How to socialize older dogs properly?

Posted by janet1
Sep 3, 2009
We have two 5 year old dogs, one male (Knight) and one female (Sadie). They are mixed breed - Gordon Setter and possibly black lab - and are brother and sister. They have grown up with us and are outdoor dogs who stay in a kennel on our acreage. They are about 32 - 36 kg each (65-75 lbs each).

We have a park across the road from our home where we walk the dogs. As a result of aggressiveness towards other dogs, we have purchased head collars and now only walk them out of our yard with the head collars. My husband jogs with them on weekends with only a leash and their regular collars.

Our problem is that it is not easy walking with them when other dogs are around and I do not know how to handle the situations that arise. I have the dogs keep on walking with me, basically ignoring the other dogs. Our dogs are looking around to see where the other dogs are, but I want them to keep on walking so they know that I am the one to be listened to. When other dogs are off leash and come up to our dogs, we generally have a problem because the other dog(s) want to sniff them and they get uncomfortable and one of them lunges with the second one instantly doing the same thing. This becomes scary due to the weight both of them pulling me. The head collars are the controlling factor at that point. It is not fun for them or me or for the other people and dogs in the park so I have to find a way of making them feel comfortable with other animals. Some people in the park who know our dogs are afraid of them, and I am certainly more anxious when I see other dogs in the park.

I believe our male, in particular, has fear aggression as he is afraid of many things, including small dogs. Our female does not seem to have the same fears but will growl and instigate an attack on other dogs at times if they approach. After reading various material, I believe we have not socialized our dogs which is now a problem for them.

I have followed the "alpha behaviour" to instill that I am to be listened to and must say that our male is a very loving dog that is smart and quick to learn. The female is not as easy to teach but she does learn and is also very loving. They can stay, sit, heel (for the most part), lie down, come (for the most part). We let them free in our yard (we have 4 1/2 acres) and generally, they do listen and respond well. Occasionaly they have a mind of their own and will take off into the neighbouring field and not come when called. If ones goes, the other one does as well.

I want to socialize them and believe they can be taught but I don't know what I should expect of them. Should I continue walking when other dogs approach or should I let them come up to sniff, which I know is the usual greeting for dogs? When our dogs become anxious with the sniffing, what should I do? Should they sit when other dogs come up (which I have made them do) or should they stand? I know we have to put them in these situations fairly regularly for them to get used to it, but I would like to know how to handle it when they respond with poor behaviour.

Thanks for any help.
Posted by KOPsarah
Sep 8, 2009
Hi janet1 and thanks for your post,
I was just wondering if you have tried walking them separately and if so how do they then respond to other dogs? Do they both still misbehave separately or does only one of them/neither misbehave in this situation?
Posted by janet1
Sep 9, 2009
I have tried walking them separately to see how each of them is with other dogs. I would say the female is generally more relaxed than the male. The other day, I was walking Sadie by herself and we did have one small dog come up to her. She was very still and very alert when the other dog sniffed her back end and nothing happened. I made a point of keeping a loose leash so she would not feel my tension but was prepared to pull her back if she lunged at the other dog.

I think they could both misbehave on their own if 1. there are too many other dogs, or
2. if the other dog sniffed around them too long (ie - for more than a few seconds).

Knight (the male) is the more anxious one, especially with smaller dogs which he has attacked in the past. When I walked Knight the other day by himself, we did not meet up with any other dogs so I could not see how he would react if I kept the leash looser. I usually have him stay close by my side and continue walking when other dogs are around. He would be trying to look around to see it or them.
Posted by KOPsarah
Sep 13, 2009
Hi again,
When you are walking sadie and she is good with the other dog allowing sniffing and behaving well do you praise her and give her treats? Reinforcing this good behavior is a vital part of the training as is showing your dog that you are relaxed by holding the leash and your own body loosely and relaxed as you have been. I would recommend walking each dog separately and praising and treating any good interactions they have which includes ignoring the other dog, sniffing it or any other calm behavior. If your dog starts to behave poorly immediately ignore your dog and walk on so that you are taking it away from the interesting situation and taking way your attention and praise all at once. When you approach the next dog start again, praising and treating until behavior becomes inappropriate. Once both dogs are doing well on their own walk them together. At this point if your male is still a little nervous the confidence of you and the female should rub off on him and he should pick up the good behavior.

I think you will soon see a lot of progress with your dogs and be able to walk them confidently in any area. If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to ask.