E350: Erin Lynes - Teaching Polite Greetings

Have a dog who is a bit TOO enthusiastic about saying hello? In this episode Erin and I talk about what you can do. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive trending methods. Today I have Erin Lynes here with me to talk about greetings and the art of the polite hello. Hi, Erin! Welcome back to the podcast.

Erin Lynes: Greetings, Melissa. So nice to be back on the podcast.

Melissa Breau: Always nice to have you. To start us out, can you remind listeners a little bit about you and your current furry crew? Sure. I am Erin Lynes. I live in Quesnel, BC Canada. So I'm up in the interior part of British Columbia.

I am a lab breeder and a dog trainer up here. So I've got a whole host of Labradors. We compete and train in all kinds of things from dock diving, to dog sledding, hunting, shed antler hunting, nosework, agility, obedience, all the stuff sort of changing seasonally as things change because I've got such a pile of dogs here, I'm not going to introduce you to all of them, but I'll tell you a little bit about my three youngest dogs because you're probably going to hear more about them in relation to our topic today. So my youngest dog is a yellow Labrador female. Her name is Arwin. She just turned one. She's very fun and athletic and frisky and has a lot of energy. I think her future probably is going to head towards dock diving and agility.

She likes to do fun and fast things that sort of light her up that way. My next youngest dog is Kenji. He's a black Labrador and he's about 15 months old now. He's from a little bit different lines than my, the rest of my dogs. So he's got more show lines in him, and he's no less enthusiastic because of that. He's got a lot of joy in his heart, and he's my model student for my upcoming greeting class because he likes to greet everybody full force. That's sort of his trademark move, and I thought, what better time to work on this than when we're going through a class. He loves dock diving, he loves retrieving, he loves scent-based sports, so he's got all kinds of options in his future for sports and those sorts of things too.

And then my next oldest dog is my little oddball Beagle named Leroy. He's just about two years old. He likes to cause all the chaos in the family. He's very frisky and fun-loving and the instigator of all the play and the shenanigans. He's taught us all about how fencing that holds Labrador does not necessarily hold Beagles. So we've become very creative at containing his little self.

But he's also a very high drive little dog, so he loves to work and train and he's very smart, so still sort of deciding what directions he's going to go in his future sport career. But he would love to do some tracking. He's been doing some shed antler hunting. I can totally see him doing nosework in the future. So he's got a lot of options and I'm, we just started learning a new sport called Hoopers, which is kind of an agility-esque type game, and I think he's really gonna love that. That would be very up his alley. So those are my youngsters that I've got my crew currently.

Melissa Breau: Wait, he started learning a new sport, or you both started learning a new sport?

Erin Lynes: We both started learning it, yeah. Yeah, it's brand new to the area. It's handling wise, it's very much like agility. The obstacles are a little different, so there's no actual jumping when I think for his little short legs and his back, that will be very suitable for him. It has a lot of distance handling challenges, which is one of my favorite things as a trainer to teach too. So we're looking forward to doing more with that as the weather gets better and we can get outside.

Melissa Breau: Super fun. Yeah. All right. So as I mentioned in the intro, we're gonna talk some, a bit, quite a bit about polite greetings, and I think a lot of the time we talk about greeting behaviors with our dogs, and it's a lot of, I don't want this or I want 'em to stop doing that. Right. It can be much harder to maybe talk about what we do want for polite greeting. So can you talk me through what a polite greeting actually looks like?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, for sure. And you know, I don't think it's terrible to start out thinking about what you don't want. I think that you can use those sorts of discussions to help narrow down what you're actually shooting for. When we get to the dog training part, we actually do need to know what we're, what our goal behavior is, but thinking about what, what's the opposite of a polite greeting can help us get there. So for most of us having a dog that jumps up on us or guests is root, that we wouldn't consider that to be polite.

Some of us will enjoy that with some of our own dogs, but we generally know that that's not in the realm of polite. Having dogs that bite at or nip at the guests, grab their sleeves, their hands, trying to take things from them or, or just hauling them around. Also not polite dogs that rush up to people.

