Socialization is a frustrating thing. It takes so long, and progress is far from linear. When we teach Jonah a new trick, he is quick to learn it. A few sessions and usually it's done. Then he remembers it. But socialization is different. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever get 'there.' Hopefully we can at least get better.
I've been taking Jonah to Beaver Brook a lot lately. We work on loose leash walking, focus and just doing tricks and ground work while other dogs are around. That part is going very well. There are lots of distractions there, from yelling children to chattering squirrels to barking dogs. So far as those distractions stay about 15 feet away, Jonah is doing very, very well. Unfortunately those distractions do not always keep their distance.
My general plan is working with him on focusing on me despite distraction, but that plan has some setbacks. For instance, now dogs will run up behind him, he'll be focused on me, and then the dog will sniff his butt and Jonah will be so startled that he leaps around and barks. I can't fully blame him. The other day there was a nice lady with a corgi who asked us if Jonah was a BC. We were talking with her for 30 seconds or so, Jonah was completely focused on me, and she came closer until we were at a normal talking distance. Well, somehow Jonah's focus on me had kept him from realizing there was another dog nearby. When he finally realized it, the dog was only 5 feet away or so. For a very smart dog, he's not always very aware. I guess that's kind of the point of the focus work--is so that they don't have to worry about the distraction.
The real goal, though, would be for Jonah to fully realize what is happening and to be alright with that. It's ok if a dog approaches him, and even if it barks at him he doesn't have to bark back.
So here's where I think I'd like to shift my approach. When Jonah barks at another dog, I turn him away. This means that he never gets the interaction of meeting the other dog and may be teaching him that other dogs are best avoided. I know Jonah's not going to hurt the other dog. So, when it's possible, now I'd like to drop the leash/let it go slack when a dog approaches Jonah and let them do their doggie introduction.
Today we took Jonah to an off-leash park. He barked when he was approaching the leash-free zone, but as soon as he was off leash he was fine. He's always been fine off-leash, so I'm thinking we need to go back to that a little bit more and then see if we can transition to where he is on-leash without any pressure from me so that he feels free to act as he wishes. We'll have to see how things go. I wish there were a good doggie daycare nearby where he could go run around with other dogs all day, but most of the ones I know of just keep the dogs crated most of the day, which wouldn't help matters at all. Socialization Project must go on.