Who Can You Trust with Your Dog?

January 17, 2019

dog looking up at man pixabayDog owners sometimes need a little extra help. Maybe no one is home during the day and the dogs need to be exercised, or there are behavioral problems and training is needed.  Turning to a professional would seem to be the obvious solution, right? It is, but when it comes to hiring a professional to care for or work with your dog, it’s a case of buyer beware. Check out these two recent news stories:

A couple in California hired a dog walker for Olly and Maggie through Wag, a popular app for on-demand dog walking. After a few weeks, the dog walker, Adam Vavrus, called the couple about an incident that occurred during a walk.  Shortly after the call, the couple say, Ollie “threw up blood and just laid there.” The vet told them the specks of blood were signs of severe stress. When the couple went over their home surveillance video from the time of the last walk, they saw that Vavrus had shown up with four other dogs (something that is clearly against company policy). A few minutes into the video, he was seen approaching Olly from behind in a way that caused Olly to snap and bite him. Vavrus told an investigative news show reporter that he, “needed to test Olly and make sure he understood who the pack leader was.” He was also seen on video, in the course of 12 minutes, chasing Olly around the house, growling at him, kneeing him in the chest, and whipping him with a leash. The couple filed a police report and Vavrus was charged with animal cruelty. It should be noted that although Wag does an initial background check, an incident had occurred three months prior where several people at a dog park had called police to complain that Vavrus had been behaving aggressively toward animals there. There was no official complaint, so it’s likely that Wag had no way of knowing about it. Wag did cut ties with Vavrus and offered the couple a refund plus $100 credit toward future walks. I’m guessing those are never going to take place.

In a separate incident, a family sent their rescued dog Oreo to a Sit Means Sit franchisee. Annette Mansfield paid almost $2,000 to have Oreo live in trainer Billy Salcido’s home for a week. Salcido showed her the remote collar (a.k.a. shock collar, e-collar) that would be used, saying it would be set to vibration mode to get Oreo’s attention. When watching a video after the fact of Oreo being trained, Mansfield noticed a bloody wound on his neck. She panicked and demanded that Salcido bring Oreo back immediately, which he did. A veterinarian confirmed there were pronounced burn marks on Oreo’s neck, as well as raw sores on his paws and multiple wounds on his body. The family was traumatized, and so was Oreo. According to Mansfield, Oreo is now distrustful, skittish, and nervous around strangers, none of which he was before. When made aware of the incident, Sit Means Sit pulled Salcido’s license, refunded the training fee, and paid the veterinary bills.

These types of incidents are certainly not limited to these two companies. And I don’t believe that either of these companies, or any company that serves the public’s dogs, ever intend to cause harm. No doubt they hire people they feel will do a good job, or in the case of franchisees, people who will carry out the company’s mission in the prescribed way. And both of those offenders clearly did things that were not company policy or procedure. But how careful can a vetting process really be? It is standard practice to look into criminal records, and to root out sex offenders and people on global watch lists. But beyond that, can you really tell how someone is going to behave with a dog? In the cases of dog walkers or pet sitters, there’s the added liability of the person actually being in your home. Surveillance cameras can help if something happens inside the house, but that offers only limited coverage.

So, what’s an owner to do? When hiring a trainer, pet sitter, dog walker, groomer, or other canine professional, do your homework. First and best of all, try to get a personal recommendation from clients who have used the service before and have been pleased with it. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure no complaints have been lodged against the company or individual. Do a Google search to look for any news stories or complaints. If there’s a dog-related Facebook group for your local area, check out the comments about various professionals and post your own inquiry. You’ll certainly get an eyeful, both in recommendations and complaints. As far as pet sitters, mine, who I trust completely with my home and my dogs, is a member of and certified by Pet Sitters International. She is licensed and bonded, was recommended to me by a friend, and was able to provide references from other clients before I hired her. She is also certified in canine CPR, regularly attends seminars to expand her knowledge of dog behavior, and is certainly kind and gentle with my dogs.

