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Using a Social Occasion for Training

This subject came about because we were having a party & we have very protective Bouviers. Left to his own devices, Truman will bite intruders. Sabrina does not bite as a rule.  However, between them, they could render any party a nerve racking experience for people who are not used to them and shouldn't have to worry about them at a party, in the first place.

So we wondered -- how were we going to handle it all -- trying to be good hosts & Bouvier wardens at the same time.  We quickly realized it was not possible nor desirable, for that matter.

Carol meekly suggested kenneling them & I immediately responded by asked if she would do that to our four year old child, if we had one.

But I did decide to confer with other Bouvier owners & asked for suggestions. Here are some snippets of those suggestions & what actually happened that fateful afternoon.

My Question: In a few days there will be a number of people on our property. It will include adults, smaller persons & other dogs, lots of noise, probably some running around, maybe some volleyball.

This is a lot for my two Bouvs who are used to their privacy & are protective of their territory unless everyone is carefully checked out & the 'guests' don't make any sudden moves.

Any thoughts how I can use this event to elevate their training w/o becoming a PITA?


[snip] at our house the dog’s reaction to people and their behavior varies, so their exposure varies with the situation. [snip] The girls are uniformly more social than Niko, so usually he is gated away until he decides the visitors are acceptable and can visit while behaving. His reaction varies with the person, as does his time gated away. Usually he decides to visit and behave and sniff them, maybe glare a little, and then settles in and becomes part of the social group. If children start running wild and screaming, etc, like they on occasion are given to do, he “corrects’ them, so this is a situation we have to watch, and which limits his exposure to them. Likewise in the pool, He and Piper especially seem to feel primates are simply not capable of surviving in the deep end, and hasten out to evict them. [snip]

If I were you I would base their exposure on their personalities and their reaction to invited guests (as opposed to workers). It would be nice if you could make a big deal out of their role - maybe a bath and bit of grooming and fawning beforehand to set the stage - lots of praise about how nice they look and so forth, and then try to get them positively excited as guest begin to arrive, “Oh boy guys, look who is here, let’s go visit” - this sort of thing. In the end it is up to common sense, and your take on your guys - but of course you already know this. I do hope they are allowed to participate because they will have as least as much fun as the people.


[snip] I've used Chouette to 'serve' food and drinks to the guests. Had coolers of food and drink in the cart and the guests loved the delivery system...[snip] if you are with them every guest needs to learn to ask YOU before approaching. After your BOUS 'favorite 156 friends' come up and say Hi they need a mental break and a space where they can observe (or not) and rest in piece with NO stranger coming 'in their space'. [snip] Meeting and Greeting is VERY exhausting.[/snip]


What I try to do is have the dogs on a leash when people arrive as their enthusiasm to know who is at the door is overwhelming to say the least. They are required to sit while I am at the door and stay there. I lead them up to the people and make them sit and introduce them to the people. They are allowed to smell them and then allowed to stand up and move around. I have usually found that this is sufficient to stop the over exuberance. I do find with Babs, that if the people leave the house and then come back in that I have to repeat the process whilst Cal will remember them and it seems ok to his viewpoint. Babs trusts no-one. [snip] I just think it is repeated exposure and conditioning so they know what you will do in a situation and what is expected of them at the same time. We have had a gathering of people here in the past and I found that I needed to give Babs some time out as it was too unsettling for her to deal with the people and changes that were going on. [/snip]


Our Belgian Malinois had tremendous prey drive. We were having a housewarming/barbeque and two of our guest had small children.

Shortly after their arrival, I began to see behavior from Tobias that was cause for concern. I didn't want to lock him away. He was just under 2 years old and I really didn't want him to have a negative association about visitors.

I also didn't want to be a nervous wreck the whole time. The solution was to put him in the outdoor kennel area, where he could see everyone and people could even go over and visit with him, AND I gave him a frozen London Broil.

