Friday, December 14, 2012
It is almost Christmas, and like every year, I am sure, some folk will scramble for the memorable present that impresses the kids or the girlfriend, and what better way to do that than with a furry bundle of pup? Luckily, dog shopping is really easy in North America. Go online, be bombarded with ad after ad, fall in love with the cutest ever face, hand over the money, and done.
You might have guessed by my tone that I am sour about dogs advertised and sold online – and yet, a few months ago, in an attempt to procrastinate a lengthy report I had to write, I clicked on Kijiji. The dog section. Worse yet, a pup caught my eye in a big way: An Australian shepherd who looked so much like our Davie who died almost two years ago and we’re still missing. Worse yet, I promptly inquired with the seller and was ready to travel 400 km to meet the pup, but she was already sold.
Once the disappointment dissipated, disbelieve set in that I, who has an insight scoop how dogs suffer when they are bred, raised and placed without conscience, was receptive to that. And I came to understand that if I am, how much more susceptible laypeople are. People who fall for ads and think that just because someone breeds dogs that they care about dogs.
I like to believe that had I been able to meet that Aussie pup, I would have had enough sense to walk away if there were any red flags. Most people though, once they answered an ad, once they are at the breeder, once the see the puppy or dog, don’t walk away. They don’t recognize red flags, and even if they do find it difficult to leave without the pooch in tow, wanting to rescue him out of the situation he is in.
It is understandable and yes, kind humans make life better for that one dog, but what they are also doing is to enable a for-profit business to pump out more puppies, and the suffering continues.
Because we have lousy animal welfare laws, the best way to ease suffering is through the pocket book. If the masses would recognize red flags and shop elsewhere, the unscrupulous breeders’ source of income would dry up.
I know what to look for; most laypeople don’t. Thus, I went online again, this time to point out obvious, and not so obvious, red flags.
I googled several Canadian provinces, and found similar ads everywhere. The ones below are authentic: copied and pasted as listed, but I did remove the sellers’ personal info.
Here we go:
“Our much anticipated goldens, buffs, blk/tan and chocolate cocker spaniel puppies have arrived. Our cockers are only bred once a year to ensure dams and pups are in optimum health and temperment. These family raised dogs have been proven great temperment family dogs that love kids, cats and other dogs. Parents are on site. Pups will be Vet checked, dewormed, immunized (1st needle)and have thier own puppy pack and photo album inclulding pictures of parents and grandparents. Puppies will be ready to go November 26, 2012, an early Christmas Present!
A $200.00 deposit is required to hold your puppy. Serious enquires, thank you.”
There were 15 puppies in total from two litters, and that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Except – I found another ad worded almost the same way with the same spelling mistakes, and listed on the same date, and it announced 11 puppies. Same person? If yes, we are talking 26 puppies and that are too many dogs.
The pups are advertised as purebreds, but it doesn’t make a reference if they are registered – a requirement in Canada. Dogs advertised as purebreds must be registerable.
The birth/when ready dates also raised my eyebrows: The ad gives one birth date - were both litters born on the same day? Or is one litter younger? To the best of my knowledge, Kijiji pulls ads when pups are sold too young, but some breeders cleverly circumvent that by advertising the older litter, and when the potential buyer shows up all those pups “have just been sold”, and they push the younger ones before they should be leaving their mom and littermates.
I also don’t like the reference to Christmas. Life animals should never be advertised as Christmas presents.
Compare it with this ad and you’ll see what I am talking about:
“Beautiful Registered Purebred Chihuahua Puppies.
The estimated adult weighs for these puppies is between 3.0 to 5.0 pounds full grown.
All pics are taken close up, zommed in and cropped, they really are tiny.
Both parents are Registered Purebred Chihuahuas and are on site to meet you.
Litter #1 Born October 5 2012... They will be ready to go to their new homes on Novermber 30 2012.
Pic #1 -- Male Puppy **SOLD**
Pic #2 -- Female #3
Pic #3 -- Female #2
Pic #4 -- Female #1
Pic #5 -- Female #4 **SOLD**
Litter #2 Born October 12 2012... will be ready to go their new homes on December 7 2012.
Pic #6 -- Male#1 White Male with Blue Eyes
Pic #7 -- Male #2 Blue Male with Blue Eyes.
Pic #8 -- Female
They come with:
Veterinary exam and health records
1st set of shots
One Year Written Health Guarantee
And a gift bag full of things you will need to get you and your puppy started at home."
Here is an ad that looks to rehome an adult dog: “Female dog for sale. Very well trained. She is an excellent gaurd dog and I do not want to part with her but I am pregnant and she should NOT be around small children. She is very faithfull and needs lots of attention and exercise. Only serious inquiries please.”
Big red flag: “NOT be around small children”. Unless someone lives insulated from people, there is always a chance that a dog will meet small children. That’s how the human race keeps it going. This dog should not be sold on Kjiji, but evaluated by an expert and adopted to an experienced home who knows how to work with those issues – and knows how to manage the dog properly. A few days ago, another incident of a child bitten in the face made the news here, and although I don't know the details in that case, ads like that are part of the problem: someone with minimal dog experience and knowledge might read “very well trained”, and expect exactly that.
Other red flags:
“Excellent guard dog” – or potential liability?
“Faithful” - or protective?
“Needs lots of attention and exercise” - what does the dog do when she doesn’t get it?
As a general rule, I wish laypeople would consult with a professional before they acquire an adult dog they spot online. I know, there are great dogs and people out there, but owners, even if they are honest about the dog’s issues and quirks like this one absolutely appears to be, rarely comprehend the full magnitude and are typically also not experienced in selecting an appropriate new home. Furthermore, nothing more than handing money over is required of a dog owner in our lands.
For profit breeders don’t care where their pups are placed.
Layowners often do care, but don’t have the necessary skill.
It is the dog that suffers most when placed in the wrong home, and some go through several before they end up in rescue, or are euthanized.
A statement I found in many ads: “Loves kids, dogs and cats.” Yes, some breeds are more or less predisposed to like people, be tolerant of small hands, and cohabitate peacefully with other dogs, but no breed is genetically programmed to love all other beings automatically and without work put in by breeder and owner.