As far as training and behavior modification, a personal recommendation is still best, but if you can’t find one, organizations such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants all have online trainer search functions. Although a license is not required for dog trainers in most U.S. states, you can find a trainer certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, where becoming certified requires a certain level of experience, knowledge, and hands-on experience, depending on the level of certification.  But regardless of which search tool you use, speak to the potential trainer yourself and ask questions that go beyond pricing. You can ask about experience, but keep in mind that just because someone has 30 years of experience, it doesn’t mean they’ve evolved in that time. It might, however, weed out brand new trainers who might not be equipped to address more serious behavior issues. More importantly, inquire about training methods, and ask specifically which tools the trainer will and will not use and for what purpose. I also suggest asking, “When a dog is learning a new behavior, what would you do if he doesn’t comply?” The answer can be very telling. Answers along the lines of, “You just have to show them who’s boss,” for example, beg the question of how exactly that would be accomplished. My own approach to training is to set dogs up to succeed by teaching them in gradual increments. If a dog doesn’t comply while learning a new behavior, we go back to the step at which the dog was successful and build smaller steps from there. If a potential trainer gets their hackles up at these kinds of questions, move on. Ask too roughly how long the trainer thinks it might take to address your dog’s issues.

If your goal is to get your dog into a group class, watch the trainer teach class a few times before signing up. Any trainer who won’t let you do this should be crossed off your list. As far as board and train, be very, very careful. I’m not saying there aren’t good board and train facilities or individuals out there—there definitely are. But any time your dog is going to be not only out of your sight but out of your care completely, caution is warranted. (It’s important to understand too that even with board and train, you’ll still need to continue the training when your dog gets home.) Again, personal recommendations are best, but even then, interviewing the trainer who will be assigned to your dog is a must. Ask the previously mentioned questions and again, check for complaints against the company and do further research online. Ask whether you can watch the trainer work with other dogs before leaving yours in the facility’s care, and ask whether there will be a live feed or at least video of the training that you can monitor. Without any way to monitor the training, I would be very hesitant to leave a dog in anyone’s care.

Of course, anything could still happen with an individual who belongs to a reputable professional organization or works for a reputable company, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the organization or company as a whole (unless it seems to happen over and over to a particularly company, in which case, steer clear). And it’s true that there might have been no way for the owners to have prevented what happened in the two cases mentioned above. But in general, it is still incumbent on owners to check things out as thoroughly as possible, just as they would with a child, rather than blindly trusting any service professional with their dog. Above all, trust your instincts. Even with all the right credentials, experience, and everything else seeming perfect, if you get a bad feeling about someone, run the other way. There are plenty of good, qualified, ethical professionals who would be happy to have your business.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs, and blogs at http://www.nicolewilde.com. Don’t want to miss a blog post? Sign up above right to receive email notifications of new posts. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 


Learned Helplessness

January 9, 2019

scared german shepherd pixabay smallBob and Molly have a female spaniel mix named Ginger. Ginger is known to have fear issues, specifically, a fear of Bob. This Bob-o-phobia is not due to his ever having done anything terrible to her; it’s been this way ever since she was adopted. In the house, she runs from Bob, and will stay out of the room he’s in whenever possible. If gated in a room with him she shows signs of anxiety, pacing restlessly, unable to sit still, constantly darting worried glances in his direction. However, if Ginger is on a leash with Bob when they sit in the living room watching television at night, the couple says Ginger is totally calm. But is she really?

Ginger is displaying what is known as “learned helplessness.” This happens when a dog has learned that there is nothing they can do to escape a frightening situation. Whereas Ginger’s first instinct would have been to avoid Bob by leaving the room or keeping her distance, those options have been removed. When tethered to or forced to be in the room with the thing she fears, she knows she can’t escape or avoid it, so she doesn’t fight. She shuts down. Bob and Molly are not mean people. They simply do not understand the depths of Ginger’s fear, or what her behavior really means.