My husband was furious with me, but Tobias happily gnawed on his prize while the party went on around him.

The next time we had visitors with kids, he ran to his kennel, with his tail wagging. I gave him a large Kong stuffed with leftover ham cold cuts. He was in heaven


Large numbers of strange, active guests can be quite stressful for even a totally mellow, laid back love sponge.

Unless the dogs have been trained otherwise, a herding dog is likely to see any running as a herding opportunity that can include body blocking and nipping. Don't be surprised if the dogs find volleyball pretty boring and decide to swipe the ball to change the game to something more interesting like "chase the Bouv".

Herding dogs tend to have some amazingly persnickety rules about how adults, children and other dogs should move and generally conduct themselves. The instinctive desire to enforce those rules is much more keen when they are on their own turf. John's "fun police" Bouvier is actually pretty typical for any of the herding breeds.

A dog that goes beyond alert barking and guarding an "approved" guest who simply makes a sudden move needs to be prevented from making a tragic mistake. I use the same tethering trick as Pat described for dogs who haven't yet learned that mom makes the rules about how dogs interact with guests--doesn't matter if they are pushily friendly or snotty. I treat for calm behavior when I know they would rather be misbehaving.

Also, I watch a dog who has expressed displeasure with a person for a perceived breach of etiquette to see if the dog is willing to let bygones be bygones or it carries a grudge. Grudge holders need careful watching and lots of training.

Training is fine as long as it is limited to what is enjoyable and safe for your guests, your dogs and yourself.

Don't be surprised if your dogs decide that some guests should have pool privileges and others should not. Be particularly watchful to see if they worry about kids being in the pool.

Dogs nearly always do best if they are able to take frequent downtime breaks when socializing with large groups of people whether at home or away. If Truman and Sabrina don't seem to be able to do this on their own I think you will find that they will appreciate it if you can find a nice quiet spot for them to take a break from all the excitement. Give them a nice frozen Kong or bone like Donna suggested to settle down with.

[snip]  keep the dogs way from anyone who has gotten a bit tipsy. Dogs generally find unfamiliar drunks something to worry about. Push the food a lot harder you push the liquor.

You might want to consider hiring an experienced dog person like a vet tech, grooming assistant, dog walker/sitter, etc. that your dogs know and like to swap off dog duties with. [[snip]

If you can't find someone that is good with your dogs just hiring someone to serve should be a big help.

You might want to borrow a couple of baby gates and crates in case some of the visiting dogs find the big party overwhelming and need a safe place to hang out. Having some extra frozen bones on hands for such contingencies is also helpful.


I’m wondering if you ever taught Truman and Sabrina “Enough”. This command was something my trainer taught Rosie very early on in obedience. The “Enough” command basically tells the dog to stop whatever she’s doing because it’s getting a little out of control. [snip]  I have had Rosie at several parties with between 30–50 people and I find that with adults, she behaves perfectly fine, and after some initial excitement, calms down and is very sociable with all. Only little kids tend to rev her up quite a lot, and they never let up so that becomes a challenge. I wish some parents would teach their children the “Enough” command! [snip]

Here’s a story about how our Briard Charlie behaved at a party. We had a very large lakefront property in Vermont, and had a big party with about 75 guests. The party was outdoors, with lots of food and drink stations in various areas, and people were quite spread out. I was in a group of a few people on the front near the lake, when suddenly, we realized we were all standing much closer together than we started out. Turns out that Charlie had “herded” about 20 of us into a nice neat tight little pack, by slowly circling us, back and forth without anyone even realizing it until we were completely up against each other! It was really funny, and ours was the only group he did that with. [/snip]


The problem with allowing your dog to "wander" around is that the situation gets out of hand waaaaaay too quick and irreparable damage can be done in the blink of an eye. Bouvs are NOT a breed that even should be allowed to "mingle" in a crowd. What WE perceive as normal rational behavior may be perceived by the dog as threatening. Especially from his vantage point of knee level to the person.

