Competition agility dogs will encounter all kinds of people in training, traveling and competing. Your job is to manage your pup’s exposure and interaction so that they conclude that people, all kinds of people, are A-OK.
Dogs by nature very aware of their surroundings and dogs will include people in the things they notice. This means that they will notice that people tend to move and behave in predictable ways. Having said that, your dog needs to also understand that people can be unpredictable, so they take everything in stride.
Here is how you do it.
Give your puppy the opportunity to meet 100 new people.The more diversity the better (WITH AN IMPORTANT CAUTION). My advice is go places where people are busy and doing their own thing so they are less likely to want to engage with the puppy.
Dog people, can be some of the worst offenders in forcing themselves on the puppy - let the puppy dictate what they want to happen instead.
Also be aware of fear periods and watch for scenarios to postpone and revisit at a later date.
Here are some things that people do that you can teach your dog are “ok”. Any of these things can be quite “odd” to your dog until they learn not to be phased by any of it.
-MOVEMENT: people crouch, bend over, fall over, run, hop, skip, walk backwards, stomp their feet, dance, wave their arms, stagger etc.
-AIDES: people use walkers, canes, wheel chairs and carts, ride things like skateboards and roller blades, push things like shopping carts or wheelbarrows etc.
-SHAPES AND SIZES: people are big, small, old, young, heavy, petite etc.
-SOUNDS: people sing, have booming voices, squeak, squeal, shout, mutter, cheer, gesticulate, point, speak in different languages with different rhythms etc.
-LOCATIONS: people can be above you on balconies, stairways, windows, tree blinds etc. and below you from ledges, balconies, fire escapes etc. people can be in things and behind things and under things (like tarps)
-PROFILES: people can have changeable and irregular shapes created by things like hats, backpacks, umbrellas, carried babies, helmets, hoods etc.
-FEATURES: long dresses that hide their feet, masks that hide their faces, sunglasses that hide their eyes, ponchos that hide their arms etc.
CAUTION: “Odd” behaviors that you should NOT allow your pup to experience until they have great coping skills. You means you and/or your pup.
-people that stare at you,
-glare at you,
-run away from you,
-notice you and hide,
-act fearful of you,
-act aggressively toward you
-act or move highly erratically (which can include toddlers)
-throw things at you
When your dog understands generally that people can be “odd” - they will be better prepared to cope with these specifically challenging categories of behaviors, but mistakes in training the above can form life long impressions.
Be aware that one of the most important things your dog will be paying attention to (which you might not be) is what people smell like.
Your dog will be learning about people on medications, the elderly, toddlers, folks who like garlic, who just came from the barber or who have dogs of their own etc. etc. etc. with every person they meet.
Here is a nice checklist of where to find people:
1)Go to hardware stores, grocery stores, pet stores, outside malls, libraries, office buildings, farmers market, art fairs, international district, university area etc. and let your dog just observe people going about their business. Do not encourage your dog to investigate or greet strangers, just walk around, work on foundation skills, or relax on a bench and let them watch. See also the “novel things” category for places where your dog might encounter novel people.
2)You will very likely encounter people who will be interested in your dog. Watch your dog carefully for signs of stress, anxiety or excess arousal especially around youngsters. IF you feel comfortable, ask the stranger to help in your training.
3)Tell the stranger exactly what you want them to do and ask for their cooperation before you allow your dog to approach them. Ideally, the stranger will ignore the dog completely until the dog initiates a higher level of interaction – such as nuzzling, leaning in, wagging or trying to get their attention.
4)Let your dog choose to approach and initiate contact – do not force your dog and do not allow the stranger to force your dog to interact with them – your dog will let the stranger know if they want to be cuddled, pet, or given a treat.
5)Do not allow unruly or rude behaviors in your dog but enthusiastic and friendly behavior should be highly reinforced.
6)Keep yourself neutral if your dog decides that something about the stranger is odd. Do not accidentally reinforce that thinking in your dog by consoling them - only reinforce confident, calm and friendly behavior in your dog.
7)Minimize the chance of overstimulation, building apprehension, over-tiring your dog etc. by doing short sessions and managing the training opportunity to your advantage.
Remember your dog does not have to engage with any of these people, at this stage - they just need to know that people can come in lots of varieties.