The story of how learned helplessness in dogs was discovered is not pretty. In the late 60s and early 70s, scientists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier conducted experiments where they would ring a bell and then shocked the dog, in order to determine whether the dog would eventually anticipate that the sound of the bell predicted a shock. Of course, it did. In the next set of experiments, they placed a dog into a box with two chambers divided by a low barrier. One side of the box was electrified and would deliver a painful shock. Without going into details of the experiment, what surprised the men was that the dogs who had learned in the previous experiment that there was no escaping being shocked would now simply lay down on the electrified side, making no attempt to get away. In other words, they shut down, resigned to the pain. The dogs who had not previously been shocked ran to the non-electrified side, thereby escaping the pain.

Those experiments were clearly barbaric. But no less barbaric in my mind is what went on at a workshop a friend of mine attended, given by a “trainer” who is known to use shock collars to modify behaviors from aggression to jumping up on people to having potty accidents (yes, shock collars on puppies). Like me, my friend does not use nor condone the use of shock collars, but she wanted to see for herself what actually went on. One after another, the dogs were brought up to the front of the room, and the dogs were goaded into demonstrating their problematic behaviors. Time after time, a shock collar was placed on the dog, and a high-level shock was administered. And guess what? Without fail, each and every dog stopped the unwanted behavior instantly. Was this amazing? Impressive? An instant cure-all? No. Not even close. It was a demonstration of ignorance on the part of the trainer and learned helplessness on the part of the dog. Those dogs knew damned well that if they jumped (or lunged, or barked) again, they would experience pain and fear. So, they just sat there, laid there, or in some cases stood there shaking. But the behavior had stopped instantly, and if you didn’t know better, you might believe the dogs were perfectly calm and the problem had been solved. Learned helplessness strikes again.

Helping fearful dogs has been close to my heart for a long time. For years, I worked with wolves and wolfdogs in the rescue center I co-ran in southern California. Wolves are naturally afraid of people, and many of our residents had to learn to trust us. I also worked for many years in the L.A. shelter system with hundreds of dogs, many of whom were fearful, and later with clients’ dogs who had fear issues. In fact, when I was writing Help for Your Fearful Dog, I intended it to be a much shorter book than the 400-plus pages it ended up as, but each time I thought it was finished, there was yet another fear-producing stimulus I felt the need to add a chapter about. But regardless of what a dog is afraid of, techniques like flooding, where the dog is forced to face his fear, or harsh punishment, is not the answer and does not solve the underlying problem.

The other issue with learned helplessness is that it’s the unwanted gift that keeps giving. These are the dogs who can have trouble learning new skills, because they are afraid to make a mistake. They are certainly a far cry from the happy, confident dogs who not only comply with requests, but offer behaviors in the hopes of being rewarded. But much worse than simply being less trainable at times, these dogs are anxious, worried, and insecure, afraid to do something for which they may be punished. That chronic stress can impact their health, and certainly does not make for a happy life. If the public were better educated that a dog who is forced to face his fears or is the victim of a painful aversive is not being calm but is simply giving up, there would be less use of flooding and other cruel “training” techniques, and the world would be a better place for dogs.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs, blog and more at www.nicolewilde.com and my animal-themed digital art at www.photomagicalart.com. You can be notified by email of new posts by subscribing above right. And if you’d like, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 


Sudden Changes in Behavior

December 18, 2018













I recently received an email asking for a training referral. The sender had two senior dogs, and the younger of the two was suddenly attacking the older one. There had been problems between the two when they were young, but they’d been getting along for many years. While I did find a trainer for the woman in her city, I also advised her to take both of the dogs in for a complete veterinary exam.

You might be thinking Hmm, a sudden behavior change could be linked to aggressive behavior, but why would she need to take both dogs in? Surely, it’s only the younger one who needs to be seen. While it’s true that the dog who is displaying the aberrant behavior should be thoroughly checked, sometimes the reason the dog has suddenly become aggressive is because the other dog, unbeknownst to the owner, is ill. Think about how in a group of dogs or wolves when the one in charge becomes sick or weak, another member might take advantage of the situation and challenge for rank, especially if his own standing has been suppressed for a while. Dogs often know when another dog is in decline before we do.

