Walking my dogs recently, a neighbor stopped to chat for a few minutes.While we were talking, she continued to move closer and closer to me. Although she only moved a few inches at a time, I began feeling uneasy and realized my discomfort was caused by her invasion of my personal space. I wasn't getting the feeling that she was trying to make me feel uncomfortable; she simply had a smaller personal space bubble than I do. While I could have continued to back away from her instead I had my big dog, Bashir, sit in front of me and she stopped moving in on me. We humans have social manners to which most people adhere. Many misunderstandings happen when a traveler doesn't understand another culture's social manners. However, when someone who is a part of a culture makes a mistake or who purposely breaks social rules, then repercussions can ensue.
Dogs Have Social Rules TooThese rules, which are usually taught to puppies by well-mannered adult dogs, help prevent misunderstandings that might lead to dog fights. Those rules include not intruding on a dog's personal space (which includes not charging up to a dog), not mounting the other dog, and paying attention to the other dog's body language and other means of communication. A good example of this is mounting behaviors. Puppies often mount (or hump) each other in puppyhood and this is usually the result of over-excitement rather than hormones. In addition, a puppy who feels left out of a play session may mount another puppy to gain some attention. Most of the time this mounting will be ignored or the puppy being mounted will simply move away. However, if the mounting puppy persists, he may find flashing teeth in his face backed up by a deep growl. In other words, he'll be ignored until he goes too far and then he'll be told to stop it. Once the puppy attains adulthood, however, the only mounting allowed is during breeding. If one dog attempts to mount another at any other time, depending on the dogs involved, it is usually immediately stopped. Canine social rules, like our social rules, exist to help individuals get along with each other.
Well Mannered Adults TeachA dog who was taught as a puppy how to be a well mannered member of canine society is the best teacher for other puppies. My oldest dog, Bashir, has taught many puppies how to be well mannered members of the canine world. He's helped me raise four dogs in my household, but also many puppies in my puppy classes. He will be calm, quiet, and playful with the younger members of his species but when a puppy shows rude behavior Bashir will first get still, make eye contact with the puppy, and then wait. If the puppy stops the unwanted behavior then all is well. If the puppy continues, then a growl and bark will ensue. When the puppy rolls over to bare his belly and say he's sorry, then again, all will be well. Bashir's communication is very clear. An adult dog who doesn't understand the proper rules for social interactions will not be a good teacher. He will be more likely to teach the young dogs what he knows rather than what the younger dog should know.
When People Get InvolvedSometimes well-meaning dog owners can confuse their dogs. For example, when strange dogs greet each other without human interference, well mannered dogs will stop before invading the other dog's personal space. They will sniff the ground, walk side by side, or one may drop a toy in front of the other one. One dog's goal is to tell the other dog he isn't rude or dangerous. However, puppy owners have been told over and over again that puppies need socialization and so they allow (or even encourage) their puppy to greet any and every dog they see. When an adult dog doesn't appreciate the puppy's rude behavior, however, the puppy owners often get offended and cry out, "Your dog is mean!" In reality, though, the puppy was being extremely rude even though the puppy's owners thought he was being friendly. Meanwhile, the puppy, who had no idea he was being rude because he hasn't been taught any different, now thinks strange dogs are dangerous. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and confusion abound.