact with other dogs. However tempting this may be, here is why this might not be such a good idea.
1. There are absolutely NO regulations to protect you or your dog from people running these sessions. It doesn’t come under day care, even though it is. These individuals often have no qualifications or insurance. If your dog comes back with holes in him, you will he told another dog corrected him and now he is cured. Wrong! Proper corrections don’t puncture as they are not strong emotional responses.
2. Usually the dogs put together are all dogs with problems. You need to be aware of what these dogs will be teaching each other. Often they are left to run a-mock together in a field with no active human supervision. So a fearful dog will get bullied and the out of control dogs become confirmed bullies. Alternatively, the out of control dogs can become angry and then use aggression.
3. If you want your dog to learn to use aggression, book them into one of these intensive Cesar Milan type day schools! Even a timid dog can learn aggression is necessary. They only need to learn this once to figure out it can work. They will then use aggression more.
If your dog is struggling to interact appropriately with other dogs, a boot camp is not the answer. You need to find a qualified dog behaviourist or trainer that is a member of a recognised body such as the Animal Behaviourists and Trainers Council. Ironically, members of the ABTC are often cheaper than independent self-professed trainers, despite having spent small fortunes on education and accreditation.
Dogs that “ misbehave” with other dogs usually do this for a reason. Such as:
1. Frustration. In the boot camp scenario, it’s likely the dog won’t feel frustrated as he has instant access to everything. He is learning nothing about frustration tolerance in a boot camp. It is likely, however, that he will overstep the mark with a fearful dog and get bitten. After this, it’s likely you will have a dog who is frustrated AND fearful. This dog will most likely become aggressive.
2. Your dog might be resource guarding you from other dogs. As you are not at boot camp, this will not address the motivation for your dog’s aggression to other dogs. Your problem will persist. The trainer will most likely just tell you that your dog needs more sessions.
3. Your dog might be fearful of other dogs and has used aggression to keep them away from him. In the boot camp scenario, your dog will know he’s outnumbered 20 to 1 and is unlikely to show aggression knowing that it’s likely he will come off worst. He will not show aggression in boot camp, but will learn nothing works. He will close down and internalise his stress. When he is not outnumbered and comes across other dogs, he is likely to become even more aggressive as not only will he be fearful, but also angry that he has been in an unpleasant situation and not been able to do anything about it. The aggression shown is likely to be worse than before. But he will not show aggression at boot camp. Your trainer is likely to tell you that you need your dog to attend more sessions.
4. Many dogs have not met sufficient numbers of dogs during the socialisation window (0-12 weeks old and beyond). Often these dogs live with another dog and the owner thought socialisation wasn’t necessary. This dog learns one style of play and lacks flexibility in his play style. This can lead to dogs telling him off, or refusing to engage with him. He needs to mix with well socialised dogs so that he can learn different ways to engage. You will need to know when to interrupt and when to let things play out. You need to work with someone who specialises in dog to dog interactions and body language so that you can learn if and when you need to step in. He will not get this in boot camp because all the dogs there have problems; it’s why they are there! Dogs that live with other dogs have greater need of socialisation than a single dog. This is because living with a dog prevents a dog from exploring social exposure with other dogs, limiting socialisation opportunities and equipping him only with the skills to live with his companion dog.
In this video you will see carefully controlled exposure for a "reactive" dog to a teaching dog. Note, the reactive dog is off lead so is free to behave. The teaching dog is under good control and is happy in her work. The dog we are helping is able to look at the teaching dog, and equally happy to move away. He is not too close that he dare not look at her, or choose to show an aggressive response. When controlled this way, the reactive dog learns that he is in control of encounters, that he feels safe. He is also learning he can trust his owner. Through repeated exposure, he is able to gain in confidence and no longer use aggression when he sees other dogs. It takes time and patience. There are no quick fixes
I hope this article helps to explain why boot camps are not the answer for dog to dog problems. If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour with other dogs, it is best to make sure that there is nothing medically wrong by talking to your vet to start with. If there are no medical problems, ask your vet to refer you to an accredited behaviourist listed on the ABTC register. If you have a good pet insurance, it is likely that your insurance company will pay for the services of an accredited behaviourist.