Anthropomorphism - The pitfalls of over socialisation and the effects of inappropriate greetings

We humans are inadvertently creating four legged, lunging, pulling monsters. I am seeing numerous dogs each week with the same behavioural issues and I attribute the underlying problems to mis understanding what appropriate socialisation is and general anthropomorphism.

Put simply Anthropomorphism is to put human characteristics to non human creatures. Rover needs to have a biscuit because I’m having one with my cuppa, Lassie needs a new coat for her birthday because she’s been such a good girl. Billy feels embarrassed because he passed wind in the tearoom. You know the sort of thing. Well dogs are subject to this human trait all the time. Well-meaning dog owners place unrealistic values onto their pets with the very best of intentions. The one that I encounter daily is the idea that dogs must ‘’say hello’’ to other dogs whilst having their daily walks.  Or that dogs need to play with other dogs for them to have a well-rounded and fulfilled life.  I absolutely disagree with this notion. This may come as a shock to you. Since you see me posting fantastic photos of dogs, running, and playing together most days.

Let me explain.

Some dogs do love to play and walk or run with other dogs and I have no issue with this. In fact, I have witnessed some timid dogs grow in confidence and thrive on pack walks. This can only happen if these are well managed the dogs are well rounded and there is no bullying or inappropriate ‘playing’ going on. It takes an experienced dog handler to spot some of these signs and they need to step in and intervene. Adventure dogs are trained to recall back to us and take part in group activities, walk nicely on a lead, display good manners, such as wait, take turns, and listen to instructions.  

There are some dogs however that dislike being in the company of other dogs, and they shouldn’t be forced to endure this experience. These dogs are best placed on a one-to-one dog walk. As with humans, dogs all have their unique personalities and eccentricities.

There is a risk though that if you let your dog regularly play with other dogs, and have a free for all, your dog may become fixated by dogs and pull, lunge, and generally think dogs are more interesting than you. You may become a nobody. 

This can lead to problems, such as:

Recall out the window, lead frustration, pulling on the lead, barking at people and dogs.

“Saying hello” to other dogs out on walks is my biggest pet peeve and it’s the first thing I say to all new dog training customers “if you only take one thing away from this course, it’s do not let your dog say hello to dogs on a lead” NO! please don’t do this. I spend weeks training puppies, dogs, and their owners to engage with each other. To build a strong and meaningful relationship with each other. We work on dogs staying close and walking politely on a lead both loose lead walking and heel work. All of which can only be achieved if the pup is focused on their handler not other dogs. Saying hello encourages dogs to pull towards other dogs and away from what they are meant to be doing or going. Apart from this distraction. It’s a well know fact that dogs in fact dislike full on facial greetings, these greetings are perceived as an aggressive stance, strong eye contact can be seen as a challenge or threat. We humans distrust people that can’t give good eye contact. Dogs aren’t like us!  Let’s face it dogs are not humans; they are canines and they like a good bum sniff. It’s what their meant 

to do, not shake hands and say 'a up love, you alright?’.

Let’s go back in time say to the 1960/70’s a time where dogs were free to do what they wanted all day and returned home for supper. they were few reports of dog fights and dog anti-social behaviour. Well, the reason for this is quite simply because dogs had the freedom to meet and greet how they wanted to and that includes some butt sniffing, circling, and choosing if they actually wanted to be in each other’s company. I would wager that a lot of these dogs would just walk on by and be in different to other wandering dogs.

By forcing these unnatural greetings, we are creating a generation of delinquent dogs that lunge, bark, pull, snarl, and walk on two legs towards other dogs. Come on, admit it you have seen the ‘type’? We are contributing to the frustrated greeter; fear lead reactive dogs and generally annoying people like me.  My dog has been attacked by another dog whilst on lead and so now he is a fear reactive dog. He’s default reaction it to become ‘Terry Ten Men’ or ‘Billy Big Balls’ as I call it. Basically, telling all other dogs leave me alone I am very scary (barking, lunging, and snarling) so go away because I’m scared. It has taken me years to train him to feel safe and not to do this (occasionally he still does). Three seconds of me stupidly letting him ‘say hello’ to a dog on lead has created this problem. So now I must be his advocate.  I say ‘No thank you my dog doesn’t want to say hello to your dog’ Thank you. I will put my body, leg, umbrella, walking stick whatever is to hand, in the way of other thoughtless well-meaning dog owners and their dogs.


Take heed. Not all dogs like to say hello.


Steph X



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