Candy aisle etiquette for dogs

starburst candies imageSometimes I have the fun of confirming for an owner that the dog they have recently rescued is a star. I had initially dreaded meeting McGregor, but he quickly became one of those ‘other people’s dogs I wouldn’t mind having as my own’.

A friend had recommended that McGregor’s owner bring him by for an evaluation to see if he could board with us. The owners weren’t sure about him, he had a dog friend he played with but he had been ‘aggressive’ toward other dogs when out on leash walks. I ask a lot from my own dogs having other dogs staying here with us that any dog being added to the mix should not be one they have to worry about. On-leash aggression does not necessarily indicate that a dog is dangerous but I wasn’t sure if McGregor’s behavior was limited to the leash.

The owner thought that he was afraid of other dogs and if that was the case being on a leash around them could have caused the reaction she was seeing. I prepared for their visit with a pouch full of smelly treats, gates were in place, I had a long line ready and put a can of citronella spray in my back pocket, just in case.

McGregor was a Petfinder find, chosen for his looks, a reason I understood immediately. With a broad spaniel head and black rimmed eyes, a shiny red gold coat, and an extra long white-tipped toller tail, he was a sweet faced, handsome dog. The fly away hair on his long ears gave him a bit of a clownish cast, something I did not mention to his owners for fear of it not being taken for the compliment it was. He also turned out to be a dog who knew how to make good choices when it came to interacting with other dogs.

McGregor had the in-your-face exuberance of a young dog. Sunny loved him instantly, initiating a game of chase around the yard that had me smiling and praying everyone’s knees survived the fun. Finn the border collie tolerated his advances but quickly ignored him as if to say, “Yeah yeah kid now out of my way so those people you brought can throw my frisbee.” Annie the cocker would be the ultimate test. I watched as McGregor made the wise decision to opt out of the interaction he had initiated with her, showing what was an impressive amount of self-control in the process. I wanted him.

So what about his reaction to other dogs when he was on a leash?

When a dog’s experience with other dogs has primarily been to play with them, or in the case of young, energetic, social dogs, it should come as no surprise when they see another dog their thoughts turn to the potential fun to be had. But in the real world, when out walking on a leash, meeting or seeing new dogs often means nothing more than a passing raised nose air sniff and a ‘maybe another time’ glance. I suspected that this was not something that McGregor understood.

If every time you were standing in the grocery store check-out line you bought a candy bar for your kid, and then one day decided that practice was going to stop, would the ensuring whining, pleading and pouting come as a surprise? It shouldn’t.

Giving our dogs the opportunity to play with other dogs is a great thing, but dogs also need to learn that sometimes they can’t have the candy, even if it is right in front of their nose. I suspect that McGregor is going to turn out to be an even more awesome dog than he already is. Annie may even help him learn that it’s best to avoid some candy altogether.

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9 comments so far

  1. Deborah Flick on

    Beautiful description of dogs behaving differently, normally, and well. I also appreciate your explaining that dogs can behave on leash differently that they do when off. And, once again, need I say—excellent analogy about the kid and the candy.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Deborah! McGregor was one of the best decision makers I’ve seen. He repeatedly was able to control his initial impulse and come back with a better option, which kept the peace. Now I’ve got to help the owners work on recalls. They’ve been afraid to let him off leash (for good reasons) for runs, but I suspect that he’ll make good choices when given that opportunity as well.

  2. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    What an interesting assessment of McGregor. I can completely relate to the 3 year-old’s tantrum that gets described as “aggressiveness.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      If a dog interacts with another dog when they are highly aroused, and the other dog rebuffs them, it can go south pretty quick. I had to take my hat off to McGregor, he ‘almost’ went that route with Annie, but it was as if in mid-pounce he decided to just let it go. He was surprised by her reaction (she can be a right snippy bitch) but collected himself and decided the best route was to just leave her be. Unlike some parents who at their kids’ sporting events beat each other up in the parking lot after the game.

  3. Carrie Boyko on

    Thanks to Amy at Go Pet Friendly for cluing me into your blog. I could swear you were talking about my Golden Retriever, Tanner, in this post about McGregor. Tanner is the social butterfly of the dog park, yet when a dog that he perceives as a playmate, is coming toward us on a walk, he can become quite excited.

    Once when he took me by surprise I lost the leash. He simply ran up to the “new friend” and invited him to play. So much for my ‘aggressive’ dog! I learned a good lesson that day that I knew my own dog better than the people who had told me he was aggressive on walks.

    Thanks for the great example of this dog behavior that is so misunderstood.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Carrie and thanks to Amy for getting the word out. Nice to meet you and hear about Tanner. I am working with a black lab that is also very exuberant about seeing other dogs. She’s getting better about it all the time, but I do change direction a lot on some days 😉

  4. georgia little pea on

    loved this analogy too!

    in many ways, i feel the post describes georgia. in my opinion, [and of course that could be biased :p] i think she sorts out pretty quickly who wants to play and who doesn’t. at least, i’ve never seen her pestering dogs that don’t want to play with her.

    unfortunately, she’s not patient with other dogs that don’t do this, and doesn’t tailor her reactions to distinguish between pesky big dogs and pesky small ones. since she’s L-size, that can be frightening for both parties involved.

    I wrote to you some time back asking for advice on her reactivity issues and am still working on her. she has shown no such behaviour since that time, but we remain vigilant.

    in your reply to amy, you said ‘…If a dog interacts with another dog when they are highly aroused, and the other dog rebuffs them, it can go south pretty quick.” that is pretty much what happened to georgia and a good friend of hers lately. they’re still cautious with each other 😦

    • fearfuldogs on

      In some cases there may be dogs that should not be encouraged to interact with other dogs if they don’t have the skills to be civil, even when there is tension. In most situations I don’t let Annie meet other dogs. Here at home I have to because I have boarders, but out in the world I’d just assume she ignored them. My other cocker that I had didn’t like other dogs coming near her, even though she was not reactive, so I got used to shooing dogs away from her.

      • georgia little pea on

        yes indeed…about shooing other dogs away :p

        strangely enough, georgia has many doggie friends and we often meet people who tell us she’s their dog’s favourite dog! i just have to be careful with her meeting the extra-‘frisky’ ones.

        thanks to blogs like yours, i’m learning to avoid the situation altogether, as best possible. i live in hope that she’ll grow out of her teen angst soon 🙂


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