Antisocialization: Help Your Dog Make Your Life Difficult

Socialization, building a dog's ability to adapt to new experiences without fear, is recognized by most people as the fundamental skill a pet dog needs to acquire.  It's a time-consuming process, but fairly simple.  Your dog is rewarded for choosing to experience new things.  Temple Grandin expressed the idea beautifully:  fear and curiosity are opposites.  Build curiosity, dampen fear.

If you wanted to make your dog completely anti-social, how would you do it?  You'd convey the idea that anything new or interesting, anything that arouses curiosity, is very, very dangerous and painful.  Every time your dog approached something, you'd zap the hell out it.  If you were lazy, you'd construct a machine to do it for you.  Lucky for you, such devices already exist:  the Shock Collar "Fence".  It's easier than ever to give your dog some serious fear-biter potential.

"Great!" you say, "I want my dog to be protective."  Protective dogs need to have the confidence to bite and HOLD.  Holding neutralizes the threat, instead of further arousing him (or her, let's be fair) with a bite and release.  Any idiot can make a reactive fool.  It takes time, talent, and know-how to build a confident dog who can not only stop, hold, and release a threat under any conditions, but also display the impulse control necessary to respond only when requested.  Imagine the fun you'd have if your "guard dog" "neutralized" your grandfather or the neighbor's 8-year-old!

Back to the Antisocialization Device.  From a dog's perspective, the flags "don't enter into it".  Dogs are smart, some are brilliant, but the idea of a LINE boundary is not a mental concept that occurs naturally to your dog.  Dogs recognize boundaries by visual distance, and scent markers, typically placed on vertical surfaces.  The horizon line (from dog's eye level) or as far as you can see to the horizon is your dog's natural concept of her boundaries, her "home".  It's as natural for a dog to identify and respect a flag boundary as it is for you to find and respect a scent boundary. 

So, imagine you are a dog: 

  • You don't see flags.  You don't see property lines. 
  • You see something interesting enter what you believe to be your home turf.  It's a rabbit, a jogger, a tumbling leaf, a dog, children at play, a passing car, or the wind brings you a whiff of opposite-sex canine, trash, or some other scent you can't resist... 
  • Naturally, you are curious.
  • You approach to check it out.  
  • As you approach it, you are zapped!  Bitten!  From a distance, even!  

How might being "bitten" by the majority of things you approach affect you?  If you will recall, this exactly the strategy we decided was best when we wanted to make an ANTI-social dog.  In my experience, I have not yet encountered a single dog who fails to display problematic side effects from shock collar "fences".

Horrifingly, who buys shock fences most frequently?  Parents!!  Parents who are "too busy" to exercise their dog properly, and who mistakenly believe that "running around the backyard" is sufficient exercise for a dog.  I wince at the thought of the moment that the child and dog are in the yard, and the phone rings.  Or when the child leaves the boundary, and the dog tries to follow.  What do you think that experience will teach your dog about your child?

The general public, not keeping an eye out for the tell-tale box on the dog's collar, often believes that the dogs they see displaying aggression at the end of the yard are "territorial" dogs, or that those dogs are just the bad seeds of the dog world, displaying unprovoked aggression.  Nope.  These dogs are being systematically anti-socialized. 

I don't intend to be excessively critical of the owners who buy them.  Many owners are motivated by thinking they are giving their dog something the dog will enjoy.  Certainly, the vast majority of owners don't intend to antisocialize their dogs.  They simply don't realize what they are doing.  They envision the dog being contained, but with freedom.  They focus on the freedom to simply open the door for the dog to go out.  They look at cost and visual appeal.  Would you trade having a nice, confident, well-adjusted dog for any of these minor benefits?  Not if you knew that's what you were doing. 

No shock collar fences.