I’ve seen a lot of “personality tests” and articles titled “You May Be An Introvert If…” on the web recently. Sometimes they’re just silly, sometimes they’re based on actual tools used to define personality types, like the Myers Briggs inventory. No matter what the origin, people have been taking them, and talking about them, and interested in identifying themselves and their friends’ and co-workers’ “types”. Sometimes it’s just a fun exercise, sometimes it’s a real gateway to better communication and understanding. Since I am a dog trainer, my work world revolves around better communication and understanding, both between people and people, and between people and dogs, also frequently between dogs and dogs. So, in the interest of better communication and understanding between humans and dogs, as well as dogs and dogs, I invite you to ponder some ideas.
Idea Number One: Your Dog May Not Want Any New Friends
I know that this is hard for many humans, particularly extroverted, friendly ones, to understand. Stick with me here. As a person who doesn’t yearn for more friends myself, I can understand this. Human pet owners have been led down a path of believing that their dog is not experiencing a good quality of life unless he is going to daycare, to the dog park, to dog parties, and greeting every dog he meets on the street. This is simply not true. Your dog can have a fun and enriching life without ever meeting another dog or person! From a purely anthropomorphic perspective, I can tell you, I don’t like the mall, I don’t enjoy parties, I would rather spend one on one time with a few good friends. If I am forced into situations where I am at frequent parties or social gatherings, I may get grumpy and lash out, or withdrawn, or overwhelmed. I may be social and friendly, but need a lot of down time to recharge afterward. From a canine behavior perspective, if your dog is reacting to dogs at daycare or the dogpark with snarling, snapping, bullying behavior, or by separating him or herself from the other dogs, it may be a good choice to remove your dog from that situation and assume that he or she is not enjoying it. There are other options available, I promise! We will get to them a bit later.
Idea Number Two: Your Dog May Prefer to Stay Home
I know, again, this is a hard one to swallow for a lot of people. If your dog is excessively active, barking and snarling at others, or continuously leaping out from under a cafe table and roaring at every person, dog, bike, skateboard, or motorcycle that passes, she may be happier and less stressed staying home and chewing a Kong while you have coffee and read the paper at your favorite cafe. The same is true for the dog who hides behind you, shrinks away from people approaching, barks and snaps in fear, or whines continuously.
Idea Number Three: Your Dog Does Not Need To Meet EVERY Dog on the Planet
I understand, you were told to “socialize your dog”. You let your puppy leap into the face of every dog and person you passed during that critical socialization period. If an adult dog snapped or growled, you assumed the dog was mean, and the owner “corrected” that behavior. Now, your dog is really great at pulling and lunging toward people and dogs. Or, you’ve tried to fix that problem, and now your dog lunges, growls, barks and snaps every time he sees another person or dog. Guess what, not every adult dog likes every other dog or puppy, just as most adult humans don’t like every other human. Nor do we cross the street to hug every other human we see. It is not required that your dog like other dogs, only that he can pass on the street with an appropriate level of civility. he can learn to be polite, and it will be better if he doesn’t have to consider the possibly having to meet the dog or person.
Idea Number Four: Exercise Can Take Many Forms
You feel your dog needs exercise, and he can only get that by playing with another dog. The news is, there are lots of ways for dogs to get exercise, and while physical stimulation is important, mental stimulation can be even more effective in promoting acceptable indoor house behavior.
As a dog trainer, I focus on reinforcing behavior that I want, and communicating what that behavior looks like, so that it is available to practice and reinforce. So far, I’ve covered what your dog probably does not want, which isn’t very helpful the owner of an introvert! So, let’s cover some activities and ideas to make life with an introvert-type dog more fun for everyone.
Fun Idea Number One: One Good Friend Is Better Than a Dozen Acquaintances
Your dog may not enjoy going to daycare, or the dogpark, but your dog may have one or two dog friends with whom he or she plays well. These dogs are the ones to invite for one on one playdates. Maybe they’re willing to sneak to the dog park at 5 am, when no one else is there, or meet for a walk in a less traveled part of the park. Maybe this is a dog who can come to the house for a visit, to play in the yard.