Maybe they're pulling on their leash to instigate a greeting. Definitely not in the realm of polite. So when we sort of outline, yeah, okay, we know what we don't want looking closer at what that leaves us with, that's a dog that keeps their feet on the floor. So that could be either a stationary position, a sit or a down or a stand, or just generally keeping their feet planted. Sometimes using a station can help get that message across. Having dogs that wait to be invited to be greeted, that's a big part of it. So if we know we don't want a dog that lunges towards the doorway, lunges towards people that they meet on the street, the invitation or having the greeting on cue is a big, a really big part of the polite greeting.

And then not eating people or mouthing them. So keeping their mouth to themselves. So having either a job that keeps their mouth busy, or if they're that kind of a dog, maybe holding a toy is part of a polite greeting for some dogs, or waiting for an invitation to lick hands or take a treat.

Having those behaviors on cue is really the essence of what makes it a polite greeting versus an uncontrolled chaotic greeting. So talk to me a little bit about, obviously we talked a little bit about their, what we don't want, right? So those are probably the behaviors a lot of people tend to get, though. If there's anything missing, certainly you can talk more about that.

Melissa Breau: And then why do so many dogs kind of build a habit of greeting people in those ways we don't like?

Erin Lynes: So yeah, we're really talking about our overly friendly, overly social dogs when we're talking about these sorts of behaviors, and they get a lot of reinforcement and joy from the interaction they want the interaction. So possibly a lot of it stems from when our dogs are puppies and we're socializing them, and we're trying to make sure that they have good, good associations with people of all types of all, you know, sizes and shapes and whatever they're wearing. The man with the funny hat and the lady with the umbrella, we're generally encouraging our puppies to go up to people to meet them, and like, who doesn't wanna say hello to a puppy, right?

So when our dogs are young and they're learning and they're in their socialization window, we're having a very high ratio of greetings compared to the number of people that they are bypassing or ignoring. So inadvertently for these dogs who find those sorts of interactions very reinforcing and desirable, they are getting a very high reinforcement rate. They see a person, they get a greeting, they see another person, they get another greeting. So the site of a person, whether it's at the doorway of your house or if it's people on the street or friends at a trial where you're taking your puppy to socialize, they see that person and they expect a greeting, and they, the expectation of that greeting that they love so much creates that emotional state of excitement and anticipation, and it can be kind of hard to hold it in. What happens as the puppy gets older is that the ratio goes down, but not of their choosing, it's just that less people would be interested in a greeting with a less cute, bigger, more obnoxious puppy.

And because they've often had this opportunity to practice so many uncontrolled, adorable greetings, that that boisterousness sort of lingers and becomes potentially even a little bit frustrating for them, because now we've got a variable reinforcement rate where the human doesn't always mean a greeting, but the expectation is still a possibility. So essentially when we're, when we're working with our young dogs and working really hard to help them have a good beginning, we're often accidentally creating this expectation of, of getting to have a greeting and often before the dog has the skills to do so politely. So it's just a matter of accidentally building up this pattern of behavior, of seeing a person getting a greeting, and, and that's what leaves us with a big dog who, who has these very large feelings about any potential interaction with a person.

Melissa Breau: So, as you said, big feelings, right? Potentially on all sides, right? Like also maybe on the human side or the handler side. Are there things that we can do to maybe make things better right away?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, for sure. We, for sure we can. So, as I was talking about the ratio of greetings to non-greetings, the first thing we can do is dial that way back. So particularly if your dog is having these big, boisterous, uncontrolled greetings that you might classify as rude, maybe even stressful for you as the handler, dial those way back. And we can do that with management. So in your own home, if the issue is the dog rushing to the door and greeting people sort of frivolously, what we can do is keep the dog away from the door when people enter.

So either having your dog on a leash, creating them when the doorbell rings, asking your friends to text in advance of their arrival so you can put the dog in another room. Just avoid that whole big uncontrolled scene at the doorway, is the, is one of the easiest ways to starting on that new trajectory of polite or greetings.