There are exceptions, but most 8-week-old puppies don’t have the guts to object aggressively to handling or attack the adult dog next door, but there is no guaranty that it will be so when he is 8 months old.
Here are more concrete ads:
“Please to announce our newest litter of Comfort Retrievers.
Males and Females Available
Last 4 pictures are a few of our Grown Comfort Retrievers
This is a breed (cross between a Golden Retriever and Cocker Spaniel) that we decided to try about 4 years ago. We loved the Golden Retriever but wanted something a bit smaller. We attempted to breed resulting in a 40-50 lb Golden Retriever looking family pet. Our goal is to achieve a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Size.
Our Comfort Retrievers have the temperament and disposition of the Golden Retriever. We have not received any feedback on Health Concerns - they tend to be a very healthy Pet. They LOVE the water.
Our newest available litter of Comfort Retrievers were born September 24th and will be ready for rehoming between November 12th and 19th. In this litter we have 4 girls and 5 boys available. We already have a small waiting list for this litter but still room to add on.”
There are no huge red flags, other than backyard breeding, and I hope they don’t charge pure breed prices for a mutt by design. Just to be clear, I have nothing against backyard breeders or mixed breed dogs - I live with the most wonderful one since more than a decade. What I don't like are amateurs putting a steep price tag on their special creations.
"Tend to be healthy" is a bit ambiguous. Are they, or aren’t they? Before the breeders continue breeding, they should make sure they are.
The ad claims that the dogs have the disposition of a golden retriever. Genetics taught us that offspring has the DNA of both parents. Chances are that sooner or later there will be some cocker disposition creeping in. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it should be mentioned in the ad, because golden people will expect a small golden.
For comparison a springer spaniel ad:
“SPCA inspected/approved. CKC Permanent registered kennels and award winning breeders of 30 years .Pups are extensively socialized, immunized, hunting/field training started,home raised and come with 8 year health guarantees against hereditary diseases.Also, pups are lovingly and humanely raised with tails/dewclaws left intact. Parents are CKC CHAMPIONS, OFA,CERF clear and DNA tested for serious eye problems. Parents and some grandparents are available to meet. References available. Note: pups are offered for sale to approved homes only; interview, home visit and references requested. Litters due early November and will be available for homing for the end of January 2013. Show breeding stock from either litter price may be available ; breeders will provide mentorship and guidance with purchase of this quality of puppy. Reduced price to homes on fixed incomes or to hunting/working and animal therapy placements.”
See the difference? And pay attention to the pups staying with the breeder for 10-12 weeks. I also liked that there are grandparents on sight - a sign that they don't get rid of older dogs that are not monetarily useful any longer.
My hunch is that these breeders make good money, and deservedly so, because they obviously prioritize the dogs’ welfare.
Check this one out:
“We are proudly the FIRST breeder to be certified by the Humane Society for ethical breeding practices! You can see the certification badge on our website, and please think twice about purchasing from non-certified breeders!
We breed quality CKC Registered Labrador Retriever puppies and match them with good homes and families. We are committed to the welfare of our labs, and place an emphasis on responsible breeding practices.
Each lab puppy comes with:
5 Year / LIFETIME Genetic Warranty,
LIFETIME Breeder Support, and
LIFETIME Return Policy.
- This ensures you are happy and secure in the decision to purchase your next family member, and guarantees both us and you that none of the dogs we produce will end up in an animal shelter.
- All our breeding dogs are screened for 8 different genetic health problems (Hips, Elbows, Eyes, Cardiac, PRA, EIC, CNM, DM). Please read the "Genetic Health 101" page of our website for more information.
- All pups go home at 8 weeks of age. They have basic housetraining, and are microchipped, dewormed four times, and have their first TWO sets of vaccinations. This saves you an expensive vet visit, and ensures the immunity of your puppy when you take it home. Six weeks of free pet insurance is also included. All these details ensure you are delivered a healthy puppy, as we endeavour to minimize visits to the vet over the lifetime of your companion.
- We have an open kennel policy, so upon visiting us, you will be given a full tour and get to meet all our dogs. We believe it is important you see first hand that you are dealing with reputable breeders who care about their dogs.
- We have an assortment of different lab puppies available at different times each year. Listed below are what we have available in the next few months:
- We have litters with all colours expected for the fall and winter. So ask us, or see our website for details! Please contact us in advance of the time you're looking for a companion, as we have a busy deposit list.
We aim to retire our breeding dogs by 4 years old, and we usually have opportunities for the adoption of some great older dogs. We also have some great options to foster older pups and younger adults. Check out our website or contact us for details!”
It sounds like these breeders do it all right, but I still would not buy from them. They have too many puppies for my liking - too many dogs period, indicated that they have options to foster older pups and younger adults. Kennel raised? It doesn’t say, but my hunch is yes.
Rescue groups can’t find enough foster homes – a for-profit breeder asking for a foster home puts a bad taste in my mouth.
And I wonder why they retire them so young? Are they worn out at age 4?
“Border Collie, Kelpie and Dingo cross pups for sale. Parents are excellent cattle working dogson a large cattle ranch and pups have started to show some instinct as they play with each other. Father came from the States and mother is a registered purebred. Please email with any questions. 2 males, 3 females.”
I admit that if these pups were closer, I’d be really keen on having a look, but they shouldn’t be advertised online. The drive they probably have most laypeople can’t handle, and the risk is that the ad attracts folks who don’t know much about dogs, but are intrigued by the Dingo part. There are members of society who crave social attention, and seek to possess something the Jones’ don’t have. Years ago I had clients who bought two male littermate wolf hybrids for their teenage son. Guess what? It didn't work out.
Here is another example:
“Hunting Labradors for sale
Bred for hunting, father registerable American chocolate lab -mother from hunting stock American black lab,
1st vaccinations, family friendly, raised with kids, love water and swimming, males and females, these pups need room to run, NOT city dogs, Very playful, great for family pets or working dogs.”
City folks will read the ad, and will he turn them away when they come with a checkbook? I have met working stock Labradors and they did not make great family pets. They had a one-track mind: working in the field with very low motivation for anything else.
And one more:
“Taking reservations for the next litter of Great Pyrenees pups. Ready for their new home mid Jan 2013. Pups will be well socialized with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and people.
