So for the past month or two, we’ve been working to integrate Spencer into a playgroup of dogs that meets every day at about 11. The beginning was a little rocky because I was keeping him unmuzzled and on a long line, which created nervousness for me and tension for him, leading to a few skirmishes.
Then I decided to muzzle him, which let us get closer, but the leash was clearly still sending him the wrong message of tension.
One day, one of the other dog guardians (I don’t like any of the terms: master, owner, doggy parent) said, “Why don’t you just let him off-leash?” So I did (muzzled, of course).
Overall, his behavior has changed radically since we started interacting with the playgroup. He is much more relaxed and we have had virtually no episodes of aggression while walking.
Entry into the playgroup has been a little rocky for a couple of reasons:
- Spencer is big, so he automatically makes quite a few dogs nervous.
- Spencer is by nature stressed, so his body language is often tense.
- Spencer doesn’t observe the niceties of dog introductions, where you are supposed to approach indirectly and even signal your desire to play before approaching. He runs straight at the other dog.
- Spencer is fairly dominant and often tries to mount other males to express his dominance.
- Spencer’s favorite game is wrestling / play-fighting (I think this is the game sometimes called bitey face, but I’m not sure), and not every dog enjoys this game.
- Spencer’s muzzle often makes other dogs nervous and doubly so if he accidentally bashes the other dog with it during one of his awkward approaches.
- Spencer doesn’t back off when another dog growls or otherwise expresses its discomfort.
So we have had several episodes where Spencer is well-meaning but totally inept socially (I call him our autistic dog because of his inability to pick up on canine social signals) and gets nipped at by another dog, or an actual fight breaks out (only after the other dog has given him extensive signals to back off and he doesn’t).
This means that I haven’t been able to take pictures of Spencer playing because I’ve been too busy monitoring the situation and stepping in to try to keep problems from escalating. Most of our appearances at playgroup have only been a few minutes long because there is almost always “an issue” a few minutes in.
Today, however, Spencer did great. There were LOTS of dogs, which kept him from fixating on any one dog, although he still showed his tendency to want to insist on making friends with the one dog who doesn’t want to hang out with him. There were two dogs in particular that he bothered, Heureux and another whose name sounded like Six, but I’m not sure about that). But in both cases, he seemed more responsive to their warning signals and backed off before things escalated into a fight.
I still didn’t have a lot of time for picture-taking, but here’s the one snap I did get.