When in doubt, leave them home

2 black dogs in the water playing with a man

We’ll skip the crowds thank you

Recently I spent the day at a booth at a Pet Expo. The dogs and owners I saw could provide me with a year’s worth of blog posts. I met some of the most caring and empathetic people you’d ever find, like the young man who lived with a reactive pitbull who displayed leash aggression. He was struggling to find ways to get her attention without resorting to leash pops or raising his voice. I briefly explained rewarding attention whenever she gives it to him, and steered him to the ‘look at that’ protocol (thank you Leslie McDevitt). As we spoke I could see the light bulb going on in his head. He thought about it, tossed it around in his brain, nodded, smiled and said “Thank you!” and gave me a high-five.

On the other end of the spectrum was the young woman dragging her two pound (if that) chihuahua puppy around the venue. The dog walked like the hunchback of Notre Dame, its back arched and tail tucked so tightly it practically touched her nose. The owner stood by, smiling, as big dogs surrounded her dog sniffing and perhaps wondering if the tiny thing had a squeaker in it. The chihuahua was the picture of terror. The owner likely believed she was ‘socializing’ her dog and assumed all was well in the world, because the dog had not yet learned that a quick yap and snap would accomplish what she was unable to accomplish while trapped at the end of a leash, i.e., put distance between herself and the other dogs. This was ‘how to create a nasty, small dog’ training in action.

But it was the woman whose dog growled and snapped at another dog that was among the more interesting to me. Obviously embarrassed and upset by her dog’s behavior she began a loud, elaborate explanation of how her dog’s behavior was the fault of a dog who had approached her dog, but was now several booth lengths away. I could follow her reasoning, to a point. It is possible that another dog getting into her dog’s face could have prompted the dog to spin around and go after the dog taking the opportunity to sneak in for a butt sniff. Not happy with what was happening face to face, the dog’s tolerance for a butt sniff was decreased and she was startled into a response. That’s the point where I stop going along with the owner’s reasoning.

Imagine standing a small child at the top of a flight of concrete stairs and when they see a balloon go bouncing by at the bottom they move toward it. Now imagine blaming the child’s need for stitches after they tumbled down the stairs, on the balloon. The balloon is part of the equation, but a caregiver who does not understand that toddlers should not be left unattended at the top of stairs, needs some remedial classes in assessing situations for potential outcomes.

Bringing a dog to an event which is crowded with people and dogs and not understanding that one must at the very least be able to pay attention to both the front and back ends of their dog, indicates to me a very good reason for not being there in the first place. And this woman was not alone, there were many dogs that should not have been there. That there were as few outbursts by dogs as there were, is testimony to either the tolerance of many of the dogs, or that many dogs were simply too overwhelmed to respond.

What your dog is learning may not be what you are trying to teach them.

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15 comments so far

  1. Tina Holmes on

    I even attended an event in the summer where a bitch in heat was brought along – the owner reasoned it was ok because she was on a lead. It was a dog show! Two people were bitten helping her get the lead back.

    I am going to a dog friendly event soon where i will take one of my dogs – the one who loves people, dogs and attention. I have a dog sitter booked for the one who would rather not be around crowds. SIMPLE??

    • fearfuldogs on

      Geesh. Lesson learned I imagine!

    • KellyK on

      Oh, my! That takes “D’oh!” to a whole new level.

      A dog show might be the worst possible place I can think of to take a female in heat. At least wandering the neighborhood, the store, the local dog park, there’s a fair chance that the male dogs in the area will be fixed and may not care (though I think some neutered dogs will mate anyway). Not that all the other places are *good* ideas, but geez…

  2. Doggy's Style on

    So true, at times is really hard to figure how to properly train your dog.
    I’m personally struggling with mine in one little aspect, he has recently developed a fixation for small white dogs, puppies mostly, he seems them and go after the, not aggressively, he wants to play, at the park was hard for me to go after him, first I didn’t want him to make an even bigger game out of it, so I wouldn’t run after him. Again, he doesn’t bite nor bark, he just runs towards them but they are usually smaller dogs, very shy that get scared easily, owner get really mad and the first thing they do is pick up the dog, hug him and kiss him, or let it hanging on the leash and moving around, needless to say my dog things is a game. I now avoid going close to small white dogs or visible shy dogs. Doggy still gets really excited when he sees them, I keep him short leash and give him a little touch and he stops. This all is ironic because he used to be a really shy dog.
    However, whenever I don’t know how he would react I keep him close so I have control over him, it’s part of being a responsible owner.