Both dogs come from a pedigree of good working stock. Sire parents are reg with AKC and from Colorado. Dam works on a sheep farm. She is hip certified. Father will be when 2 yrs old.
Great Pyrenees are very smart gentle giants who bond with their family and very laid back and easy going. They do need a fenced in area and daily exercise. These pups will make great family pets or superior livestock guardian dogs. They will be vet checked, de-wormed several time, have their first vaccination, and micro chipped.”
People reading that ad see “great family pets”, without understanding the breed's needs. I have had two clients with Great Pyrenees recently, and one told me that she wished she’d done more research, but believed the online ad, fell in love with the face, and got the pup. Both dogs, as superior
livestock-guardians, are hypersensitive to sound, and motion, and both live in a suburban area with lots of noise that perpetually overstimulates them, and they react to.
Another red flag is “that the mother is hip certified, but the father will be when 2 years old”. The father should not have been used for stud prior to being checked. Just to make it clear, he will be checked for hips, not necessarily certified.
Here are two ads for Rottweilers:
“The Rottweiler is good-natured, placid in basic disposition,very devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work and make the Most Amazing Family Dogs
Our family has loved and owned Rottweilers for about 15 years now
We are by no means a large breeder and have no intentions of ever becoming one. We breed for Quality not Quantity Our top priority is ONLY breed dogs with excellent Pedigree's Health and fantastic Temperaments. All our dogs and puppies have beautiful Square heads and dark mahogany markings they are extremely Affectionate and their puppies are raised in our home as part of the Family This makes them extremely confident, sociable and happy with outstanding temperaments.
We welcome you to come visit our Home and meet our wonderful dogs. The Sires and Dam Hips and Elbows are OFA Excellent & Good, All are Dogs are health certified for eyes,heart, thyroid, hips and elbows.
If you are interested in a Quality puppy Whether you are looking for Show, Work or Family Companion/Soul Mate, we have laid the foundation for a well rounded, stable puppy to become everything that you are looking for.”
If I’d be looking for a Rottie, this breeder would be on the top of my list. No red flags. I like that they use the word “confident”, understanding well that confident dogs are less prone to anxiety issues. And I like that they say that they “laid the foundation” cause that is all a breeder can do. The rest is in the hands of the owner, and if he messes up, even the most carefully bred pup can develop behavioral problems. But more likely than not, these breeder will ensure that the pups are placed in the right homes.
Compare it to this one:
“Hello Everyone. I have 5 adorable Rottweiler puppies available on November 27th 3 boys and 2 girls. They have their tails, i couldnt get them done because its illegal in the province . They will have first shots and health check as well as deworming up to 8 weeks.The Parents are my Pets not breeding dogs i own both. I brought the father up from ontario with me when i moved here . The father is about 90lbs and the mother is about 85. The mother is still growing she is only 11 months as it was her first heat. Im looking for forever homes for these little guys, and would like a 200$ deposit to hold them until the 27th please contact me with any questions.”
No words. Well, not very many. I don’t think this person is malicious, just absolutely clueless and I hope no buyers are found: If s/he can’t sell the pups and has to figure out what to do with them, hopefully s/he takes measures to prevent that the female is knocked up every time she is in heat. But what are the chances. And what are the chances this person can distinguish a good home from a bad one.
For the finish an ad that should be pulled because the pups are only 4 weeks old when the breeder deems them ready. “Just got a new litter on Oct 5th, I have 10 puppies, 1 female 400$(SOLD) and 9 males 200$ They'll be ready Oct 30th. If approved to have one of my pupps, down payment of 150$ is needed. You will have the option to have the dog have his first shots or you will be able to do that yourself (contract will have to be signed if you choose that option to have the shots not done) If your interested please email for breed, etc. Thanks”
If approved? My hunch is s/he’ll approve anyone who hands over a 150 dollar deposit for a 200 dollar pup. Quite the down payment. And why doesn’t s/he advertise the breed?
As you see, one of the pups is already sold, which means that there are indeed people who hand money over to a person such as this one.
Online has become the convenient venue for all sorts of people, including Pet Stores - to my dismay I saw a Petland ad, to sell their wares.
The result is that many pups, and older dogs, with a plethora of physical and emotional problems are sold to unsuspecting people; people who look for a pet and end up with a project. We are not talking about a lemon car or scratched kitchen table when the deal goes wrong, but a living, feeling being meant to be a family member for a decade or longer, and who will suffer if denied that.
For that reason, and even though I found seemingly responsible breeders also, I am still dead-set against dogs, any animal for that matter, advertised and sold online.
Finding individual breeders, going to dog shows and talking to people who own the breed you’re interested in, searching and researching rescue groups, visiting shelters, are the first steps of good dog ownership, and I wonder when people acquire a dog the easiest way possible, what they’ll do when life with that very same dog presents hurdles.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
In a little more than a week Cesar Millan will be in Halifax, and this is my last post on that topic, at least for a while. This one wasn’t planned until I went through my material recently and found a bunch of notes I made when I watched his shows, and read his written words.
Millan’s devotees often accuse his critics of ignorance. Yes, I am sure there are people who base their opinion on a few isolated YouTube clips, but that is not the case here. I watched 4 complete seasons, read all his books, and several articles and interviews, and I can tell you that there was rarely an episode or chapter that didn’t irritate me.
Millan makes many statements he has no proof of and that are contrary to what biologists, ethologists and other behavioral scientists say. The list long, and I selected only a few - the ones that particularly stuck out for me because he repeats them often, or because they are so… well laughable actually if dogs wouldn’t be harmed in the process.
Here they are: The things he says - and my comments.
Work with calm-assertive energy – When a choke or prong collar, or 20-cent rope, is placed around a dog’s neck we are dealing with physical control, not mental energy. Believe your eyes, not your ears.
The rope and choke collar is not only reserved for hardened, misbehaving dogs, but he also advises it for puppies' boundary training. You mean, his calm-assertive energy doesn’t even work with a puppy?
Millan’s explanation that he only shows owners how to use the tool they are already using correctly, an explanation balanced trainers frequently use as well, doesn’t fly with me either. Dog professionals have the duty to determine what's amiss that causes the dog to behave badly, not to adjust to the method and tools the person wants. We are influencers, not just informers, and should act on the dog’s behalf.
