At dog parks I sometimes hear people say that, "They will figure it out" when watching dogs play. I think that school of thought believes that since dogs are dogs, they have a way of defusing bad situations and no harm will come to either dog.
I am much more cautious than a lot of people when it comes to dog park play. There is something called Single Event Learning which makes perfect sense in the animal kingdom. Single event learning is a strong fear response to an event that caused pain or extreme fear. This is an important adaptive strategy for survival. If an animal eats a wild mushroom in the wild and gets really sick, it is useful to that dog's future to stay away from that mushroom, or possibly mushrooms in general.
While dogs normally don't generalize well, this is one exception that is important to keep in mind. Generalization occurs when an animal can say, "I love people" as opposed to, "I love the people that I grew up with". If a dog meets enough people during the critical socialization period, that dog can indeed learn to love "people" in general.
So, how does single event learning effect dog park and daycare strategies? My rule of thumb is to be cautious as opposed to cavalier. I don't want any dog I am working with, or one of my own, to end up with a life-long fear of a dog or dogs in general.
I stay near dogs when they are at the park, I step in quickly if there is anxiety or if a dog is getting bullied, and I leave the park if there are too many dogs, an aggressive dog, or if the dog I am with is uncomfortable.
I would be interested in hearing your experiences with dog parks and daycares and how your dog has responded to various incidents that have occurred.
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