Lyra's socialization - the role of Environmental Cues

Someone recently asked me if I allow Lyra to socialize with other dogs.  The answer is, “it depends”.  With my own dogs, she has full access.  Since my dogs do not play with her, there is no reason to restrict her access to them.  Juno does play with her on occasion, but I have no reason to separate them.  If I felt that Lyra was beginning to prefer the dogs in my house to me, I would have to rethink my strategy.

As far as other dogs….I allow Lyra to interact with dogs as long as we are not in a working environment.  If we are at a park where I plan to train, or a dog training class, or in my training yard, then she is not allowed to interact.  She may be close to other dogs and she may watch parts of their training, but she will not be allowed to meet and greet. The sooner Lyra recognizes a working place as a  place to focus on me, the easier our distraction training will be.

I do allow people to greet Lyra in working environments, but not for extended periods of time.  A greeting of twenty seconds is more than enough; after that she needs to come back to me.  I do not allow other people to feed her in working environments.

How about non-working environments?  My house?  My backyard or a friend’s yard?  In those places, she is welcome to play with dogs, people, children, or whoever else she might find for entertainment. I  don’t mind if people feed her or play with her.  She is smart enough to pick up environmental context.  We work in working places and we play everywhere else.

In the end, I want a balanced dog who can tell the difference.  Environmental cues are important to a dog.  If you always work in places that look like dog shows and training classes, your dog will have a much easier time focusing at those places in the future.  At the same time, dogs are smart enough to know when they are not going to be asked to work, and there’s no reason to deny them access to the world.   If I had a dog that had an obsessive temperament – for example, staring obsessively at dogs, I’d consider restricting all access to dogs.  But with a “normal” and balanced dog, I allow the environment to dictate the expectations.



I’ll write a follow up post to this one to address some of these thoughts.


I agree with both of you. :) I think a lot of it depends on the dog – breed and personality play a role. With a dog like my Sheltie mix (and from the sound of it, Denise’s Belgians) I have to work to get her to relax and not focus on me constantly. With a less handler-oriented dog, you would probably want to do the opposite, as Laurie says, and focus on getting the dog’s attention in many different environments.

Starting with a young puppy, you have the opportunity to build that handler focus from the ground up. Would you adjust that approach for, say, a grown dog that has already learned to focus more on the environment than the handler?


Actually, I think you nailed it. I teach obedience as a ‘situational trick’, not as genuine obedience. I know from experience that with age and maturity, they will develop generic obedience, and I know that if I ask for obedience I can have it anytime, anywhere. I tend to have the opposite problem; it’s hard for me to get my dogs to relax and enjoy the world if they think there is a chance I’m going to work with them.


I agree with Laurie as I, too, teach obedience as a ‘real world’ exercise. I have a friend who has UD dogs but doesn’t trust them to come when called unless within the confines of a gated ring. That is so sad.
On the other hand, I agree with Denise as to the meet-and-greet. I don’t allow my dog to greet other dogs or people without permission. I went to an obedience class with my baby dog and people thought I was cruel (many “that’s too bad” comments) when I wouldn’t let their larger dog on a flexi cross the ring to ‘greet’ my puppy. There is a time and place to dog- and people socialize but it’s not in class or on a flexi. My dogs get to greet only on cue.

Laurie Graichen

I’ve been thinking hard abou this and I am tending to disagree with your last paragraph. I don’t want a dog who think “we only work HERE” and we only play “THERE”. I want a dog who wil do what I ask him to do whenever and wherever I ask him to do it, with the utmost joy and happiness. If I ask for a retrieve I want the same fast, flashy, galloping retrieve in my training building as I would in a trial ring, as I would in the middle of Times Square on New Years Eve or my living room in the middle of a party. The job is the job, anywhere anytime. There are no separate criteria for “sit-stay while I set agility jumps” versus “sit-stay in a lineup in an obedience trial” versus “sit-stay in the airport while I go through the security scanners” – you sit and you stay until I ask you to do something else. I want the cue for “now I expect you to be working” to be the way I interact with them, not the place we are in. Otherwise it just seems like I’d be teaching “situational tricks” that are done in certain places under certain conditions, rather than true obedience and working together as a team 24/7 and being able to trust my partner to do what I ask under any conditions, the way I hope he trusts me to hold up my end of the team under any conditions.

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