Thanks to your training, my dog has progressed to the off leash level, so I’m able to trust him with freedom when I take him to the park. However, he loves people and other dogs. Although he obeys and stays by my side when he sees them, what do I do when I want to allow him to socialize? Are there some specific commands I should use, and what command do I use when I want him to stop socializing?
You’ve done the right thing and first established that there are boundaries to be regarded with respect to other people and dogs. By training your dog to stay by your side (or at least within a certain radius) and not run after temptations, you’ve built a strong foundation of authority. Your dog is learning to defer to you and honor your wishes in a given situation despite what he’d rather do.
Once you’ve reached this level in the training process, you can then introduce intermittent periods of socialization. Sometimes you’ll expect your dog to ignore the nearby people/dogs and then other times you’ll give your dog permission to interact with them.
My encouragement to you is to watch my videos again closely. You’ll see how I communicate with my dog in social situations. I first stop and my dog will stop along with me. I then tell him “Wait” using a calm yet assertive tone of voice (because by now he will have noticed the person/dog and will be wanting to interact – but he’ll be looking to me for direction). Sometimes I’ll make him wait for a few seconds and other times I’ll make him wait a lot longer. By varying the wait time, you stop your dog from “jumping the gun” and always anticipating the release. When he can’t second guess you, you’ll maintain his focus on you and your instructions.
After the waiting period, I then tell my dog “Go see!” in a higher, happy tone. At this point the dog is free to play and interact as he wishes as long as he abstains from aggression and any other sign of threatening dominance. It’s okay if my dog roughhouses with the other dog to some degree, but I will tell him to “Relax!” in a firm tone if I see him getting too boisterous. Every dog needs to know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior during playtime.
The recall off of playtime is always the “Come!” command – said in a higher pitched yet firm tone. Remember that this is a command, so it needs to be obeyed immediately. Some dogs require a lot more training in this area as their drive to keep playing is very strong. If you’re struggling to achieve instant compliance from your dog with respect to the “Come” command then you need to back off on how many socialization sessions you allow him as well as the length of the play periods. Keep them short so your dog is not so deep into the game when you tell him to return. Only increase his freedom when he ‘s showing a strong response rate to the recall.
Keep up the great work with your dog. Reaching the off-leash freedom level is an exciting and rewarding milestone in the training process.
– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”
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