The making of a socially competent dog
by Augusta Farley
Jan 17, 2013 | 957 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Does this sound familiar? Your dog barks when the doorbell rings. You ask him to be quiet while you open the front door to greet a friend. Your dog, Cujo, rushes past, barking and leaping all over your friend. You yell at Cujo while your friend says, “It’s OK; I love dogs.”

Still embarrassed, you drag Cujo into his crate, where he lies barking and whining as you and your friend chat.

Now picture this:

Your dog barks when the doorbell rings. You ask him to be quiet while you open the front door to greet a friend. Your dog, Barkley, waits at the threshold, tail wagging. You and your friend walk back in the house, where Barkley, four feet on the floor, happily lets your friend pet him.

As you sit down to chat, Barkley goes to lie on his bed, where he calmly and patiently relaxes, his chew toy under his paws.

I don’t have to guess that most of us would prefer living with Barkley. With a little luck and some effort on your part, a dog like Barkley can be part of your family, too.

Begin the day your dog walks into your home to establish the foundation behaviors and emotions that promote social competence and engagement.

Don’t worry that you’d have to start all over with a puppy or could never consider adopting an older dog. Sometimes puppies are easier to start, but many adult dogs have already mastered the essentials.

What does Barkley have that Cujo doesn’t? Obedience training, of course. Obviously, Barkley has been taught some basic manners, like the recall, wait at doors, greet people politely, and go to place.

But more than that, Barkley exhibits some core emotional and behavioral competencies that Cujo lacks.

For dogs as for humans, genetics, health, environmental and social influences and early education all blend together to create our abilities and personalities.

With luck, some core competencies may be wired into your dog at birth. But even if your dog tends toward the Cujo type, all dogs have the potential to acquire or strengthen the core competencies.

Five core competencies

Core competencies are not training exercises but rather characteristics a dog needs to learn easily and live harmoniously in your home.

The five core competencies are attention, cooperation, responsiveness, patience, and trust.

A competent dog will be confident and interact positively with your family and friends by readily and calmly adjusting to ever-changing social and physical experiences. He will expect good things to happen and react accordingly.

A dog lacking the core competencies tends toward impulsivity, hyper-reactivity, difficulty in staying focused and, often, a lack of trust in social situations.

By his behaviors, Barkley demonstrated that he has mastered them:

•Attentive engagement and responsiveness to his owner (stops barking quickly, calmly waits in the house, understands when to go to his place)

•Willingness to cooperate for mutual benefit (gives a behavior to get rewards from you, such as petting, chew toys and being with his family)

•Patience and impulse control (waits his turn to be petted and lies on his bed)

•Emotional balance showing trust in people (quiets his barking quickly and greets people confidently)

In my next column I’ll share some ideas how to help your dog master the core competencies of attention, cooperation, responsiveness, patience, and trust to the best of both your abilities.

And yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions by email.

Augusta Farley raises, trains and competes with Belgian Malinois dogs and runs Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy in Patterson. She also hosts a Patterson-based nonprofit dog shelter, Westside Animals for Adoption, on her property. Contact her at

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