Social facilitation

How another dog can help train your dog for you!

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June 21, 2021

Social facilitation

Did you know that you can use a calm, confident and well-behaved dog to help train your own dog? It’s called social facilitation and is brilliant for training puppies as well as treating older dogs with behavioural challenges!

What do you do?

Basically you use a calm and confident dog alongside you while you’re training a dog that has behavioural issues, or introducing a puppy to new behaviours or situations. Essentially the calm dog can act as an example to the dog you’re training and help put him or her at ease.

When do we use social facilitator dogs?

We commonly use another dog as a social facilitator when:

  • Treating a dog who is mal-socialised (fearful or aggressive towards other dogs or people)
  • Working with a dog that has fears or anxieties
  • Treating separation distress
  • Teaching a puppy new and challenging behaviours
  • Introducing a puppy to new experiences and situations

Why do we do it?

There are so many reasons that using a social facilitator dog is helpful, but basically they all boil down to the fact that it will help you train your pup or dog more easily!

Firstly, mimicry is a big part of learning, and we use one dog’s calm, relaxed demeanour and ability to socialise well as a role model to the other dog so that the dog we are training can follow suit.

Plus as an extra bonus, when a social facilitator dog is relaxed and in a learning state, they will give off the right pheromones to help the other more fearful or stressed dog to adjust so even their chemistry is working in your favour!

There are what we call empathy and mirror neuron circuits in the brain that allow us to mirror the actions and behaviour of others. This can defuse anxiety and help dogs model the more ideal responses to situations in which the flight fright nervous system would otherwise cause them to show inappropriate and even harmful behaviours. Using social facilitation or modelling helps to rapidly form appropriate behaviours, even quite complex ones like greeting others well or resolving fears.

When do we use social facilitator dogs?

Here are some examples of when and why we would use another dog as a positive influence:


If you’re treating a dog that’s aggressive to other dogs and coordinating a meet and greet with a new dog, using a social facilitator dog means that the new dog you’re greeting is able to start off by meeting a dog that’s good and sociable which helps get everyone off on the right foot. If they have to go straight into meeting the reactive dog that you’re training, it can mean the interaction starts off on a troubled note. So not only does your social facilitator dog help the dog you are training, it also helps other dogs you interact with as part of your training to feel more at ease! Remember in a greeting situation, the success of the first interaction is critical to the long term success of the dogs’ future relationships. Also when they do the correct greeting sequence, what I call the ‘doggy handshake’ (sniffing the groin and undertail area), the appeasing (calming) pheromones from all the dogs speed up an amicable start to their long-term friendships.

Fears & phobias

When treating a fearful dog (e.g. scared of the vacuum cleaner), we use social competition over food to help with the treatment. This means we train the calm dog alongside the fearful dog, while we are desensitising the fearful dog to the vacuum cleaner being nearby and and later running.  Both dogs are being clicked and rewarded with high value food. The more fearful dog will be motivated to compete with the calm dog for the food to some degree, which helps keep up an interest in food and reduces the focus on the fear stimulus that’s nearby. This in turn helps that dog desensitise to this noise. Basically a bit of healthy competition for the food you’re offering will keep your fearful dog’s mind off the vacuum cleaner or fear-inducing stimulus nearby! The calm dog will also be giving off calming pheromones and posturing in relaxed tone which helps keep the fearful dog relaxed throughout the process, too. He seems to think “He’s obviously not worried, so why should I be?”. Once the fearful dog gets moving on the therapy, we can then work on it without the assist dog.

Separation distress

When treating separation distress, leaving a dog outside with another relaxed dog is helpful. It helps aid calmness and also provides companionship and social contact which helps the distressed dog to relax too. This often works well with a friend’s or neighbour’s dog during early separation distress work. Later training will be without the assist dog to finish the training off and allow the therapy dog to be able to be completely alone in time, but using a dog to begin with can really help get things moving.


If your dog isn’t great at recall, you can take them out with a dog they get along with well that has fantastic recall! When the other owner calls their responsive dog, call your dog at the same time - chances are when the other dog comes running to its owner, your dog will follow suit and come running also. You can then click and reward your dog when they get back to you to reinforce this good response.

Puppy training

With puppy training, the options are limitless! Puppies are learning and discovering and experiencing so many new things during their Formative Period (2-4 months). Having a social facilitator dog along for some of these new experiences will help your pup respond calm and confidently. For example, going in the water or swimming for the first time, experiencing a busy road or a busy café, meeting new dogs or other new animals, experiencing fireworks or vacuum cleaners for the first time etc.


You can only do it when two dogs get along really well - all we’re doing is using one dog’s calm, relaxed demeanour and ability to socialise well as a role model. When working with a dog that has a behavioural issue, try to use a dog that they already know and trust. With puppies, you can be more flexible and just choose any calm and well-behaved dog that your pup gets along with well!

This is why we encourage our Puppy and Dog Zen online communities to form walking or play date groups in their area so they can train with some role model dogs. Trainers can be role models for reach other too, if they are further along in their training and more advanced with the training methods = everyone benefits!

The opposite effect!

Just as a well-behaved dog will have a positive effect on your dog, it can also work in the opposite direction - same principle but opposite effect.

A dog with undesirable behaviours can lead your dog astray and make your training more difficult.

This often happens with people who have two dogs that wind each other up, so that behaviours which wouldn’t usually be too challenging to nip in the bud become really difficult.

Some examples of this are:

  • If you have a dog with predatory behaviours (chasing other species), that dog can EASILY lead another dog astray into predatory behaviours too. It’s very exciting for a dog to join in a prey chase!
  • If a dog barks or howls, they can get another dogs going as well.
  • If a dog runs away and won’t come when called, your dog may follow suit.

Pretty cool how much influence a dog can have on another dog hey?

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