Despite Millan's rhetoric, the tool he uses matters most, otherwise he would use a normal buckle collar and have the leash loose at all times.
Millan is correct, though, when he says that one should not follow the dog’s energy, except he breaks his own rule each time when he react's to the dog's aggressive displays and pins him.
Biting with fingers to create relaxation – Really, who believes that? The last time I was bitten I felt anything but relaxed. Dogs he “bites” aren’t relaxed either, evidenced when they stress pant or have large round whale eyes.
Dogs live in the moment - Correct, but that only means that they don’t obsess about the past, not that the past doesn’t affect their behavior. Whatever is relevant is stored in a brain area where memory sits, but also where emotional learning takes place.
The more of an impact an experience has, the more it is memorized and can trigger a future action for a very long time, sometimes for life. Panic and extreme fear behaviors often begin with trauma: A person, or dog, experiences a perceived worst-case scenario and survives, but the fear stays imbedded in the brain - and also what got the organism out of the situation.
Yes, dogs live in the moment, but they do anticipate future events based on cues that predict that event. The doorbell ringing predicts the visitor and elicits barking; the leash and keys predict a car ride to the park and elicits excitement; the nail clippers predict getting the nails clipped and elicits fear.
If dogs wouldn’t have memory, they could not remember learned commands, who their friends and adversaries are, that this or that neighbor owns a cat, or what a veterinarian does.
When dogs greet, each one takes his turn to sniff the other’s butt and genital region – Some dogs do, and some don’t. Studies showed that olfactory information gathering often starts at the head and proceeds to the tail end of the dog, and that male dogs are more likely to sniff the anogenital region than female dogs, and that the dog that is being sniffed is most often the one who terminates the greeting.
We shouldn't manipulate a dog's body into a position we think is appropriate. Sometime next year I’ll write a post about it.
When you bring a new puppy into the house, carry her by the scruff and let her down with the back legs first – For crying out loud, most people don’t deal with a feral pup who was scruff-carried by its mother to a safer hideout. We deal with one who was lifted by the breeder’s hands, in and out of the whelping box, to the weight scale, to the car and veterinarian...
By the time a pup leaves the breeder for a new home, she should be plenty imprinted to human handling, including being carried. Suddenly being lifted by the scruff will frighten a pup more than anything.
A pup will not pee at a place where she already peed – False. It is the opposite. That is exactly why house training is more difficult if the accident area isn’t cleaned up to the satisfaction of the dog’s nose.
All mothers are calm-assertive - Wrong. Some are stressed and some are calm. Some are too strict and some too lenient. And that is especially true for human manipulated dog mothers who can be malnourished and anxious when her humans treat her as a money making machine or neglect her needs.
On the same note, puppies are not born a as clean slate either, ready to be programmed by us, but come with a genetic predisposition, and are exposed to their mother’s stress hormones when in utero.
A dog must always be in a calm-submissive state – The expectation that a dog never expresses fear, anxiety, discomfort, excitement or frustration, lifelong and regardless what kind of pressure he is under, is so unrealistic that it baffles me why otherwise rational adults would believe that it is possible without creating side effects.
Dogs listen to discipline, but not punishment – Discipline and punishments are intertwined: Discipline is the enforcement of set rules through punishment, and dogs surely listen to punishment when it is severe enough.
Millan is adding something that feels unpleasant to the dog as a consequence to what he (Millan) perceives as misbehavior with the intent to curb it, and that is positive punishment.
What emotional state the punisher is in is irrelevant. I get a kick out of the idiotic claim forceful trainers use that as long as the person is not angry, the punishment dished out won’t cause harm. Tell that to someone who experienced pain at the hand of another. The lab rat's scientist is definitely not emotional, yet can shock it into learned helplessness and aggression.
When a pup/dog arrives at a new home, nobody is allowed to make eye contact and touch the dog – What a dog needs most in a new home, right after he had to leave mom-dog and littermates, is social acceptance. If no one acknowledges his existence and does not reciprocate his offered eye contact, he learns in a blink moment that there is no belonging and information available in this group – and he’ll look elsewhere to have his needs facilitated.
Discipline comes before affection, and affection is only given if the dog is in a calm-submissive state - Nature’s affection is not a reward that reinforces good behavior, but something that is freely given as a sign of belonging, acceptance and comfort.
New Caledonian crows are masters in tool making and the savants amongst birds. Their skills are unmatched in the non-human animal world, and researchers at the University of Auckland suggest that the reason why they are so exceptional is because of the care elders provide their offspring.
During a 3-year-long field study, lead author Jennifer C. Holzhaider observed that baby New Caledonian crows enjoy an extended childhood in a stable and loving home, with elders that lead by example: They are persistent and patient, apply positive reinforcement, and indulge even near adult offspring once in a while. The crows live in a close family structure and feed, groom and touch one another, and share tools.
It appears, that it is affection, affection, affection and little discipline that brings out the best in these avian geniuses. I believe that the relationship we have with our dogs should resemble exactly that peaceful, harmonious and mutually rewarding coexistence. And we, the leaders by virtue of our species, have to set the stage.
On December 04, the day Millan will have his corporate-sponsored event, a panel of local dog experts are donating their time and hold a FREE Q&A session at Dalhousie University. We, too, will be discussing problematic behaviors, but will suggest solutions that are safe and strengthen the relationship with the dog.
For more info, check out: http://www.facebook.com/events/461110740601942/
If you’re not the Facebook type, the location is: Scotia Bank Auditorium - 6135 University Drive in Halifax. Doors open at 7.00 p.m. and the event begins at 7.30.
Hope to see you there.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Dog trainers who intentionally inflict pain and discomfort to influence a dog’s behavior often refer to Nature’s Rules as an explanation. They argue that Mother Nature punishes missteps, misdeeds, mistakes, and hence we must adopt that template or risk that our pooch turns into an unruly, and perhaps even aggressive, menace.
True, Mother Nature and Mother Dog’s consequences are not always pleasant. Life in itself isn’t. But how does that relate to our life with dogs? Should we emulate Nature?
