Life Skills: The Approach vs. Being Approached

Dogs approach people, including children, other dogs, objects, and situations in various ways as their emotional states determine.  The shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, when people, including children, and other dogs approach your dog.  A different set of behaviors is likely to be on display.  These skills require a process; your dog can learn to cope and respond mindfully.

The Approach

When your dog approaches a stimulus (people, dogs, objects, situations), he is making a choice.  What is his state of mind?  Is he curious, cautious, or well over a threshold level of arousal?  The way that the handler responds impacts the dog’s perception of that stimulus and the behaviors that work for him.  When it’s safe, curious dogs should be permitted to briefly investigate.  After a few moments, the handler should redirect the dog’s attention back.

When your dog displays cautious or conflicted responses, provide a bit of information and support and call him back to you.  Allow him to re-approach if he is comfortable doing so.  Don’t force the issue. 

Many dogs become overly excited at the sight of people or other dogs, even when they are stationary.  Pulling the handler reinforces leash pulling.  In this case, the best handler response is to walk in a different direction and abort the approach.  There are other leash walking techniques to teach the dog that this is not a means to approach anyone/anything. 

Being Approached

When your dog is being approached by someone, the choice is not his.  Any time that events unfold on someone else’s terms, behavior likely changes.  Your dog’s thresholds are breached.  The distance and intensity of an oncoming potential interaction changes with each step closer. 

Your dog may be capable of attention to his handler and responding to cues until he cannot.  The point at which the handler observes a loss of mindfulness is the point beyond the time to make a change. 

Being approached and calmly accepting attention (or proximity) of a person, other dog, or even a moving vehicle is a difficult skill that requires a plan, practice, and time.  It is a process of setting up for success and avoiding rehearsal of undesirable behaviors

Monitor Thresholds

All behavior is driven by your dog’s duration, distance, and intensity thresholds.  Over threshold behaviors are dysfunctional.  Your dog is no longer capable of learning what you are attempting to train in.  He is only reacting to a stimulus and those behaviors can become established behavior patterns. 

Slow and steady is the best way along the path to calm approaches.  Take mental notes of the distance your dog is from a stimulus where he can remain attentive to you  Assess if your outings are too long, too noisy, too much commotion, etc….where your dog isn’t ready for that level of intensity.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC