The Tipping Point

February 26, 2018

husky attacksAt the dog park this morning, my dogs and I were on the “small dog side,” as it was empty and there were two dogs on the “big dog side.” I was happy to see the gentleman and his two dogs, as our dogs like to run the fence together. They’re all friendly, and everyone gets exercise. It’s all good. But five minutes into the festivities, a couple showed up with a dog I’d never seen before, and entered the big dog side. Apparently the two dogs in that space had never seen the dog before either, and ran over to him. The new dog and one of the two began to get very stiff-legged. Hackles were raised. Growls were heard. Suddenly the air was thick with tension. “Ziggy,” warned the owner of the two dogs, “Be nice.” Ziggy got even more aroused. “Come on, Ziggy” he cautioned again, his voice even more tense. Fortunately, the dogs did not fight, and after a few more moments, they separated.

Every dog owner is familiar with that tense moment when two dogs are aroused and may or may not fight. You can feel the tension coming off the dogs in waves, and it is almost impossible not to be stressed yourself. But what an owner does in that moment can affect whether the dogs will explode into violence or not. It’s a common response to do exactly what Ziggy’s owner did, to admonish the dog in a stern, warning voice. And for some dogs, it may work. Unfortunately, for many, it only adds to the unease. Although it might seem counterintuitive, calling your dog’s name in a high, happy voice can be the better option. If you’ve conditioned your dog through training that his name is his cue to look at you, although the situation is worrisome, you can still get his attention. You can then call him to you, thereby averting a full-blown fight. EDIT: I am adding in this edit after someone brought up the important point that there could be a possibility, once your dog was called away, of the other dog attacking from behind. Clearly this is a judgement call that the owner must make. In my mind, the situation had not yet gotten to that point, but it does bear mentioning to use caution and assess the situation carefully.

The same type of scenario often happens when two dogs meet on leash. Many owners are not savvy in the language of Dog, and don’t realize that the dog they are bringing their dog over to meet is not friendly. Very quickly, the dogs are nose to nose with rigid bodies, tails held high and waving stiffly, hard staring at each other. Here we have not only two dogs who are already tense, but there is the factor of the tight leashes, which adds even more pressure to the situation. There is a tipping point that is being approached: will the dogs go past it and fight, or will the moment pass peacefully? Again, what the owner does at that moment can make all the difference. Tightening the leash even more, which is often the knee-jerk reaction for we humans, can make things worse. If the dog has been trained to give attention at hearing his name and to do a “walk-away,” meaning he follows the owner away from something, the incident can end peacefully. Or, the owner could simply call the dog’s name in a high, happy voice, followed by, “Come!” I’m not suggesting that these tactics will work in every situation; they won’t, if tension levels have already escalated past a certain point. Once a dog is over threshold—past the tipping point—he’s not capable of mentally processing those verbal cues, any more than a person is who is involved in a raging argument would respond if you walked up and asked for the time. Emotion has taken over, and it’s too late for coherently processing thought.

Just think how wonderful it would be if everyone trained their dog in simple things like attention (look at me when your name is called), the recall (come when called), and walk-aways. It’s really not difficult, and there are plenty of resources out there (including the Train Your Dog: The Positive, Gentle Method DVD). And what about having early education on canine body language in schools? It’s estimated that almost half the homes in the U.S. have dogs. The majority of dog bites happen to children, who haven’t been taught not to do things that cause dogs to become defensive. But I digress. The point is, if your dog is involved in one of those moments where things are looking dicey and could go either way, don’t add to the tension. Flip the script and call your dog’s name in an attention-getting, happy voice instead. You might be surprised at how well it works.
Keeping the Peace cover for web newest
Speaking of aggression issues, pre-orders are rolling in for my upcoming book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home.” Clearly, this is an important issue to trainers, owners, rescue workers, shelters, and more. Publication is scheduled for April, although I’m hoping it will be sooner! You can pre-order as well as read the full Introduction and Table of Contents here.