To answer those questions, we must have a closer look at the results when Nature punishes: The efficacy and fallout.
When we lived in Calgary, one of our favorite areas was Bowmont Park, an interconnected path system straddling the Bow River. We ventured there several times a week, alone or teamed up with friends, all year around. No kind of weather could keep us away for long. Because our dogs are generally very responsive to us, they were mostly off the leash.
Once, during early spring, young Aussie shepherd Davie trailed along the still partly frozen shoreline, spotted a duck on the river, and charged for it. Thankfully the ice didn’t break, but it made an eerie cracking sound that scared Davie so much that she came flying back to me - and for the rest of her life not as much as looked at a duck. One incident led to complete avoidance… of fowl.
The unquestionable intent of a punishment is that something decreases, or ideally ceases altogether for now and for always, and that is exactly what happened here. Equally undisputable is the fact that the connections a dog makes with an unpleasant sensation is not necessarily congruent with what actually happens. In the above example, the only thing Davie linked with the scary sound was the obviously very powerful bird, but neither the ice nor her behavior, which means that she continued wanting to chase wildlife other than ducks, including along iced shorelines.
Nature’s punishments, you see, can be a bit sloppy in eliminating the specifics we’d like to see eliminated.
Outcomes are more precise when another animal deliberately delivers a punishment. Our Newf Baywolf, again when young, had issues with certain dogs and always growled at a female Amstaff we occasionally met at Bowmont Park whenever she came too close to me. Nothing I did curbed that behavior for long, but keep in mind that I wasn’t as dog-wise then as I am now, and finally the Staffie, typically very sweet and tolerant, had it and chased Bay halfway up a hill. He never growled at her again, and for the rest of his life avoided her. The punishment she dished out worked as she intended – for her, and only for her. Bay continued to growl at some other dogs, until we dealt with the issue properly and all dogs became good-stuff announcers.
Last year, at Shubie Park in Dartmouth – our “Bowmont Park” since our move, a Labrador retriever was dumb enough to mount Will. She ejected him in a split second and he got the hint, but I saw him mounting another dog a little later when our paths crossed again.
Nature’s punishments, you see, can successfully eliminate a behavior, but not necessarily in all contexts; it continues elsewhere.
Truth is that Nature’s successes are limited, and sometimes don’t work at all. One aspect that determines whether a consequence is a deterrent is the intensity of the drive.
The cracking sound the ice made was enough to stop Davie from chasing ducks for the rest of her life, but ducks weren’t that big of a deal for her to begin with. Had it been a cat on the river, or even a ball, I am not sure that the result would have been the same.
Baywolf, forever curious and the most social dog I ever met, was so motivated to investigate and greet that being quilted by a porcupine never stopped him from saying hello again. And no, he was not a dumb dog. His memory served him well in other situations, but with this one his hardwired spirit to socialize superseded the pain he experienced.
Will, on the other hand, was never quilted but witnessed when Baywolf was, and she never approached a porcupine, but returned to me whenever she spotted one, and also respectfully stays away from raccoons.
When punishment is effective, dished out by Nature or humans doesn’t make a difference, avoidance is the definite result. That is the whole idea: that the recipient doesn't do whatever it was he was doing again.
When we punish our dog, it is avoidance we create, but what he will avoid, what connections he makes, is impossible to accurately predict. Will he avoid repeating the action he was punished for? Will he avoid any or all details that were present when he felt discomfort? Will he avoid his human?
Trainers who use Nature’s Template as justification to inflict pain and discomfort forget about the social relationship between dog and owner. Yes, mom-dog might correct her pup, but mom-dog doesn’t plan for a future relationship that needs to function; pups rarely live with their biological mother after 10-20 weeks of age.
People do envision an ongoing and mutually rewarding friendship, but that’s not going happen when one is a deliberate and repeated punisher the other will try to avoid as a result.
Let’s say my 5-year-old child is riding her bicycle recklessly. I could intentionally give her a fall-causing shove to teach her to be careful and heed to my warnings, and I bet she would learn her lesson very quickly, but she also wouldn’t trust me anymore, would she? And how would she feel about other activities that include me? It is the same with a dog.
Punishments lead to avoidance and escape. There are dogs that run away every chance they have, and some stay away. “Lost” on purpose. In Nature, every adult animal has the freedom to leave a situation that’s not working for him.
Another escape route is to take the punisher out, which also happens in Nature. In any given situation an animal might retreat or defend itself, and when a dog feels strong and confident enough, a fight can ensue, and bites with real teeth, not a claw-hand or knuckles. Furthermore, when his fight reaction is reinforced, so when the person or other dog backs off, threats and bites can become a habitual way to deal with the environment. Punishments train aggression.
When we choose Nature as our template, we take a gamble. We can’t predict before we start if our envisioned canine companion will: Disconnects from us, aggress against us, or becomes so stressed that he is perpetually guarded, hypersensitive and over-reactive to any stimulus.
Another natural and therefore very possible, and indeed common, side effect is displaced aggression; hostility against anyone perceived weaker.
In Nature, an elder might correct a young animal’s out-of-line actions. Through that, the pup learns self-restraint and deference, but what he also learns is who in the group he needs to be careful of and who he bully in return; who he is more powerful over. Of course, that is also something we do not want in our social group.
It is unacceptable that the dog we correct beats up the kitty, but Nature is not one-sided. The traditional and balanced trainers who excuse their punitive methods with “Nature’s Template” are one-sided: they punish, but fail to acknowledge all possible outcomes. As it is human nature, they take the part that fits their purpose, and don’t mention that there is nothing natural about applying an isolated aspect of complex and dynamic interactions in the wild. They miss the point that balance is when one accepts all facets of Nature, including the dog avoiding, distressing, leaving or aggressing; including the part that Nature kills or ostracizes the one who jeopardizes the survival of the pack. Millan’s red zone dogs Nature would not tolerate. Only humans keep someone alive within their social group who causes ongoing conflict.
We don’t behave like Nature, but use it whenever it suits us. We claim that the dog is a primal animal and we ought to treat him as Nature would, but demand that he adjusts to our refined human expectations.
We have a whole set of rules that are very unnatural - and I discussed several in previous posts: we disallow freedom to communicate, to sniff, to move at will, to get excited and so on.
