Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Clueless: A Dog Park Tail

Generally I don't have to deal with people who think they know everything there is to know about dogs. The people whom I work with one-on-one and at behavior and puppy classes are there because they know they have things to learn. The dog park, however, is a different scenario. Although I tend to go very early in the morning (5;30 to 7:00am), by 6:30 others start showing up.

Most of the people and dogs that come to the dog park at that time of morning are wonderful. The dogs are mostly balanced and just want to play and run around with their friends. Every once in a while, someone new shows up with a dog that has never been to a dog park before and has minimal socialization in other settings. We either integrate them quickly into the pack, or the owner and dog leave in a hurry, the owner embarrased by the inappropriate actions of his/her dog.

This morning I had a totally different type of human to deal with. This person and his "friend" have been coming for the last week or so with their two small old dogs (pug and peke or shih tzu mix). This person, whom I will call Bob, tries to get all the other dogs in the park to come and interact with him. His rational is that all dogs love him. Bob tries to prove this by chasing the dogs down and then holding them while trying to get them to accept his petting.

My Husky mix Ruth was having no part of Bob and let him know it. The first day he persisted until Ruth growled at him and then ignored him to chase her ball. Brynda licked him in the face a couple of times, but mostly just stayed away despite his efforts to encourage her to jump up at his face and lick it. Micah won't even acknowledge that Bob exists. Even Jake, who loves men and thinks they should all be his bosom buddies, doesn't like Bob and stays away. Today I noticed that none of the regulars would go near Bob either and made wide detours around him as they raced madly about the park.

But does Bob notice this? Does he pay attention to his own dog? The answer to both questions is a resounding no.

This morning Bob decided that he was going to entice what to him was a new dog in the park. Stanley however isn't new to the park, he just doesn't come often. Stanely is one of "my" dogs (he took behavior class) and he and his owners actually live within two blocks of Deena and I and have become good friends.

I don't actually know what actions Bob took before I noticed what was happening - I was paying attention to Brynda and Micah running with Bandit and watching Ruth share her ball with Brownie. When I did notice, what I saw was Stanley, foaming at the mouth, frozen to the spot he was standing on, whale eyed and "huffing" at something. Stanley was more stressed then I'd ever seen him in the six months I'd known him and his owners. Normally, Stanley is a very friendly, mild-mannered dog. He came to behavior class because of hyperactivity which no longer exists. He is however, slightly shy around strange men.

I looked along Stanley's line of site to see Bob. Bob was stalking Stanley, his arms and hands out in an "I'm going to capture you" position, barking at Stanley and staring at him straight in the eyes. I took immediate action and yelled "HEY!!! Stop that right now". Bob yelled back at me "NO, I'M PLAYING WITH HIM LEAVE ME ALONE". Well that devolved fast into a shouting match, but at least I got his attention off Stanley and his owner distracted him with a ball.

At the end of the shouting match, where I accused him of abusing Stanley and he insisted that dogs need to be played with and me saying that staring at a dog straight in the eyes is NOT an invitation to play, Bob decided that he wasn't going to win the argument. He started parroting back to me exactly what I was saying to him. His final parting words, shouted as loud as he could shout, before I just threw my hands in the air and walked away was "No wonder you're single".

Where the heck did that come from? What does my relationship status have to do with how to interact with a dog?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Barking and Territorial Behavior - or Why Dogs Bite Men in Uniforms

Many owners have problems with their dog or dogs barking incessantly throughout the day whenever anyone goes past the window or walks past the house or when the mailman delivers the mail.

Dogs that bark are demonstrating territorial behavior, which is a warning for the intruder to keep away. This is an area where dogs either look for leadership or assert their leadership. Pack animals are territorial creatures. Your dog, being a pack animal, instinctively understands territorial behavior. This is why many dogs react so aggressively when someone passes by or enters your home. Your dog considers your home as his den. A pack leader's role is to protect the pack at all costs and a dog that has assumed this position takes these responsibilities very seriously.

When people visit, dogs often become very excitable and go running to the door barking while the owner is trying to keep hold of the collar and open the door at the same time. A dog that goes to the door and is involved in deciding who is allowed into the den has been given the role of pack leader by the humans in the home. If the person at the door comes in, even though the dog has said "no", then the dog will resort to biting to affirm his decision.

With small dogs, owners will often lift the dog in their arms to contain him. Lifting a small dog up in your arms gives the dog height. To a dog, the one who is highest (not tallest, just on the highest ground) is the dominant one in the pack. You can see this often at a dog park where in greeting a new dog, one dog will attempt to put his head on the shoulders of the other dog, thereby saying "I'm higher ranked in this pack then you are".