Both dogs should have a thorough blood panel done. Vets who are knowledgeable about the effects of physiology on behavior should know what to look for, but it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research on your own and to share that knowledge with your vet. Check out the link between thyroid levels and aggression, including the work of Jean Dodds, DVM. Look into how issues with the liver can affect canine behavior. Beyond that—and this is something I don’t hear discussed often—I recommend having the dog checked out structurally beyond what normally happens in a cursory veterinary exam. Canine chiropractors are specialists who are much more likely to be able to discern whether a bone is out of place, a nerve is pinched, or something else is happening that’s causing pain or discomfort.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many issues with my own back that I understand all too well how, when something is out of place structurally and pain and inflammation strike, anyone can become cranky. Dogs are easily irritated when they’re in pain, and it’s unfortunate that a chiropractic approach is so seldom considered. When my mother was in a nursing home in her late 80s, she kept complaining that her neck hurt. She was clearly in a lot of pain and distress, and though she was normally pleasant and friendly, it made her grouchy and irritable. Who could blame her? The staff kept insisting it was part of what happened “at her age” and just kept pumping her full of pain pills. I told them she needed to see a chiropractor. They wouldn’t listen, and I finally arranged myself for her to be taken to one. One adjustment later and whaddayaknow! The pain was completely gone and she was back to being her own happy self. Doesn’t it stand to reason that something similar could be going on with a dog who was formerly happy and well behaved and is suddenly cranky and aggressive?

Of course, not all sudden aggression has a physiological cause. Changes in the household or the dog’s routine should be considered as well. For example, did someone the dog was close with move out of the home? Did someone new move in? Did a baby arrive on the scene? A change could also be environmental, like a construction site springing up next door. I’m very noise sensitive and can easily understand how a dog who was the same would becoming anxious and might take it out on a canine companion. And what about other senses? Even something like a new cleanser being used in the home could affect an odor-sensitive dog. Chemicals give me raging headaches, and although I haven’t seen any research on the subject, I would think it’s possible that it could happen to dogs as well. And, by the way, it’s not only aggression that can manifest suddenly. If a dog who has seemed fine when left alone is suddenly showing signs of separation anxiety, it may be that he’s feeling needier because he’s unwell or anxious.

Again, many times sudden behavior changes do have roots that are solely behavioral. But when the cause isn’t clear, it’s always best to do some sleuthing to rule out possible underlying factors. After all, if there is a non-behavioral cause, applying behavior modification alone isn’t going to solve the problem. When it comes to sudden behavior changes, a holistic view is always best. And if there’s fighting between your dogs that truly is behavioral in nature, check out my latest book Keeping the Peace for more help.
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It’s All Fun and Games ‘Til Someone Ends Up in a Cone

December 11, 2018

Bodhi conehead widerYou might think because of the title of this blog that it’s going to be about dogs who play too roughly and eventually get hurt. It’s not. (Sorry, I just liked the title!). But, it is about a dog having to wear a cone on his head, namely my dog Bodhi, and how our new daily routine has been made possible by the behavioral work we put in early on.

Bodhi had surgery last Friday to remove a lump from his head. It had started out small. In fact, when I first noticed it I thought it was a tick and tried to remove it. (Sorry, Bodhi!) Once I realized it was a growth, I kept my eye on it. I wasn’t panicked, as Bodhi is approximately nine-and-a-half years old and I’ve seen my share of lumps and bumps on older dogs. But when it began to grow, I took him to the vet to have a needle aspiration done. The vet wasn’t overly concerned, although she did say it was difficult to declare the lump benign based only on the cells she could see under the microscope. Fast forward a few months and the lump had become a LUMP. I decided enough was enough. Not only was I alarmed that it had grown so quickly and so much, but it was positioned above his eye, and I didn’t want to chance it eventually pressing down on his eye area.