We don’t permit a dog to defend a resource, but that, too, happens in Nature. According to renowned wolf expert L. David Mech, every wolf regardless of rank has an ownership zone around his mouth he has the right to defend. We want our dogs to release things to us.
In Nature, attacking an interloper is a desired trait. Millan and alike punish the dog who barks and growls at a stranger who enters home territory.
Nature doesn’t micromanage and demand precision obedience. Dogs don’t care if another breaks a down stay or rather chases a squirrel than come on recall. We do care about that.
Nature doesn’t set an animal up for failure just to have the chance to punish it. That is what traditional trainers do when they “proof” the dog. They set a trap the dog innocently walks into, orchestrate situations that guarantee that he will make a mistake, and inflict the unpleasant consequence when he does. It would be like a grade school teacher giving a right and wrong spelling of a word, and then punish the pupil when she spells it incorrectly, so that she never, ever forgets to do it right. Chances are it works, but the costs are easy to comprehend. For a dog who falls in the hands of such trainers, everything he learns plays out that way.
Except battery farmed food and research animals, owned dogs are the only other ones prevented from living out their intrinsic drives. Regarding the former, any person with a thread of empathy feels bad, but justifies it as a sad but necessary requirement so that we can eat and treat illnesses. With dogs, masses believe trainers who allege that the coercive stifling of natural behaviors is Nature’s Template, and that it will lead to a happy and balanced animal. Not only that: The guy who demonstrates how to do it effectively is glorified on TV, supported by big business, and faithfully followed by millions of dog owners and wannabe trainers.
In Nature, life is ruff sometimes, relationships transient and the outcome of punitive consequences unpredictable. Nature doesn't care if the individual lives and prospers, or dies or suffers.
Our relationship with dogs is a different one. We want consistency and permanency. Most owners don’t want any of the side effects. They want the opposite: instead of detachment, companionship; instead of anxiety, even-temperedness; instead of aggression, friendliness.
To get that, they must adopt a different template as their guide than Nature’s.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Wolves in their natural environment, so not captive ones, function as a pack. They hunt cooperatively and raise their offspring together. There is group cohesion because there is common interest, and the breeding pair sets the direction not so much because they fought their way to top position, but because they are older and more experienced - the pack consists of parents with several generations of offspring.
The wolf pack is not as static as once believed. Internationally recognized wolf expert L. David Mech states that every wolf, once an adult, has the freedom to disperse, mate and form a new pack, and many do. Furthermore, a wolf who doesn’t benefit the group runs the risk of being ousted or killed.
However, that revised information is not common knowledge. The belief that wolves are hardwired status challengers, and that it is the physically strongest one that prevails and keeps the others in check, and that the same is true for dogs since wolves are dogs’ ancestors, is so widespread that even non-dog-owning folks believe it.
It is also what Cesar Millan accepts as true. In “A Member of the Family” he writes that canids in the wild arrange themselves in smoothly functioning packs, and if a dog misbehaves or aggresses, it is because the pack leader has weak energy the subordinate recognizes and takes advantage of. Handily, he has a number of dominance displays up his sleeve the weak human ought to apply to demote the canine ladder climber a few rungs, but warns not to repeat it at home.
In any case, just because Millan says something and masses believe it, doesn’t mean that it is so. A three-year study of feral and stray dogs in Italy revealed social behaviors that are not at all wolfish – or packish.
The normal adult group size was 3-6, but there was a high mortality rate and new dogs were frequently recruited to keep the number stable. In other words, only the number of adult dogs was stable, the make-up dynamic; by the end of the 3 years only one dog of the original group remained.
When the optimal size was reached, outsiders were aggressively driven away, but there was no aggression within the group, and there was no animosity observed against other dogs on the garbage dump feeding sites. Only the home resting area was defended, not the roaming range, or food.
The dogs in the group had preferred associates and sometimes roamed with a buddy, but each one also spent time alone. There was no obvious pack leader.
There also wasn’t a breeding pair. All females mated and preferred familiar males to the strongest ones. Since the stud, unlike daddy-wolf, neither protects nor feeds the brood, strength is irrelevant.
Mom-dogs whelped away from the group, and stayed away for 4-5 months. The group did not help raise the pups, but stayed in loose contact with the female.
After the pups were weaned, they followed their mom to the feeding sites - neither she, nor any of the group’s adults, regurgitated food.
Only about 25% of the pups stayed with group.
The observations of this study align with others made around the world. Feral and stray dogs universally:
Do not form hierarchical packs, but loosely and transitory groups, and/or roam with a buddy, and/or alone.
Females breed often and with every male they choose, and are on their own raising the brood.
Unlike wolves, dogs don’t hunt cooperatively, but scavenge independently. Some avoid humans and adjust feeding to times when people aren’t in the vicinity, for example at dawn and dusk. Such was the case with our feral born Will, who was first spotted by humane society volunteers outside of Calgary. She and her 4 littermates were a guesstimated 10 weeks old, they traveled with mom-dog but no other ones, and all of them were so apprehensive that they couldn’t be trapped, not even with smelly wet cat food, but had to be tracked and cornered in their home-base hideout. And it's hideout, not dugout. The feral dog study found that the dogs did not dig dens, but moms-to-be used already existing cavities to whelp.
Strays are often less elusive. I observed non-owned dogs Greece and Southern Spain who solicited food from tourists, even though they were repeatedly shooed away by locals. They never jumped and stole food, and there are accounts aplenty of bolder strays that do, but the ones I observed didn’t. I also didn’t see any aggression, not against people or each other. They just hung out where tourists were, where they experienced morsels being tossed their way.
In Chalkidiki, a mom-dog and her litter followed me to dinner for a week, and in Andalusia a large blond dog arrived at the hotel pool each day when I had my lunch. Once I understood his pattern, I bought lunch for the both of us, and sometimes the hotel manager’s purebred Old English sheepdog would join in – both dogs intact males, no aggression.
So, an unchanging linear hierarchical pack, and the dominance that comes with it, is about as unnatural as it gets regarding dogs that are not directly manipulated by people. That is not how self-governing dogs arrange themselves.