It is not your dog's role to answer the door. A good way of reinforcing this message is for you to claim the door as yours, putting down an imaginary boundary of where he is allowed to go and no farther. The moment your dog goes to move forward you must block him by using body language. Stand up as straight as you can, put your hands on your hips (makes you look bigger to your dog), take a step toward him and say "hey" firmly and confidently. It doesn't have to be loud, there is no need to yell. You can use whatever sound you wish, but I suggest that you don't use "no" as you've probably used it so many times without backing it up that the dog thinks it's just meaningless barking.

Another method is desensitizing the dog to people coming to the door. Put your dog on the lead and have someone knock on the door. The moment your dog lunges forward or barks, take him calmly and assertively in the opposite direction while the other person opens the door. This is a very effective way of demoting your dog and alleviating him of the stress of being in charge. Wait until your dog is calm before having your helper knock on the door again and you will soon notice that with every repeated knock, your dog becomes more and more relaxed. When he realizes it is not his decision to allow people into the home, he will look to you to see what you want him to do when someone knocks.

It is very important that whoever comes into the house pays absolutely NO attention to the dog until he is totally calm and settled somewhere in the house. It's even more important for YOU to remain calm and assertive throughout the retraining or desensitization process. Your dog will sense your emotions and attitude and respond accordingly. You being calm, reassures your dog that there is nothing wrong. If you shout at your dog or say something in an anxious tone, you will be confirming to the dog that there is potential danger.

Once you have achieved the required response, other than needing an occasional reminder, your dog will be unaffected when someone comes to the door.

My Dog Is Friendly - Really !!

My Dog is Friendly

How many of you have heard someone say this as their off leash dog comes running up to you and your dogs on a walk? Better yet, for those of you who like the dog park, how many times have your heard "She just wants to play" or "That's how he plays" while your dog is frantically looking for a place to hide.

Most of you have probably learned the lesson about how well people know and can control their own dogs the hard way. Lots of people take the chance but I won't anymore. I decide what dogs my three interact with if for no other reason then that a lot of people just don't understand the role of a responsible dog owner. They're not bad people, but it's impossible to tell who has or hasn't learned about dogs in general or their own dog in particular.

So what do we do in situations like this?

First, protect your dog. If she is on a leash, put her behind you, stand up as tall as you can and GLARE at the oncoming dog. Put your hand out in front of you like a policeman does while directing traffic. Make sure you tell the oncoming owner that you are not happy with the way his dog is approaching and that you will do everything you need to to prevent harm to yourself and your dog. Don't be shy, be assertive. If the other person is clueless about their dog, do you really care if you make them a friend or not?

By putting your dog behind you, you are accomplishing three things:

  • 1) You are getting your dog out of harms way

  • 2) You are telling your dog not to engage with the oncoming dog and

  • 3) You are telling your dog that it isn't her job to decide whether to greet a new dog or not.

  • Second, protect yourself. Carry a walking stick, a golf umbrella or even a baseball bat. I prefer a walking stick, although my ChuckIt (or as a friend calls it - the orange stick of death) will deter most approaching dogs. If a dog is approaching you off-leash in a super excited or menacing manner, don't worry about what the owner is going to think when you brandish your "weapon". The law says dogs need to be leashed and 99.99% of the time you only have to wave the "weapon" and not use it..

    What do you do in the dog park?

    First, learn canine communication signals. Know when the play is getting too rough or your dog is frightened or otherwise put-off by the "play" of another dog. Break things up before they escalate and leave the park if the other dog's owner is oblivous to what is happening or is making excuses as to why his dog is doing these crazy things. Owners sitting on the sidelines not watching their dogs are disasters waiting to happen.

    Second, keep your eyes on your dog. I know it's not good human manners to talk to people without looking at them, but the safety of your dog and yourself can depend on you being somewhat rude. In addtion to keeping your eyes on your dog, stay as close to her as you can. Don't sit on the sidelines watching from a distance.

    Third, make sure you and your dog enter the park in a calm manner. No rushing in or jumping around. This will signal to all the other dogs that you and your dog are no threat. At the same time, assess the other dogs that are already in the dog park. Watch how they are playing or not and how intense the activity is. The more excited and intense the activity at the park is, the greater the chance it will escalate into an altercation.

    Fourth, no matter what happens, stay calm. You can't help if you are standing there screaming or wringing your hands or running around chasing fighting dogs. Dogs have four legs and can run circles around us poor limited humans. Wait for an opening and then grab whatever you can get and toss it. Grab hair, a tail, a leg, whatever. Get in fast and then toss whatever you caught. Don't hang on waiting to get bitten.

    Fifth, teach your dog to "check in" with you every 5 minutes or so. That way, if she does get in trouble, the first place she'll go to is you.