[snip] Celt was lying quietly at my feet with all of us talking when this guy gets up, walks toward me and falls on me and my dog. It's a miracle he had a face left as Celt had been watching him and as he pitched forward, Celt lunged for him to intercept him. The ONLY reason I was able to save the guy was because God smiled on me that day and I was able to throw myself bodily on my dog and grab his beard and divert the catastrophe. But my point is that I didn't notice anything odd about the guy but Celt did and cued on it.  [snip]

ANOTHER incident is a bunch of guys sitting in the living room telling lies. (You know the normal stuff guys do.) They were just a wee bit inebriated. Joconde lying at my side. One guy points at me and starts talking very loud and before I know it she's landed on the coffee table with her back feet on the table and her front feet in his lap and her teeth making pretty little even perpendicular parts in his beard and she's got him held on the couch. Yes, the guy was talking to me and was being loud and obnoxious. He just shouldn't have leaned forward as though to come toward me.

So, this idea that you can just "let" a Bouv "mingle" with the crowd is really a fairy tale. They are there ONLY for one purpose. To keep you safe and ANYTHING that THEY deem may be dangerous to you is fair game. And they don't always have the grace to warn you they're fixing to do something. Nor do you always see it coming. [snip]

I admit that training allows us to modify or control this behavior. But it doesn't mean you can eliminate it. It means you've taken control of the situation and overridden the dog's natural desire to keep "stock" out of your "zone" and instead put the dog under a command of some sort. Like a Stay Here or Down or Sit or Stay or some such. In ringsport this "instinct" is utilized for the guarding of the object. Same instinct, once again.

So THINK before wanting to "allow" your dogs to mingle. We can get away with a lot with these dogs as they are very open to behavior modifications through training. But remember we are only modifying a behavior. Not eliminating it. Also, be aware that many of the behaviors you may be bitching about may be GOOD.

JR: When I originally started this thread, I did not expect nor want Truman to greet every guest, wag his butt, sit down & look cute while awaiting a treat.


The degree to which a dog is social is a combination of nature and nurture. Giving Truman treats when strange guests are present will not change his personality. It will, however, tend to raise his reaction threshold level. All the treats in the world will not turn a naturally suspicious dog, including Truman, into a snuggle bunny.
Also, offering treats randomly and then fading them out for well-mastered behaviors is the way to keep the value of treats as a reinforcer high. The effective use of food as a reward is well-documented in both behavioral science and real life dog training.

I've used treats as a part of training all the dogs that have crossed my doorstep since I was four years old. So far, not a single dog has turned out to be treat-dependent or a beggar but I do practice the principles of random reward and phase out treats as the dog masters skills.

I don't know what you feel is appropriate guest-greeting behavior but at my house my dogs are expected to approach the guest and stand or sit calmly after I have given my blessing and permission. Polite, non-contact sniffing is allowed. Begging, jumping on guests, nudging for attention, harassing or deliberately intimidating guests is verboten.

JR: All I want is for Truman to take a whiff or two & then go on his merry way unless there is something definitely amiss in which case I would probably agree w his course of action.

I strongly agree with Pat that, dogs don't perceive threats with human sensibilities. An owner who does not appreciate that fact may cost their dog its life. Direct eye contact is one example and Pat gave another of her dog being mightily upset by a stranger leaving the "herd". Some dogs feel strongly about family/friend togetherness and strangers are welcome wander away from the herd to rot in Hades. Other herding dogs think that anything with two or four legs belongs in a herd, period, no exceptions.

I always thank and praise my dogs for alerting to a threat. Then I move in front of the dog and handle the situation. Usually, this just means using a happy, neutral, or concerned tone of voice to convey to the dog how seriously I take the threat.

