Advice Blog

Rewards and Social Drive

Posted on October 14, 2014 at 4:45 PM

By nature dogs are inherently social animals with each other. The vast majority of dogs these days are heavily exposed to humans when young so this drive to be part of a group or sense of belonging easily transpires to humans. Within each dog the level of this will vary depending on individual character and socialisation in puppy hood. This is what I refer to as social drive within a dog.

A dog with a high social drive left uncontrolled can be a social disaster. They often bolt away from their owner when it sees another dog or person regardless of the in-between dangers on route. Even if the dog successfully manages to get to, its target reward, the person or other dog is now subjected to the dogs behaviour. Here in the UK this is a really common issue when dogs off lead are given too much freedom with little to no control. If we truly love our dogs we want to ensure their safety at all times. Rushing people or other dogs is dangerous and extremely poor social etiquette. Sadly a lot of clients regularly tell me they are scared to walk in certain areas due to irresponsible owners with no control over their dog. This behaviour not only has safety implications for the dog bolting but also the person or dog it rushes towards. If the handler of the dog feels nervous by the rushing dog in turn freezing this leaves their dog vulnerable to the other dogs behaviour. Repeat this a few times and any dog will lose trust in its handler. They will start anticipating this when encountering dogs on a walk resulting in so many behavioural issues e.g. fight or flight. If you want your dog to feel safe and trust you please never allow your dog to feel vulnerable. Protect your dog and advocate for them removing any unsocial person or dog from their space.

A dog with a high social drive controlled can be a dream dog. From raising or adopting the dog we want to teach the dog how to get any reward. Most people conceive a reward as only food or toys. A reward for me is anything the dog desires. So if we know the dog wants to be in our direct social / personal space this is something we can use as a reward. I refer to personal space as a metre radius around you. Often this concept is overlooked and the dog is always receiving the reward without working for it. Using this simple concept of teaching your dog when they are allowed in your personal space gives you an unlimited reward to use when your dog is behaving correctly. Your affection when controlled and given in this way means so much more to a dog as they are earning it rather than just getting something at liberty. An example I often compare this to when certain dog owners leave dog food out all the time. As the reward / food is available constantly the dog decides when they will receive it. There is no appetite for the reward as it freely available, therefore dogs fed like this often graze and their set dog food never means that much to them. So apply this principle to your personal space and affection. Control and harness your dogs social drive. Only give your personal space and affection at appropriate times. We want to use this to our advantage on the walks. This helps your personal space become an area you control. You will be more improtant and rewarding than the other people & dogs in the distance. 

By controlling the social drive in your dog you in turn create a dog wanting to please and work for you. Engage with your dog appropriately and suitably on your walk to keep them interested in you. Supplementary rewards can be used to assist in training or bonding with our dogs but having a dogs focus without using supplementary rewards for me is a true bond.

Below is a clip from our dog adventures demonstrating controlling scoial drive in a group of dogs

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Derek Bryson


Paws for Walkies




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