If you know anything about me, you know how much I love my dog, Sampson. He's my boy. We got him when he was 8 weeks old from a place called "puppy love rescue."
We tried to expose him to as many things when he was a puppy as possible. Cars, loud noises, children, other dogs from time to time. One thing we should have done was expose him to MORE DOGS when he was younger. His social skills with other dogs are lacking, and this is very evident when we went to the dog park.
Upon arriving at the dog park I would do the usual high pitched "who's ready to go to the park and play with friends!?" and get him all excited - thinking it was cute, and it was! But I realized what I was doing was not what I THOUGHT I was doing. In my HUMAN mind, I'm thinking that he is excited to have fun and play - but I have no idea what is REALLY going on in his dog mind. I would let him off the leash once we got inside the gates and he would dart over to other dogs - sniff them, then aggressively bark and snap at them. Hair standing up on end, lips raised, teeth showing, he looked mean! I had to play the "I'm sorry, he's usually really friendly" card and move him along...but I knew there was something happening in his mind that I fully grasping...
Then I started reading this book a few weeks ago called 'Inside of a Dog: What Dog's see, smell, and Know" - and it completely changed my mind and flipped my world upside down on how to communicate with a dog.
It talks about how much we anthropomorphize dogs - meaning we assign them human traits and emotions that they have NO conception of whatsoever. Dogs rely on smell, sight, and hearing to discern and understand the world around them.
As I mentioned earlier, we didn't expose him to other dogs as much as we should have - and he lives in a house with two humans - he is an only dog that gets all the attention. He was taking that "this is my house" mentality to the dog park. He just sees a big open area that he came to with me, so he must assert that this is his place that he came to with me. So I did what I thought was best. I leashed him during the whole time at the dog park and only let him approach dogs that would approach him. I read his body language, I watched for his hair to stand up on his back and when I noticed it, I would gently guide him along the path. I entered the park calm and relaxed and did not excite him. This was a chill trip, no need for overstimulation.
There are other dogs in the world, not just him. No, seriously, there are MILLIONS of dogs out there, not just him. I wanted him to make the connection that dogs are normal part of life and exist and can play and interact with one another without asserting any dominance or aggression. Two dogs playing with a ball didn't mean he had to run and take the ball and assert his dominance in the game that was being played...it's not always about him.
You can tell when a dog is interested in greeting and when they are not - they give off many communication cues that will tell you to not approach or to come an say hello. The problem with Sampson is he wanted to say hello to every dog and then promptly snap in aggression to them afterwards to assert some sort of dominance or control over them. Some dogs were into it, some dogs weren't having it. Most were not, honestly.
Now you're probably wondering where the lesson that I taught him comes in...and I don't think I even really taught it to him, I was just speaking to him pretending that he understood me...and here's what I told him that resonated with ME as soon as the words came out of my mouth:
"There are plenty of other dogs out there - Not every dog is going to like you, and on the flip side - you don't have to like every dog. That's okay."
One of my biggest flaws is my relentless quest to have everyone like me. It drives me nuts when someone doesn't and I have to find out why and almost feel the need to CONVINCE them that they are wrong. Pretty sure I'm not alone in this boat, either. We put so much focus on what other people think of us that we start to neglect how we truly are as humans. Each and every one of us is just fine the way we are as a person. As long as you are kind, you don't break any laws, and don't physically or mentally harm anyone intentionally, you are a good person. Why does it matter what others think?
I thought that about my dog too - what does it matter if that beagle on the hill doesn't want to come say hello to my dog, does it mean that my dog is a bad dog? Not at all. It just isn't meant to be and that's fine. Because life can still continue to exist without the approval of others. We all have a conscience, we all have a set of morals and ideals that we live up to, and if someone else (or some other dog) doesn't want to welcome us into their world, we should look at it differently. Instead of "why don't they like me - what's wrong with me?" - we should instead almost pity that person who doesn't like us.
You don't like me, you don't want me in your life - you know what, that's fine and quite honestly it's your loss - because I'm a pretty awesome person and whatever you don't like in me, is something that you don't like in yourself - or something you WISH you had in yourself. Then move on and continue being you. Accept and thank those who want to be in our lives, and kindly forgive those who don't, and move forward.
You don't have to like every person on the planet, and not every person on the planet is going to like you. It works for dogs, and it works for humans.
That's how I inadvertently told my dog a life lesson that I really needed to hear from myself.
Sampson is doing ALARMINGLY BETTER at his socializing with other dogs. My calm attitude with him upon arrival and that one day on the leash put his mind in check and made him re-evaluate what happens at a dog park. He is less aggressive with other dogs and is starting to learn to play with them too.