As with all dogs who need to be kept from scratching or pawing at themselves and opening their incisions, Bodhi came home sporting an oh-so-fashionable white plastic cone. Yes, that cone—the Cone of Shame, the Cone of Silence…he was a Conehead now for sure, and you know how much dogs love a cone around the head. Unwieldy and annoying though it might be, it’s also necessary. So, like a good, responsible owner, I’m leaving it on except when Bodhi eats, or when we go for a walk. Even if I’m watching him at other times, it would take only a split-second for damage to be done, and Bodhi is exactly the kind of dog that would do it. When I mentioned to a friend that I was removing the cone and putting it back on multiple times each day, she expressed surprise that Bodhi was so good about letting me handle him that way. She went on to say she couldn’t imagine being able to do that with her own dogs.

Her remark got me thinking back to when we first adopted Bodhi. He was somewhere around a year to a year-and-a-half old, smack dab in the middle of his obnoxious teenage phase which, in concert with his myriad of behavior issues, made pretty much everything difficult. He had issues with other dogs. He was super destructive. He was leaking urine (not his fault, but so not charming). If my husband or I took a few steps, he would jump up and put his teeth all over us, not aggressively, but in what I recognized as a totally insecure, unsocialized, unmannerly way. (If you really want to know how bad it was and how I solved his issues, check out Hit by a Flying Wolf.) In addition to all of that, to say he did not like being handled would be an understatement. He not only didn’t like having his paws handled or rear touched, as is the case with many dogs, but he also hated being brushed. If I so much as touched the brush to his fur when he was lying down, he’d whip his head around, take my hand in his teeth, and look at me as if to say, “Don’t make me do something we’ll both regret.” While I understood that he’d probably had zero experience with people treating him gently and working with him, it was not okay to let him go through life that way. And so, we began the long, gradual process of working on his handling issues, along with all the others.

It’s now been just over eight years since we bought Bodhi home and, hopefully, he’ll be with us for years to come (we’re waiting on the pathology of that pesky lump). Had I not put in all of the time and effort with him at the beginning, I am confident that he would not be easy to cone or de-cone, to brush, or to live with at all, really. The fact is, dogs come with baggage just like people do. We can take offense and try to strong-arm them into compliance, which only suppresses the underlying reason for the behavior and doesn’t solve it; we can give up on them entirely; or, we can work with them kindly and patiently to make things better. As this challenging period, along with a myriad of other interactions in our day-to-day life proves, in the end, being gentle, patient, and willing to work cooperatively over time always pays off.
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Want to check out my books, seminar DVDs and more? Head to www.nicolewilde.com. If you’d like to see my animal-related artwork, visit www.photomagicalart.com. (Books and artwork make great gifts for animal lovers!) You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.


Is This Dog Truly Aggressive?

November 28, 2018

aggressive dog HP blogA two-year-old dog is adopted from a rescue. The dog has not had any socialization. He does not seem to know how to play with other dogs, and annoys the adopter’s resident dog with his lack of manners. He also has an unfortunate habit of jumping up and playfully grabbing sleeves with his teeth, which may be fun to him but can be painful to the owner of the arm. The owner declares the dog aggressive, and surrenders him to the city shelter, telling them that the dog bites.

Another dog, a breed known for territorial behavior, goes to his new home. He bonds with the owners, and all goes well. Then one day, a person who is a stranger to the dog wanders into the house unannounced. The dog bites him. A trainer tells the family that the dog needs to be put down.

What do these two scenarios have in common? Are these dogs actually aggressive? In the first case, it’s understandable that a dog who is new to being around other dogs wouldn’t know how to act around them. An adult female dog who could teach him manners would be a great help. As for grabbing body parts with his teeth, the dog has not been taught otherwise. He’s barely out of adolescence, and it is easy enough to teach the dog that the obnoxious behavior is unacceptable. Is the dog aggressive? Based on this information alone, I think not.

Is the dog who bit the person entering the home aggressive? Assuming the dog has not threatened anyone else, a guardian breed that is bonded with his family defending his people and territory from what he perceives as in intruder is understandable. Does the dog need to be euthanized? Of course not, although management and training should absolutely be implemented.

