Training Tips and Tricks Part 7 - Introductions
Whatever the age of your hound may be, he has been expected to cope with a lot in his time thus far. Moving from a kennel environment to a home environment and all that comes with that. Below are some things that we can do to make our hounds journey and education a bit easier on him.
If your hound is new and especially if he is a scaredy dog, for the first few days only walk the same route. Watch him and see how he is coping with it. Is he startled by every new noise? Are bicycles speed demons that put the terrors into him? Watch his reactions. Over a few walks your hound should become more relaxed about being out and about on the street and find focusing on you easier. You can gradually change where you go for walks, an easy place to start is just cross the road. You may think that this will be very boring for your hound but how often do you walk the same route and everything is exactly the same? There will be new cars, smells, pets, bikes, people etc and it is much easier for your hound to cope and process these things in a positive way if he is on familiar territory.
I had a wonderful experience out walking with three hounds when we were fostering last year. A boy was coming towards us on a scooter and the foster hound, slammed on the brakes and started backing up. Classic 'I'm scared and want to leave behaviour!' The boy saw this and stopped, got off the scooter and walked towards us quietly. He let the dogs sniff the scooter all over, had pats with the hounds and then he scootered up and down on the other side of the road to get the hounds used to the scooter and then scootered towards us as he had in the beginning. And what do you know? There was a much reduced reaction from the foster hound, she just stepped behind me and watched it go by. It turned out the young man had seen me out with the hounds and was curious about them and more than happy to lend a hand with a bit of training. Don't be shy about asking people to help with your hound's education; in my experience they have always been very willing and especially interested in greyhounds.
Once your hound is reasonably confident on your planned route you can start challenging him with busier streets and build up to walking past schools and shops, parks and walkways.
If you are out walking and you come across a property that has an overly expressive dog at the fence, barking up a storm, cross the road. The last thing you and your hound need is a big fright when he is on a lead and cannot get away. Over time you can get closer if you want to and work up to walking past the property quietly and calmly with your hound's attention on you and not the miscreant behind the fence.
This leads me to meeting other dogs. Always remember you are in charge of whom your hound meets - NOT your hound. He does not have to say 'hello' to every single dog you come across. The last thing you want to encourage is being dragged all over the place as your hound takes you on a visiting spree.
The absolute best way to introduce new dogs to each other is to take a walk together. Firstly with the dogs on the outside and two people walking side by side, and as they become accustomed to each other you change the mix up to - dog, person, dog, person. Then finally - person, dog, dog, person. By introducing dogs this way you allow them to get used to the other dog's presence and scent with little or no stress and their physical touching in greeting becomes much calmer.
Obviously we don't live in a perfect world and you are not going to be able to introduce your dog to all other dogs in the way mentioned above. Below are some further tips.
With both dogs on lead stand between your dog and the other dog, explain to the other dog's owner you are giving your hound a chance to get used to their dog's scent and want them to be calm when they 'say hello'. Once both dogs are calm, allow them to greet each other and tangle up their leads while trying to sniff each other's bottoms. One of my hounds gets super excited when meeting some new dogs (not all, just some - they must smell different!), she whines, cries, growls, occasionally barks and her stego (hackles) go up. I now can say to her 'Uh - uh' and she'll huff and puff a bit then calm down - only then is she allowed to say hello.
If your hound starts growling when meeting another dog, (firstly he is not being aggressive!) he is most likely feeling very unsure and uncomfortable or even scared or he is super excited. Either way take a step back. Take charge and remove him from the circumstance that is making him uneasy or causing him to display unwanted behaviour and allow him some space. Do not just 'let them sort it out', your hound has very audibly told you he is uncomfortable or way over excited, and as he is on a lead his ability to remove himself from the situation has been taken away from him.
I have seen a bit of this sort of behaviour at GAP events when a bunch of dogs get together and their humans let them go straight in for a hello and sooner or later someone growls as they are scared or annoyed at rude behaviour. The leads are all in a tangle and it's an effort to get them untangled. All greetings should be done on a loose lead with a calm dog, not an all out butt sniffing, whirling around, lead knotting party.
If you have a scared dog and want to attend GAP events then do so with a plan to make it a positive experience for your hound. Take your hound for a walk first. Go when the crowds are at their quietest. Take some yummy treats. Hang out on the outskirts and let your hound get accustomed to the new surroundings. Don't stay for too long. Don't let your hound say hello to everyone and most importantly if you see a hound charging towards you dragging its owner ask them to stop and give your hound some space. You have taken away their ability to leave when they feel threatened by putting them on a lead and taking them into the situation, so it is your job to manage that experience in a positive way for them. He will soon get used to events and the strange things that happen at them but do not try and rush into doing everything with a new hound, especially a less confident one!
There are always going to be some interactions when you are not able to manage both sides of the conversation. In this situation DO NOT PANIC, do not tighten the leash and do not tense up. Stay calm and continue with your walk with a loose leash requesting your hound focus on you. The most important thing is to keep a loose leash. If you can't manage this with your hound then more training is required in less stimulating surroundings.
Many a time we've had a horrendously behaved dog come bounding up to us with an owner running after it calling its name. One memorable time was an exuberant, very cute lab puppy. He came bounding up and jumped at Priceless' face. Priceless isn't particularly interested in socialising with the locals and doesn't generally like her space being invaded. She growled at the puppy and it didn't back off so she pushed it to the ground with her front paw and pinned it there. Was the puppy traumatised? Not at all, it sat up and looked at her quietly and then started wagging its tail at her. The owner was a bit of a grump and came and snatched the puppy up and huffed off. Probably thinking Priceless had been 'aggressive', I thought what a complete idiot letting their dog run loose at a public unfenced park when it obviously had had little or no basic training!
Your hound has little say in where he is exercised or what he is exposed to and when. It is up to you to make sure that you teach him how to behave in a suitable environment for his level of confidence. With the right introductions he will make friends easily with all sorts of dogs.
Bec, Priceless and Blondie.