Picture them naked

small black dog looking up at cameraThere is an emotion attached to every behavior. Sometimes it’s a potent emotion, sometimes not so much. The potency of an emotion doesn’t change given a size difference in the body experiencing it. The size of that body might influence our emotions though.

When I first stepped into the stall where Nibbles, my current foster dog, was housed along with another chihuahua named Mother, they ran toward me barking, lunging and leaping. They were not happy to see me. I felt a dump of adrenalin and I stopped dead in my tracks. Then I laughed. “Little toughies, ” I thought. I threw out some bits of cheese and backed out of the stall. I didn’t stop working with them but I started by changing their response to my entering their space.

Nibbles is a twelve-pound dog that will run and bark at things that scare him. It doesn’t look like fear, it looks like aggression. I know Nibs, and I know that there are many things he doesn’t have experience with, and that lack of experience leads to fear, and aggression. But he remains a cute, little twelve-pound dog, and doesn’t pose much of a risk to people, it would be easy to let it slide. But I won’t. Nibbles needs to have the same skills that a bigger dog needs to be safe and a canine good citizen.

When in doubt about how to respond to a dog’s behavior imagine the dog bigger or smaller. Little dogs shouldn’t need to remain fearful and without skills because they are not as much of a threat to a person or dog’s safety, as a bigger dog might be. Bigger dogs shouldn’t be roughly handled because they can be more dangerous, they too are experiencing fear, uncertainty and insecurity. When people watch trainers using choke collars on big dogs to strangle and subdue the dog, their response is often, “What else was the trainer suppose to do, get bit?” They rarely ask, “Why was the dog put in a position which caused it to feel the need to protect itself?”

Good trainers and dog handlers manage dogs so the dogs feel safe, regardless of their size. Just because we can force small dogs into situations because we can physically overpower them without cutting off their air supply doesn’t mean we should. And just because bigger dogs seem to give us the reason to use brute force to control them, doesn’t mean we should either. Whether you picture them bigger or smaller, be sure you picture them scared.

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10 comments so far

  1. justthreadtwiddling on

    Our one and only experience with a ‘professional’ dog trainer and obedience classes ended over rough handling of my pup. We were sitting waiting for the rest of the dogs to arrive, and Tina got frightened by a blonde pug in a neon pink raincoat. The instructor grabbed the leash out of my hand and jerked it so hard that Tina was a foot off the floor. She spent the next few minutes huddled under my chair. We got up and left.
    He frightened both of us. I take all the blame. I hadn’t educated myself on teaching methods, and we hadn’t taken the dogs out much.
    We live on 2 acres. We have a creek, wildlife and fences. I got the pups for completely selfish reasons, I wanted their company. I thought our living situation was such that they wouldn’t need to go places. I HAVE LEARNED!
    The pups themselves have taught me a lot. When there is thunder, Ike hides in his crate. When company comes, Tina hides in my lap. We no longer have a choke collar in the house. We go in the car more, just to go and see other things.
    Of course there is a lot more to this story, and I continue to learn how to read my dogs. But it is never too late to teach an old dog companion new tricks.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s nice to know that along with our dogs we too can continue to progress. I for one think pink neon rain jackets on any dog would be scary.

  2. Chihuahua Breeder on

    “Little Toughies” – I love that term. I have used it several times with a couple of my Chihuahuas.
    Yep they sure looked and acted tough but I knew in reality they were fearful, and there was no way to force them to accept something they were afraid of.
    I have found that working with a fearful dog takes patience and practice in many different environments.
    This was an excellent post, thanks for your insight

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Appreciate it!

  3. spring4th on

    Excellent post! I always commend “little dog” owners on their decision to buck the current trend and pursue training for their small dogs. My belief — if you would be nervous if you saw a Rottweiler doing it, you should be nervous if your little dog is doing it.

    I explain to owners of reactive/fearful small dogs that little ones may, at some point, put on an aggressive display towards a much larger dog that will respond the same way, and it won’t end well for the tiny dog. Proper training and management is equally important for all dogs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You are so right. Little dogs ‘deserve’ training as well. Skill building helps dogs and owners in so many ways.

  4. Lizzie on

    I have often thought that fearful or nervous dogs, just like Gracie, are very open to abuse, especially if they are bigger dogs that don’t display aggression, again like Gracie. They will put up with just about anything.

    It’s the age old human trait of power/control and dominance versus understanding and kindness. I feel anger every time I see someone yank a dog on a choke collar or drag a dog along skidding on it’s back feet.

    I still can’t believe that most people fail to see when a dog is behaving in a fearful way, as I so often witness when out on my short walks with Gracie.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is sad to have to agree that we can be just plain mean. Sometimes we don’t intend to be but plenty of other times either enjoy it or make excuses for it. Dogs are so awesome for putting up with as much as many do.

  5. Dave on

    Great post. For me the most memorable line is “Whether you picture them bigger or smaller, be sure you picture them scared.”
    Only this morning we had an incident in the kitchen, it was 5 AM, I went to switch on the light and the bulb exploded shattering on the floor. It startled me so god knows what Oakley (a 50kg Malamute who has the fear issues was at my feet and panicing) was going through. Anyway I let Oakley outside and closed the door so I could clean the mess up, while our other dog Willow sat and watched, and then went to prepare and put food down for both the dogs. Willow as always was fine and unfazed but I couldn’t get Oakley to come anywhere near us for food. It was at this point for some reason the idea entered my head to think about how he was feeling about the whole incident, so took his food to him where he was standing at the back door. I figured whats the harm I’d be nervous in his situation too. We went for our morning walk and when we got home as per their usual routine both dogs went charging into the kitchen ready to get their Dentastix, only Oakley pulled up at the kitchen door and wouldn’t go any further inside. I decided not to push him and rewarded him for poking his head through the door to take the treat. Before leaving for work I was giving him a treat for putting both feet inside the door frame, hopefully tonight he’ll be comfortable enough to come all the way into the kitchen, otherwise we’ll be going through the front door to go to bed.
    Whether you picture them bigger or smaller, be sure you picture them scared.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hopefully Oakley will get his game back soon. I had a dog who wouldn’t turn right out of the driveway for weeks after being zapped by a neighbor’s fence 1/2 mile down the road (to the right).


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