Is it Always the Owner’s Fault?

February 22, 2018

There’s dog on leash pixabay smalla man I walk around the park with sometimes early in the mornings when I have one of my dogs with me. I’ve known this man since before he ever got a dog, and was familiar with his philosophy about dog behavior. It goes something like this: Every dog is fixable if the person knows what they’re doing. I’ve tried to tell him in the past that not every dog is stable temperamentally, but not only would he not listen, he’d tell me I was being way too careful and overprotective with Sierra around unfamiliar dogs. I should let her go right up and meet all of them. Umm….okay. Luckily for him, he ended up getting the easiest, sweetest Lab in the world. The dog is friendly with other dogs but doesn’t get in their faces. In other words, an easy dog. Good for him.

We were having a perfectly nice walk this morning, discussing the Olympics, the rocket launch, and other innocuous subjects. I had Sierra off leash, as we walk very early and when there are no dogs in the area, she’s free to romp around. I saw another dog coming, and put her on leash. After we passed the woman and her dog, this conversation happened:

Him: You know, Sierra’s never going to be good with other dogs if you don’t let her go up to them.

Me: She is good with other dogs. I just don’t let her run up to dogs she doesn’t know.

Him: Why? When I first got my dog, he wasn’t always good with other dogs. You know that lady with the pit bull? I saw her one morning and her dog was on leash. I asked if the dogs could play. She said she didn’t know if her dog was friendly, but okay, she’d let him off the leash. (Insert cringe here.) The dogs sniffed each other and then they were fine.

Me: Lucky for everyone!

Him: And you know that one guy with the big dog that you always say is really aggressive? I saw him one morning and both of our dogs were on leash. He moved off the path to let me pass and I asked if I could bring my dog up to his. He said no and I asked why, and he said he knows what he’s got, his dog is not friendly with other dogs.

Me: Well good for him! He was being a responsible owner.

Him: No! It’s his fault the dog is that way. It’s always the person’s fault. The only way that dog is going to get better is if he takes him up to meet other dogs. You could give me Sierra for a day and I could take her up to any dog.

Me: (trying to stay calm and civil) Okay, let’s not get personal. So you’re saying I could give you any dog, any dog at all, and you could get him to be okay with other dogs.

Him: Yes! Yes! From everything I’ve read and watched, it’s always the person’s fault.

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say that this man has a very hot temper and although I remained polite and calm, he worked himself into a frenzy that ended with saying that I clearly thought he was an irresponsible owner. Well, if you really want to know, yes. I do. It’s ignorant to believe that you or anyone else can “fix” every dog’s aggression issues. Yes, you can absolutely work with dog-aggressive dogs and get them to tolerate or even be friendly with other dogs. In my professional career, I’ve helped hundreds of owners to rehab dogs like that. But to blame it all on the owner? Where does that come from, do you think? Could it be television shows that purport, in 30 minutes or less, to completely change the temperament of a very dog-aggressive dog, working with the dog away from the owner, and then blame every bad behavior on the owner? Those shows might make for good drama, but they’re not doing anyone any favors.

I really try to avoid arguments about dog behavior. There’s just no point. I will absolutely have a civil conversation with anyone about it, regardless if their opinions are different than mine. But trying to gently educate someone, given the amount of misinformation out there, can be frustrating. For the record, there are dangerous dogs out there. Sure, owners contribute to some problem behaviors in dogs, absolutely. But are they completely responsible for a dog’s issues? No. Telling an owner whose dog had to be euthanized because he was flat-out dangerously aggressive that it was her fault would be cruel and untruthful. Let’s stop blaming owners for everything, open our minds, and work together to rehabilitate the dogs.
Speaking of aggressive dogs, my latest book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” is now available for pre-order! Click here to read the full Introduction, view the Table of Contents, and pre-order. Books should be out in April!Keeping the Peace cover for web newest


%d bloggers like this: