Who Comes First: You or Your Dog?

June 25, 2014

iStock Lab with woman.The woman on the phone sounded anxious. She needed a trainer to come to her house today. When asked about the urgency, she replied that she was bringing a four-month-old puppy home, and needed help introducing her to her other dog. The resident dog was a 10-year-old small breed who was dog-aggressive. When I questioned politely whether that might not be the best situation for either dog, she replied that she also had a two-foot-long lizard, and although the small dog had been aggressive toward the lizard at first, she’d taught him to turn away and not make eye contact. That had put a stop to the aggression, she said, and she planned to do the same when it came to the new puppy.

She went on to complain that two different rescue groups had brought dogs over for potential adoption, but when they’d let the dogs down on the ground together, the 10-year-old had gone after the other dog, and the rescue groups had refused the adoption. Oh, and by the way, the puppy she intended to bring home was a shy, fearful dog. I took a deep breath. Then I patiently explained why it was a terrible idea. First, bringing a dog who is already shy and afraid into a home with a dog who is dog-aggressive could only make things worse for the poor pup. Second, the resident dog has already demonstrated more than once that he does not like other dogs, and certainly does not appreciate them in his home. If you were a senior who didn’t particularly like the company of other people, how would you like it if a rambunctious child moved in? Even if the dog could be taught to ignore the puppy, think about the stress it would cause him. I listed the physical issues that chronic stress can cause in dogs (including suppression of the immune system, which opens the door for all sorts of disease); and this was not a young dog. There’s that plus the emotional and mental stress to consider, for both dogs and everyone living in the house. The woman listened, and by the end of the conversation, she said she could see my points, and would consider what I’d said.

I don’t know whether she ultimately decided to adopt the puppy. But the whole situation begs the question: when do we stand back and consider what’s best for our dogs, as opposed to our own wants and desires? I know people who do agility with their dogs, and the dogs absolutely love it. I know others who wanted to participate in agility so they got a specific breed—only the particular dog doesn’t seem to like it anywhere near as much as the person does. In fact, the dog seems not to enjoy it at all, and yet the pair continues to compete. I know people who bring their dogs to the dog park because they enjoy socializing with other owners. The dog, in the meantime, does her level best to stay away from other dogs, and becomes defensive if any come near. She clearly does not enjoy herself and seems perpetually stressed. And yet the park visits continue.

We all have an idea of what we’d like life to be like with our dogs. Depending on our own lifestyle, we might need a dog to be social around kids, be athletic, be dog-friendly, or any of a host of traits. But sometimes the dog we get is not the dog we want (hello, have you read Hit by a Flying Wolf?). And that’s okay. We can certainly do our best to train, socialize, countercondition, and habituate our dogs to the things we’d like them to be okay with. But in the end, sometimes it’s we who have to adjust our expectations and perhaps even our lifestyle. Because in the end, it’s not all about us—it’s about our dogs.

You can find my books, seminar DVDs and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com.

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A Near Death Experience

June 10, 2014

 When I take Sierra and Bodhi to the park, I allow them to run off-leash in the nether-regions of dirt trails and brush where we seldom encounter other people. The pair romp around the hillsides, just about levitating with joy, chasing bunnies and sniffing intently at bushes. They come when called, receive slices of hot dogs as rewards, and are then released to go explore some more. We all love it. When we traverse the more populated areas of the park, though, the two are on leash.

This morning, as we walked along the cement path that connects the front and back parts of the park, I visually scanned the area as I chatted with a park acquaintance. I spied a young man who we sometimes see on his skateboard, which is pulled by a huge, muscular pit bull who weighs at least 80 pounds. When these guys go flying by, it often sets other dogs off—but hey, the guy’s got a right to be there like everyone else. At the moment, he was speeding down the cement path we were on, moving in our direction. I got the dogs over to the side and had them sit. I wouldn’t say they were calm, but they were behaving, keeping it together in the face of something pretty exciting. As the pair approached, though, Bodhi completely lost it. He gave a sudden, mighty lunge and actually pulled the leash out of my hand. He bolted toward the man and his dog, who were just passing us. I called for Bodhi to come; the request started out in a calm training voice and quickly ended up escalating into a scream as Bodhi approached the pair.

The guy stopped, dismounted, and in a fast, fluid movement, grabbed his dog and placed his body in front of him. Although Bodhi isn’t aggressive, the pit bull, judging from his behavior, definitely was. The guy apparently knew this, as he said in a carefully controlled, edge-of-panic voice, “Please grab your dog.” He repeated it non-stop like a mantra. Of course, that’s exactly what I needed to do, and believe me, I was trying. If you’ve ever broken up a dog fight, you know how hard it is to grab one of the dogs. Bodhi was darting in and out, circling, stupidly excited, clueless of the danger he was in . I’ve never claimed that Bodhi is the brightest bulb in the string. Fortunately, I still have pretty good reflexes. That, along with a strong desire for Bodhi not to meet an untimely death, prompted me to throw myself bodily at Bodhi, concrete be damned. I grabbed hold of his collar, and came down hard on my wrist and rear. I was also holding Sierra, who, miraculously, was not reacting at all—I think the whole thing amused her. (The man I was walking with was of no use in this type of situation, which I knew in advance was the case, hence my not even handing Sierra off to him.) I apologized to Skateboard Guy, saying Bodhi had pulled the leash out of my hand. Shaken, he took off.

Normally I’d say this type of incident was prey drive related, but with Bodhi it probably was food related, since some of the morning dog walkers give treats to passing dogs, and Bodhi always takes advantage. (When we first got him, he was afraid of men and allowing him to take treats from these guys really helped.) The incident was frightening and upsetting, but luckily, that’s all it was. It could have ended up with Bodhi being badly injured or killed—and it wouldn’t have been the pit bull owner’s fault, either. He did exactly the right thing by shielding his dog with his body (or, more precisely, shielding Bodhi from his dog) and telling me to grab my dog. Had the pit bull attacked Bodhi, I really couldn’t say it was his fault, either. The dog was minding his own business, pulling his owner down the road when a dog lunged at him. He reacted. I’m also glad nothing happened for the pit bull’s sake, as the breed’s already got enough breed-specific prejudices to deal with. As for me, I normally have a solid hold on the leashes. If something had happened to either dog, I would have felt terrible, of course. But stuff happens, and I’m not one for beating myself up; besides, I’m pretty beat up already, with scrapes, a bruised wrist, and a serious ache that predicts a visit to the chiropractor. Still, that’s getting off easy. Clearly, if we see the dynamic duo again, we’ll make a point of going the other way. I can do without any more near death experiences, thank you very much.

You can find my books, including Hit by a Flying Wolf detailing my further adventures with Bodhi, Sierra, and wolves, along with seminar DVDs and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com.


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