So we wanna make sure that when we do have greetings, that we've got some strategies in place, and until those are already avoiding the greeting is a good idea. And the same thing when you're out in the world out and about, you're gonna potentially be choosing areas to walk your dog that are a little less populated. Maybe you're going to cross the street if you see somebody giving your dog the love eyes that might invite those big greeting feelings.

Avoid the encounters where you can for now while we rebuild a plan. So total total management strategies in the, in the avenue of avoiding practicing those behaviors that have already become really strong.

Melissa Breau: Does teaching better behaviors or a polite greeting mean that you have to have another person kind of at your disposal as a practice dummy?

Erin Lynes: That's a really good question. So when you're initially teaching or reteaching greeting behaviors, most of the work can be done with yourself. And if you happen to have family members or roommates, you would be including them in some of the early stages of training, but you won't really need extra people until later in the process. So it's going to take a little bit of time to rebuild a strategy to get your dog understanding those to-do list items like keeping your feet on the floor, having a general calmer nature for the greetings, and we, we'll do a lot of those without other people present, even out and about in the world. You can take advantage of seeing people at a distance without having to directly interact with them. So it really is a training plan for this that is not intensive on having help until a little bit later on in the process.

Melissa Breau: So often training setups can look, you know, maybe fairly different than those real world greetings. So how do we kind of, what skills are we teaching or, or how can we kind of teach the dog what they need to know to be successful?

Erin Lynes: That's a really good question. So thinking about our behaviors in pieces can be helpful. For an example, if we consider greetings at the doorway is a, is a fairly easy one to piece apart. So we already talked about how we're gonna manage when people are coming over, when we're not ready for greetings to happen, but building up to that so that we can eventually have that happen, have a greeting happen at the door, we're gonna just teach it in pieces.

So with you as the owner coming in and out of the doorway, I've got a game that I call the Three Spot game, which is designed to help the dog avoid an immediate greeting as you're coming in the door. It gives them something else to do. And there's a few different ways we can do this, depending on the dog, but with this particular game, setting out a three different reward points throughout your house allows your dog to receive reinforcement gradually away from the door and receiving your greeting at the end of these three points. It helps to, to, to teach a delayed greeting. So we're channeling some of those feelings away from the doorway where the excitement tends to be the most strong, but we can teach those things when there's other situations happening too.

So the doorbell rings, we can have a volunteer ring the doorbell, you can play YouTube doorbell noises without actually having somebody come in. So you're starting to get a little bit closer to the real thing without having an actual person coming through the door. And fairly early on in the process, we wanna have our dogs out and about in the world too.

Practicing that ratio of not greeting. So at a distance, seeing people that are not on the menu as available for greeting encounters and building up their expectation that when you see a person, they're just, they're just a big old nothing burger out there. We're not going to greet them, we're not gonna say hello. The more we can build up that expectation, the easier the whole process is gonna be. And it takes a little bit of time, and it does take some effort to, to get out in, within sight of people into some realistic sort of situations, but without putting your dog way over into the over arousal zone. I hope that makes sense.

Melissa Breau: I think so. So at some point though, I'm guessing we do need that other person, right, to add them back to the picture so we can kind of finalize things. How do the skills that you work on one-on-one with the dog build into a structured training session with another human as part of that picture?

Erin Lynes: Yeah. Once we are ready to start adding another person back into the picture, we've got a dog who understands a basic greeting protocol.

They can keep their feet on their floor with you. They can control and manage their arousal when there's greeting type activities going around, like the doorbell noises, seeing people at a distance, that sort of thing. Adding a person comes into the picture at that point, and we still do that part gradually. So can your dog manage greeting type behaviors while there's a stranger in the room, maybe not even directly looking at them yet? Can they do a polite greeting with you while you're standing next to a person? Can we build up to that very slowly? Yes. And that is how the behavior eventually transfers to other additional people that we are bringing into our sessions. So when you do find yourself ready to bring in another person, it's going to be a pretty boring job as the helper at first, because there's still not going to be that direct interaction right, right away.

But we'll try and build up to that fairly soon as the dog is successful. It's just a matter of teaching them that the context cue of having people around doesn't automatically create the greeting. And continuing that on throughout the training is important too.