    • fearfuldogs on

      At the end of the day we are always trying to figure out what is reinforcing to a dog, and how we can either use that to our advantage or figure out how to create something else that outweighs it. Training basic obedience with lots of high value reinforcers is always helpful. At the very least it improves the chances we’ll be able to get behaviors we’d like when we’re out in the big world.

  3. rangerskat on

    It never ceases to amaze me how many clueless people there are out there on the other end of a leash putting their dogs in situations for where the dog is uncomfortable and not even realizing what they are doing. One of my dogs is wonderfully social with people and other dogs. He’s patient and tolerant and as far as I can tell genuinely enjoys crowds of people and dogs. He’s very attractive to people and I’ve long since lost count of the number of times a person towing a small dog has approached and asked to meet him. Ranger takes one look at the scared little thing being dragged up to this 90 lb giant and sits in profile to the little one (don’t worry little guy I mean you no harm). The clueless owner picks up their little dog and thrusts him into Ranger’s face so the dogs can “meet.” What part of their dog hanging back at the end of the leash as far away as they can get are these people missing? Just because the person wanted to meet Ranger it doesn’t mean their dog did. They are so offended when I body block them in order to protect both my dog from an unpleasant encounter with a small dog and their dog from being overwhelmed and feeling the need to lash out. I try to use it as a teaching moment but I’m not sure I get through very well.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It must be among the joys of becoming a middle aged woman- no longer worrying about what others think. I try not to be rude, I smile and do what I need to do for my dog. I can also predict what is likely to happen so can be proactive.

      • rangerskat on

        Exactly! I do my best to be respectful but I’m not going to set up any dog for potential disaster. I can see how scared their little guy is even if they can’t and if I’m having any doubt about how the little one feels I can see how Ranger is behaving toward the other dog. Standing and gently waving his plume of a tail tells me one thing, sitting in profile to the other dog tells me something else. I’ve learned to listen to what he tells me.

  4. jet on

    Poor little Chi. Also the problem with the ‘nasty little dog’ is that bigger dogs can also retaliate. The little dog then gets more scared and reactive. 😦

    • Sillyshishi on

      And then the big dog gets blamed and sometimes winds up put down because of this situation… 😦

  5. Frances on

    I was very fortunate when my toy dogs were pups – I found a trainer who is also a qualified behaviourist, and who is both generous and tactful with her advice. She pointed out the simple truth that socialisation requires not just experiences, but happy experiences, and that anything that overwhelms the puppy is counterproductive – so very obvious when you think about it, but easy to loose sight of when filling in tick boxes and counting encounters… I do think that a guide to socialisation geared to tiny puppies would be extremely useful – I have argued with professionals who strongly believe that small puppies need to learn to see off big puppies in free play sessions (I am equally strong in my belief that the less puppies need to learn to snap and snarl the better!), and with owners who scoop their tiny pups up at the approach of any other dog, to keep them safe. Somewhere is the happy medium that enables the pup to grow up into a well balanced, confident adult, but finding it is not always easy!

  6. KellyK on

    “When in doubt, leave them home.” Such good advice!

  7. sarahhosick on

    This is exactly the reason why I will rarely bring Remy out to events, though he isn’t exactly fearful. He gets very over-stimulated and requires my full attention. If I can’t give him that, I’m automatically setting him up to fail in that situation and it’s not fair. And, if something does happen where he snaps or goes after another dog, there is nobody to blame but myself. I wish more people realized that.

  8. JanS on

    Thank you for reminding us dog owners that just because a very large event is about dogs does not mean bringing the pack with you. I leave mine safe at home because I want to look around and shop or see demos by trainers and not have to worry about my dog’s behavior. An added plus is not exposing them to a doggy cold virus.


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