You Say Patootie…

!dogwalkI received a phone call yesterday from a woman in need of training for her dog. She had three dogs—two males and a female—and it seems that the female was “a real Snooty Patootie Pants.” My response, after stifling a burst of laughter, was to ask her to kindly define “Snooty Patootie Pants.” I mean, it’s not exactly a standard term in the Dog Trainer’s Dictionary. I’ve heard this highly descriptive type of term before. One woman’s dog was a “nervous Narvis.” Another’s had “anger management issues.” And one caller kept going on about her dog: “He’s so selfish. It’s always all about him,” prompting me to finally ask with a laugh whether we were still talking about the dog.

These descriptions are funny and charming, but it really is important when discussing dog behavior that we have consistent definitions. This becomes especially crucial when discussing aggression issues. I can’t tell you how many owners I’ve heard describe their dogs as “aggressive,” where it meant anything from the dog being a typical nippy puppy, to being overly enthusiastic in play, to simply jumping on people. None of these constitutes aggression! Can you imagine someone returning a dog like this to the shelter and telling them the dog is aggressive? You know what happens next. (Although I would love to see the shelter worker’s face when the person told them the dog has “anger management issues.”)

While it’s true that dogs certainly have emotions, some of us tend to anthropomorphize, which can lead a discussion into muddy waters. Although the general meaning is understood when someone says a dog is “anxious,” it doesn’t really give enough information. What we really need is not an interpretation of a dog’s state of mind, but a simple recounting of what the dog does. Perhaps one anxious dog hides in a crate all day and cringes when people go to pet him. Another might run from the room when a particular sound plays on the television. As for aggressive dogs, again, what does the dog do? Is he lunging and barking when passing other dogs on a walk? Does he bite visitors at the front door? (Tip for owners: trainers really, really like to know about that last one.) A clear description of a dog’s behavior allows us to get a better picture of what’s going on so that an appropriate treatment plan can be formulated. And that way, in the end, we can help the dog—even if she is a Snooty Patootie Pants.

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5 Responses to You Say Patootie…

  1. Great post. This reminds me of two different things. 1) My husband has been a programmer for nearly 20 years. And if there is one thing that programmers/engineers detest above all others it’s when users/clients fail to be descriptive about a problem and instead make some ambiguous, broad statement about their experience. As in “the site’s broken” or “I can’t login” versus “when I click on this button in this window on the dashboard, it gives me this message. But only when I’m using a Firefox browser on my iPad.” If you want an expert to help you solve a problem, stick to the facts and details, and be as descriptive as possible.

    It also reminds me of an old acquaintance of mine who was determined to get involved in some way with “pit bull” advocacy after she found a stray (possibly just lost) dog and decided to keep him. A year later, she decided to adopt another dog and went to the humane society and adopted a little 6-month old pit mix puppy with all of the typical adolescent puppy behaviors. Within 4 hours of her bringing the puppy home (and despite piles of human and material resources available to her through our local play/training group), she went on to Facebook and called the puppy “aggressive” in an effort to preemptively deal with the reality that she’d be returning the puppy to the humane society the very next day, less than 24 hours later. I really can’t think of anything more counterproductive to advocating for pit bull type dogs than that.

    It’s okay to make mistakes with our dogs and all of us have inevitably gotten in over our heads before. It’s what we do next that counts. Face the problem head on or make excuses to save face.

  2. LisaH says:

    I am soooo curious to know just what the description of a Snootie Patootie Pants was …. please share!

  3. I really envy you for your English customers, Nicole, and have to think about how dull those kind of descriptions are in German. We may be the country of thinkers and poets, but when it gets to descriptions of canine behaviour, my customers mainly use deterministic interpretations: aggressive, too pushy, and our beloved “dominant”. I would love to encounter a “Snootie Patootie Pants”, just for the smile of it 😉

  4. starwarsanon says:

    LOL! I’ll say “anger management issues” next time I’m passing by another owner and their dog.
    “I’m sorry, but my dog has anger management issues so I would advise that you don’t bring your dog too close.”

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