So just having the helper nearby isn't okay, so now that this helper person is here, we're doing greetings. It's still, well, some of the time, some of the time that person is still not available for greeting. I'm assuming then that the helper person is maybe not somebody the dog lives with other than you, is that That would be sort of our end, end stage.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, for sure.

Erin Lynes: Having somebody playing the stranger, but throughout the process you could help generalize the behaviors with people that live with you. So the dog has more regular access to, you know, housemates or family members or whoever's nearby. We can definitely include those people in the process because generalizing those behaviors is going to be helpful in the long run.

It's simply the stranger aspect of it and not necessarily even a true stranger to the dog. When we get to the end stage of introducing people, greetings, just somebody that's likely going to be a little bit more exciting to greet than somebody they see every day.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. So how long does this kind of thing take? How fast is it maybe possible to see progress?

Eri Lynes: That really depends on how long the dog has been rehearsing past greeting behaviors. So if we're starting with a puppy and we're teaching greeting behaviors from scratch, you're gonna see really fast progress. You can teach them the polite greeting games really soon. You can start by inviting that ratio of greetings to bypass very soon and setting them up so that they don't see every person as an automatic opportunity for an uncontrolled greeting.

But for dogs who have been wildly greeting people for three or five years, it's gonna move a little bit slower. It, I absolutely still see that you're going to find progress within, you know, five or six weeks. You're gonna see a difference in your dog, but it's gonna take longer to get to the end product where polite greetings are your dog's total default. So plan for more work depending on how long it's been. A little bit on the problematic side.

Melissa Breau: So I know you're offering a full class at FDSA in the April term on all of this. So talk to me a bit about the class. What do folks need to know?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, this is gonna be a really fun class. This class is for dogs who are over greeters friendly, super outgoing, confident type dogs who are interested a little too much in saying hello to everybody they meet. So we're specifically looking at dogs coming from a happy place in their feeling spectrum and are just showing it a little too much to the people that they're trying to greet. For the training plan that I've got for this class, we'll be looking at using a lot of food rewards.

So dogs who are interested in food will be important, but the age of the dog is not super important. So we could be training dogs through this program From baby babyhood to being proactive. If you see that you've got a very outgoing, confident, sort of obnoxiously friendly little puppy, we all love those little guys and we should give them the best start in polite greetings that we can.

But if you've also got a dog who's established themselves as being a little bit too forward in their greetings, it's a cost for them too. And the class starts off with basic reinforcer skills. So we wanna provide some clarity to our dogs in their training, make sure that they know who the reward is coming from when it's available. I'm gonna teach you about some specific greeting skill games that you can practice at home.

So we're gonna try and change the feelings about common context where the dogs tend to get overexcited about greetings. So around doorways coming in and outta their crates out and about when they're pass bypassing people on the street, those sorts of situations. We're going to cover both management strategies, so how you can prevent problematic greetings while you're retraining, and also strategies for developing more polite specific skills and,

and when you're gonna want to be using those going forward.

So it's a bit of a buildup over the six week course going from dogs who we don't expect to necessarily have any polite greeting skills, either because they're already rude or they're just learning and ending with dogs who can politely greet people on leash or off leash. And knowing how often you wanna be able to do that for that particular dog so that they can maintain that skill so we don't have it reverting back into sort of rude greetings in the future.

Melissa Breau: Fantastic. Any final thoughts or key points you wanna leave listeners with?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, I think that it's sort of a good problem to have when you have a dog that is overly friendly, they like people, they're very excited about greetings. One of the, one of the biggest things that we can do is harness that to our advantage and know that in relation to the reinforcement that our dogs get from greeting people, most of our work for those types of dogs comes with the, the non greeting part of the equation. So be ready to invest in people as a distraction. We will definitely wanna teach them specific greeting skills, but the hard part for these friendly dogs is the moments when they don't actually get to do the greeting and we can totally work on that and make that fun for them too.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Erin.

Erin Lynes: Thanks so much for having me. Fantastic. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Budd.y Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


 Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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