I hear stories like these all the time. Of course, there are dogs out there who are truly aggressive. There are many more who appear to be aggressive when in reality the behavior is coming from a place of fear (this is fear-based reactivity, not aggression), but there are those who actually want to hurt other dogs or people. Do aggressive dogs belong in homes? No. But it is far easier to simply deem a dog’s behaviors “aggression” than to do the work required, with the help of a trainer if necessary, to work on the issues.

When we first brought Bodhi home, he was a mess. Truly. He had major insecurity and fear issues paired with excess energy, and zero socialization. I could not take three steps across the floor without him jumping up on me and putting his teeth all over my arms and legs. I’m not exaggerating. My book Hit by a Flying Wolf describes the whole ordeal, along with how we solved his issues. Had I not been a canine behavior specialist, it would have been easy to see his behavior as aggressive. As it was, I understood that Bodhi simply did not know what to do with all of that fear and nervous energy, and he was “acting out;” all that energy had to go somewhere, after all. That wasn’t his only issue, either. He was reactive with other dogs, destructive…I could go on and on. I won’t lie; it took months before I felt he was a dog I could enjoy living with. And it took longer than that to fully change his behaviors. It’s now 8 years later, and he’s lying here patiently, watching me type this blog and wondering when I’m going to stop working and feed him.

I don’t expect the average person to understand dog behavior to the point that they can determine without a doubt whether a particular dog’s issues are resolvable, or, barring a serious incident, if the dog is truly aggressive. If there are children involved, or someone in the home is being hurt (including another dog), giving a dog up would be understandable. But sometimes having a dog is simply hard work. Sometimes we have to admit that there is a serious problem, and if needed, hire a trainer to help resolve it. Once a dog is labeled as aggressive there are not many happy possible outcomes. Rescues understandably do not want aggressive dogs, as they cannot adopt them out. Owners are not looking to adopt a dog with serious behavior issues. And a shelter will simply euthanize an owner turn-in they are told has bitten. Simply dismissing a dog as aggressive if it’s not warranted can be a tragedy, and can even be a death sentence for the dog who does not deserve to die.
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You can find my seminar DVDs and books, including  my latest, Keeping the Peace, at www.nicolewilde.com. And check out my artwork here for unique holiday gifts as prints, mugs, totes and more!


Is Your Dog’s Play Too Rough?

October 9, 2018

2 snarls smallAs some of you might know, in each issue of Modern Dog Magazine I write either an article or an answer to a behavioral question a reader has sent in. The most recent query came from a woman who was concerned that her dog became over-excited and played too roughly with other dogs at the park. She wanted to know how she could get him to play more nicely. After responding that I’m not a fan of dog parks but that I did respect her concern for other people and their dogs, I wrote what follows. I’m reprinting it in my blog because I thought it might be of interest to some of you. I’d also suggest checking out the magazine, as it’s excellent! By the way, please note that play between dog friends and those who live together may be rougher without being problematic, as they understand each other’s signals and body language well and know how far they can go. This article deals with watching your dog play with unfamiliar or casual acquaintance dogs.

Dogs have different play styles depending on their breed, age, and other factors, but still, they generally understand each other’s body language. The first step in getting your dog to play nicely with others is for you to become very familiar with canine body language so that you can notice when tensions are first starting to build. When I was filming at my local dog park for my DVD Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play, I was able, by editing hundreds of hours of footage of dogs interacting, to break things down into body language and signals that play was becoming too rough or overwhelming. Allow me to share some of these elements.

When dogs are romping happily together, their bodies are like limp noodles. Tails may wag in loose arcs, and mouths may hang open. When a dog becomes tense, his body stiffens. In play, although the tail is wagging, it may be held high and be moving stiffly from side to side (this can indicate confidence or dominance), be lowered and moving quickly back and forth within a small radius (possible nervousness or anxiety), or even be tucked between the dog’s legs (usually fear). When a dog’s body goes stiff and that “happy mouth” closes—he may be staring at another dog or taking offense to something a dog is doing as this happens—this is called a “freeze.” Momentary though it maybe, this important mini-pause gives a dog time to assess the situation before him. Does he need to run away? Should he fight? Or is everything okay, and everyone can go back to what they were doing? Depending on the potential threat, the dog will make his decision. Watch for freezes in your dog and others, along with the other body language mentioned. There is much, much more to watch for, but these will get you started.