The relevant and important question is if that changes when we eliminate autonomy and make dogs our dependents. When we include a dog in our social setup, don’t we function like a pack? Isn’t the owned dog a pack animal then, if not by nature, by adaptation?
Well yes, although I dislike the word pack in that context. Humans who live together, share space and purpose, are called a family, circle of friends, sports team, focus group, school class, organization, but never pack. And owned dogs live with people, not the other way around, so my dog is a family member. But that is just semantics and rather trivial. What we have to understand, and that is crucial, is that the moment we acquire a dog, he has no option but to assimilate and become a functioning part of our intimate social group. At that point, the dog needs someone who teaches him how to: how he fits in, like members of any group need someone who outlines the direction. That instills safety in the newcomer, and group.
In the dog/human composition, it is the person who is the leader by virtue of species.
The ambition to lead humans is a choice. Many people are perfectly content to dabble away and let others make the important, and sometimes tough, decisions. In our relationship with dogs, there is no choice. The dog has lost independence and became a dependent, relying entirely on his people to provide for his needs. Like you would need a roadmap how to function successfully in a foreign land or culture, the dog needs directions how to access resources, how to gain social acceptance, how to feel secure - safe, and how to deal with stimuli that are part of his environment.
It is a no-brainer that that level of dependency makes the dog the one family member who is exactly NOT dominant and in charge. You are, and your dog knows it.
Forget and forgo the idiotic and damaging dominance rituals Millan and alike prescribe. Forced submission and physical power displays emotionally paralyzes the timid by nature dog, and provokes aggression in the confident one. We instill distress, and foster competition in a species programmed to orient to humans and be solicitous.
Dogs are not pack animals, or perhaps even innately social ones, but they are hardwired to be able to form close and permanent social relationships, which is what we're banging on when we invite a pooch to share our life’s journey. Studies showed that dogs look at humans for information; wolves don’t. Dogs are food, but also social opportunists. They are perhaps the only, other than human, animal who can feel more comfortable living with another species than their own.
Far from being naturally dominant, the dog is a natural follower. Remember that puppies follow their mother to where the food is? Following who facilitates basic needs is hardwired in dogs; they pay attention to whoever is important.
Attention is an offered behavior and has nothing to do with rank, but facilitation. Once we earned that attention, all we have to do is teach behaviors that please us the pooch can use to get what pleases him. In other words, the dog learns to access what motivates him through cooperation, and once these behaviors are habitual, no further leading is necessary - unless the situation changes, at which point the dog who has authentic group identity, feels bonded and trusts, will seek information from his human and follow his lead.
A pack, any social group, shares space and has common purpose. One does not become a pack leader by entering someone else’s home, pinning the dog or forcing him with a 20-cent rope to trot behind. Millan’s “pack” is nothing more than an arrangement of individual dogs coerced to avoid a certain set of behaviors when he is in the vicinity. That’s all. His is a relationship based on dominance and forced submission, and indeed requires what he preaches: to be on top of it all the time, to always be calm-assertive.
How tedious and impractical a relationship with an animal who is by nature not hierarchical, but programmed to form a cooperative close social bond and live in harmony within group.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I want to share with you an email that landed in my inbox, one of many similar ones, by the way. Here it is:
“I own wolf dogs and if you are not the alpha, they take over. A stern voice or glance makes my dogs go to the ground. I would never hit them, however. I will snarl, stare and let them know I am the dominant of the pack. I have also neutered and spayed them because my husband and I are the only breeding pair in this pack. We have also started showing them that our son has a higher place than them in the pack. My male tries to be the dominant one, but has never successfully won. Nor will we let him. I am alpha, he is a pack dog and nothing else.”
Here is my response:
The author believes that she has a functional pack because the way she and her husband relate with the wolf dogs follows Nature's Rules. Like many, she's been misguided.
In nature, the social climbing male could and would leave and form his own pack.
In nature, the existing alpha would always have to be on guard, and it appears that the author of this email also is.
In nature, no wolf is forced to submit to the next generation offspring, her son. Rank comes with seniority.
It appears, that her male wolf dog understands how nature works and hasn't authentically submitted. The sentence: “My male tries to be dominant but has never successfully won” implies that he continues to challenge, and that means that his humans have not convinced him that he is nothing but a pack dog.
To "never successfully won" I answer: So Far!
This sentence worries me. I see a real risk that if the owners have their backs turned, the male might try to take the weakest link out first - the child. And that risk is there regardless if the owners are actually accurate and the dog is dominant, or erroneous and he is anxious, frustrated and angry because of the way he is treated.
Posted by silvia4dogs at 6:56 AM
Friday, October 12, 2012
As part of his Canada Tour, the famous TV dog trainer Cesar Millan is coming to our province in December. In my next few posts, as a welcoming gesture, I will give you my take on key premises he is basing his methods on.
Planned are: The Migration Myth and how much exercise a dog really needs; Whether or not Dogs Are Pack Animals, and if I have enough time Mother Nature’s Rules and the twisted thinking that because a tree hurts us when we hit it means that we must inflict pain when our pooch does something we disagree with.
I’ll begin with Resource Aggression. A behavioral issue more than a premise, it is today’s topic nevertheless because of a couple of video clips that made the social media rounds a few weeks ago, because it is a common problem, and because many people, including some trainers and rescue folks, still address it confrontationally.
Dogs, as a species, are deferent to humans. I said that before, and am not the only one saying it. We have the big brains to decide dogs’ fate, the bank accounts to provide what they need and want, and the dexterity to impose our will onto them with the help of collars and leashes. For some 14.000 years dogs experienced us as direct or indirect food suppliers, and owned dogs are entirely at our mercy, depend on us for everything: food, water, safety, shelter, mental and physical stimulation. How much more dominant do you need to be?
If dogs are so deferent, you might argue, then why do some fiercely aggress against the very people who provide resources? Isn’t that dominance? Isn’t that proof that the dog feels in charge and needs to be demoted a few notches? No, not necessarily.
Resource aggression, in fact, is always rooted in fear – the fear of losing something. Although partly hardwired: resource possessiveness is nature’s survival and normal for all species, a dog who defensively guards food, stuff, space or himself often either experienced loss at the hands of humans (or dogs), or resource deprivation, or both.