The neighbors behaving normally on their own property gets a neutral pooh-pooh tone while a stranger walking in the yard gets a concerned tone of voice but I'm careful to sound confident even if I'm faking it. Cyclists, joggers, and people walking their dogs gets a happy response and I use those opportunities to train "leave it" and "watch me." Dogs inevitably seem to be very attentive to my response to the stimulus that set them off and I'm always surprised at how quickly they seem accept my opinion about the seriousness of the threat.

I also make sure that no one is ever allowed to give my dog unwanted attention and I never expect my dogs to tolerate obnoxious human beĺhavior. That helps build the dog's confidence in my judgement about threats.

JR:  [snip] And should there be any real misbehavior on his part, some constructive way to make the point clear

If you see tenseness, stiffening, forward-leaning posture or staring directed inappropriately use "leave it". Praise and/or treat for compliance and correct very, very quickly for non- compliance with a sharp, hard guttural ah-ah or and/or collar correction. I prefer the ah-ah because it's not a leash-dependent correction and usually has a more effective startle effect than a collar correction. Follow up immediately with a "watch me" as Donna described or a recall. Praise and/or treat generously for compliance. In time the dog will put the "leave it" together with the "watch me" and/or recall in all but the most troubling situations.

If Truman has problems keeping his attention focused on you, move him outside his trigger zone calmly, but quickly, and make sure he can not focus on his target. Heel Truman in figure eights or circles to force him to pay attention to you and to blow off some steam. Then pleasantly, but firmly, insist on some sits and downs until Truman is complying quickly and is fully attentive. Be generous in rewarding.

The intensity of the self-reward increases pretty much on a logarithmic scale as the aggression progresses from the time the dog fixes its focus until it completes whatever it is the dog planned to do. The sooner you interrupt this process the less time mother nature has to flood the dog's brain with adrenaline and other "good dog" chemicals that causes aggression to be so highly self-rewarding. The longer you allow the aggression to progress the the greater the risk that a correction will simply add fuel to fire and/or the dog will associate the correction with its target rather than its own aggressive behavior. Also, any delay in issuing a correction greatly reduces its effectiveness in stopping the current behavior and preventing a repeat performance.

JR: [snip] w/o dulling his 'personality' which I love dearly.

Use the most minimal correction that gets the job done and make sure to use corrections thoughtfully with correct timing. It is also very important that Truman knows what you want him to do in place of any unacceptable behavior. Make it worth his while by strongly reinforcing that behavior. If you find yourself having to use corrections frequently it means you are screwing up somehow, not Truman.

Two of the trainers who rightfully called my last Bouvier, Magilla, a very scary pup tried to buy him as a police work prospect when he was an adult even though he was trained to behave like a perfect gentleman. Magilla came into the world and left it thinking he was Emperor of the Universe. However, he came to be of the opinion he was a pretty lucky guy that the Empress of the Universe was his mom and that Emperors always dance to the tune that the Empress plays.


[snip] Having Bouvs & guests is a host's responsibility - 100% of the time.

Or a great idea for a video game! I say Truman gets 10 points for adults, only five for the elderly and a whopping 20 points for kids - they are fast little suckers.

Stealing the volleyball and getting the whole party to chase you has to be some kind of "bouvie-bonus".

Seriously, one of my well intentioned, but not very well informed students approached Bentley in his Ex-Pen at work. Bentley flew towards him, bellowing the bouvie warning. I could hear his "Wooo wooo, wooo!" out in the store.

My bewildered and shaken student said "I thought he was friendly?". I smiled and said "he is, but he IS a bouvier".

In his adolescence, Bentley has been displaying a lot of bravado butt-head typical bouvier behavior. One piece of advice that I got was very sound:

Don't discipline the dog for feeling or reacting to someone, but give him a known cue (watch or down) and correct him for not executing the known cue.

I don't want him to be a Labrador in a bouvier suit. Yesterday someone asked to pet him and he turned away. I stepped forward, and said he had quite enough for today.

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