As far as the play itself, one thing to be wary of is speed and intensity. It is a lot easier for play to boil over into aggression when things are becoming fast and furious. Are the dogs racing around the park? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but monitor them to ensure that all the adrenaline-fueled excitement doesn’t turn into aggression. The more dogs that are involved, the more potential danger. Also, the more vertical the play gets, especially where dogs are standing on their hind legs and mouth wrestling, the more potential for danger. And, watch for actions dogs may take offense to. A few to watch for are humping, hip bumping or slamming, and placing a head over another dog’s neck or shoulder area.

If you notice that your dog is becoming overexcited or playing too roughly, or that other owners are becoming concerned, create an enforced break in the action by calling your dog to you. If he does not have a solid recall to the point that he will come to you even when playing with another dog, that’s okay; this is a very high-distraction scenario! Practice at home first, then work outdoors, gradually adding distractions as your dog is successful. Don’t forget to reward him every time! You can also practice recalls when the dog park is empty so that your dog will become accustomed to coming when called there (just don’t use food if other dogs are in the park). If you do create an enforced play break, it needn’t be long, just long enough for your dog and others to calm down. If things have escalated to the point where it looks as though there may be an actual fight, call your dog to you or, if he doesn’t yet have a solid recall, calmly walk over and take hold of him. Then leash him and leave the park. Careful monitoring and listening to your instincts will go a long way in allowing everyone to have fun while staying safe.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs & more here, and my artwork here. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 


Mamas, Don’t Let Your Puppies Grow Up to be Bullies

September 17, 2018

dog bully pixabayThis morning, I saw a beautiful 8-month-old pit bull lying on his back. Was he waiting for tummy rubs? Taking a sunbath? Nope. He was lying there, afraid to move lest the three dogs who were bullying him start in on him again. The pit’s owner kept telling him to get up, but I could see that he was afraid. I said something nicely to the owner of the bullies, and then separately went and spoke to the owner of the pit bull. I commented on how handsome the dog was (really, he was) and mentioned that the dog didn’t look like he was having much fun. We chatted a bit and I explained that once the teenager became an adult he might not roll over so easily, and might well fight back instead. And that, unfortunately, does not often end well for pit bulls, regardless of whose fault a fight is.

I wish this incident were unusual, but it’s not. I see dogs being bullied by other dogs all the time. Some owners stand there, chatting away, completely oblivious to their dogs’ behavior. Others explain it away, saying things like, “Oh, they’re only playing” or “Dogs will be dogs.” I’ve even seen one owner laugh about his dog humping another, saying, “That’s his wrestling move.” Know what? It’s not funny, and it’s not okay. Sure, humping can be part of play and if the humpee doesn’t mind, fine. But if he clearly does mind, that’s when the line has been crossed from rough, dominant play to bullying. If a dog is lying there for a prolonged time, afraid to get up, that’s no longer play. That type of interaction can be dangerous, either in the moment if the bullied dog decides he’s had enough, or in the future, when the bullied dog matures, and is decides he’s simply not going to take it anymore. It is true that some dogs stay submissive all their lives, and never retaliate or stand up for themselves. Does that excuse bullying? Nope. It just means that poor dog is in for a lifetime of it.

Not everyone is aware of the intricacies of canine body language and behavior, but I think we’re all pretty clear on when a dog is being steamrolled by others, especially when it’s happening repeatedly or non-stop. The dogs aren’t likely to stop the interaction; it’s up to the owners to intercede. Even at home, having one dog who bullies another constantly is very likely to lead to the bullied dog going out and doing the exact same thing to others. It’s just one more reason to—sing it with me now—don’t let your puppies grow up to be bullies.
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You can find my books (including my latest Keeping the Peace) and seminar DVDs at www.nicolewilde.com, and my artwork at www.photomagicalart.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.


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