Fun Idea Number Two: Staying Home Can Be Fun!
Making stay at home time fun and stimulating for your dog is as easy as frozen Kongs! A host of recipes for stuffing Kongs is as close as the Kong website. Other fun toys and chews for your dog can include Bully sticks, Himalayan chews, and puzzle toys, like Kong Wobbler, Kong Genius, Buster Cube, Goody Ship, Tug a Jug, or a Holey Roller ball stuffed with strips of fleece and squeakers from the fabric store. Even a cracker or cereal box stuffed with newspaper and some dog treats or kibble is a fun morning of enrichment. If you want to go all out, buy some scents at the sporting goods store (Fox urine, coyote urine, raccoon musk, deer musk) spritz a bit on some paper, crumble into a box, and let your dog have a smelling, shredding, adventure! If you really want to go somewhere with your dog, take him to an out of the way park with few dogs and people for a hike, or walk. Daily walks in the neighborhood are not mandatory! Only outdoor potty time is necessary. You can play many fun games in the house.
Fun Idea Number Three: Being a Ninja Can Be Fun!
No, your dog doesn’t need to meet every dog or person you see. In fact, it’s fun to pretend to be invisible and pass by without any notice at all! If your dog is very fearful and really wants to create distance between himself and people or dogs, practice your quick U-turn and RUN AWAY! Make it a fun game! “Look! Run AWAY! Hooray!” If you must pass by, open the bar! Use super high value treats, something your dog only gets on walks, when things are scary. Hot dogs, cheese, Easy Cheeze, salmon, peanut butter in a tube. As the dog begins to get worried, start treating, keep it coming until you’ve passed the “scary thing”, then bar closes, no more treats. You can work on watching people and dogs from a distance that your dog considers “safe” (no need to bark, lunge, growl), and eat lots of treats. Remember, your dog doesn’t have to meet or greet, you can use your ninja skills to pass without incident!
Fun Idea Number Four: Brain and Nose Workouts!
Play with a friend is a great way to run off steam, but if the weather’s dreary, or you just don’t have one of your dog’s special friends available, there are lots of thinking and sniffing games that can tire him out nearly as well as a run-and-wrestle session with a friend. Quick and easy games like hide and seek. Hide yourself or a family member, call from another room, pet and treat lavishly when you’re found! Muffin tins with tennis balls on top make a fun puzzle toy. Put a treat in one tin, cover all with tennis balls, and let the dog find the treat. Put a toy in a shoebox, cover it, let the dog figure out how to get the lid off, or tear through the box! Lots of great puzzle toys are on the market for dogs, Nina Ottenson makes some very nice ones, Kyjen ones are available at most of the big box pet supply stores. Nosework is another great concept for keeping dogs engaged and tiring them out! There are many classes and tutorials available on line, and classroom classes as well. One advantage of nosework is that even in classes the dogs are working one at a time and don’t have to interact with other dogs or strangers. And of course, if you have a safe, off lead area, frisbee, treibball, retrieving, chasing a flirt pole (lunge whip with a fuzzy toy tied to the end, or purchase a commercial one), are all great ways to do a doggie workout without exhausting the human end of the leash!
Often, the hardest part of having an introvert-style dog is accepting that your dog may never be a dog-park dog, but a playdate dog, may not go to the cafe for dinner with you, but will welcome you home when you return, may not enjoy daycare, no matter how many cool toys they have or how much it’s costing you, but will be glad to see you and get back to the safety of home. Some dogs, like some people, may be happier as homebodies, comfy on their couch with a chewie, the doggie equivalent of a good book. With some work, training, and careful management, like me at a party, your dog may come to tolerate stressful situations better, and be civil and polite while out and about, which is a great outcome. Even if this is not the dog you signed up for, please try to honor your dog’s social style, appreciate him for what he is, snuggly, cuddly, your very best friend!
As always, if you feel your dog’s behavior is more than you know how to work with, please seek the help of a professional trainer!