If a dog is given access to something he considers valuable, or that is an existential necessity like food, and moments later challenged for the very same thing, he becomes distressed and defensive. The tension, the growling and snapping, are the expressions of it. Rather than a dominant disposition, intragroup aggression is human-induced.
The foundation can be laid by the breeder, so before the owners have access to their pup. Such was the case with one of my recent clients, new owners of a giant breed puppy they acquired from someone who removed, as a rule, the litters’ food after 5 minutes without concern if each pup was satiated. Circumstances warranted that my clients’ pup stayed with that breeder until she was 16 weeks old, which means that during her entire critical developmental period she experienced food scarcity. It beats me what the breeder aimed to accomplish. Teach the puppies to eat speedily? Like gorging is a good thing, especially for a deep-chested giant dog. Did he want to get the pups used to people taking food away? Acclimate them when they’re young so it wouldn’t be a problem later on? That is my hunch, but what a misguided idea.
True, repeated exposure and experiences can habituate a dog to stimuli or events, but regarding resources it doesn’t work that way. Think about it: Would you get used to someone stealing the tomatoes from your garden just because it happens every day? And realistically, tomatoes aren’t that important. Food, to a dog, is. Food is what money is to you: Survival. If someone would repeatedly pilfer your cash, you’d be more than a little annoyed. You’d be distressed, suspicious and defensive, and likely go to great lengths to stop it.
How do you think my clients’ now 24-week-old pup feels when people approach her food dish? Yeah! She is suspicious and defensive, but because she is in a new environment, young and not that confident yet, her signals are still subtle and mild. Considering though that she could reach an adult weight of 150 pounds, and that there are young children in the family, future and overt aggression over resources are a real risk. Luckily my clients recognized that and hired not one, but two positive experts to help them with all aspects of ownership, and I am confident they’ll be fine.
Food floats animals’ boat, and a dog can be protective not just over his meal, but also accidently dropped people food, garbage, the dish even when it’s empty, and the area where feeding takes place.
In addition, pretty much anything can be perceived as defend-worthy: a bone, toy or stick, a person, and space: the dog’s bed or yours, his crate, the couch, the car, the property and the home’s entrance points.
A dog who guards his food rarely only guards food, and conversely: just because a dog doesn’t guard food doesn’t automatically mean he won’t defend other things.
There is one important facet of aggression in association with resources that is often overlooked: The dog feeling unsafe. In other words, it might not be just the loss of a resource the dog is worried about, but his own hide.
My guess is that’s what happened between the dog Holly and Cesar Millan. Watch this video clip, brilliantly captioned by dog trainer Carol Byrnes http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=4655581307021 and you can see what I mean. Perhaps the initial issue was food related, but the first attack happened when Millan “tssted” and reached for her, and the second, the bite, when the pressure continued despite her appeasement signals. When Holly had no option to flee, she fought. Notice that the whole time she neither oriented to where the food was, nor did she try to dodge for it. The food wasn’t the issue any more; the man and his hand were.
Does force and confrontation work sometimes? Yes, it does. Every method works with some dogs, but with many it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, a nasty bite like the one we see on the clip is a possible result. Bites like that in an average home typically means a one-way ticket to the veterinarian.
Holly, though, didn’t get euthanized, at least not yet. You can see in this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yXE-fwI0SWU what happened next.
Holly doesn’t attack, and that is success, right? Not so fast. Notice that the context changed; Millan, this time, doesn’t rely on his calm-assertive energy that provoked the bite, but on his ever-ready rope he placed right behind Holly’s ears to give him absolute physical control. He corrected her a few times, and had she acted out, in his words he would have pulled her up. How far up I leave to your imagination, but my guess is front paws off the ground, which of course asphyxiates the dog.
We also don’t know what happened between the bite and rehab clips. Was she shocked, or muzzled and pinned, until she capitulated?
Plus, the Dog Whisperer used step-up stairs. He claims to bring the dog in a less dominant position while she eats, but methinks that it coincidentally, but conveniently, also provided a barrier between him and Holly at one point.
On a side note, watch Millan’s own dog, the pit bull Junior. At the beginning of the clip he does something wrong. What eludes me – all I can see is a dog who excitedly greets his human, but Millan disapproved and Junior responded with exaggerated submission. What does the world’s best dog trainer do? He says “No” and walks away. No what? No submit?
Natural deference and fear are two different things; a deferent dog still seeks social affiliation, a fearful one avoids it. Lets see what Junior does next: He picks up a ball. When my dogs find a ball, they bring it to me and solicit play. Millan’s dog lies a distance away and first gums it a bit, and then moves even farther away. He avoided his pack leader; wished no social interaction; is, in my opinion, fearful.
Back to Holly! Based on the second clip, would you say that she is cured of resource aggression? Well, she might behave with someone she has learned can overpower her, but my educated guess is that she might not be equally non-aggressive with every person, for example a child. A dog “cured” by force doesn’t trust, and a dog who doesn’t trust isn’t trustworthy. It is as simple as that.
Dogs are safe in every context only when they authentically feel resource security: have learned that people aren’t competitors and confronters, but resource providers, protectors and cooperators. Once a dog is convinced that his stuff is safe, and that he is safe, he won’t feel defensive any longer and the aggressive expressions disappear.
Here are some tips how to achieve that:
~ If food is the issue, vary the places where you feed, so that your dog doesn’t become possessive of a certain space.
~ Remove the empty food dish and food. If your dog is teased by its presence all day long, food, when it finally manifests in the dish, is a big deal. It is like having the world’s best chocolate cake in a locked class container in front of you. When you find the key, you are all psyched out and would snarl at anyone who comes near it, especially if there is not enough to share.
~ On that note, share your food. Good people food is better than most kibble, and food sharing is bonding. Don’t worry about your dog thinking he’s alpha. The giver has the power, not the receiver, so you actually score leadership points when your dog realizes what wonderful assets are under your control.
~ Although free feeding is not a viable option for everyone, a dog who experiences surplus is less likely to guard. One of my friends has food everywhere all day long, and never had a resource issue with her own dogs or her fosters, even the ones that came to her with food aggression issues.
~ Have several identical food bowls. Offer a lower value food and walk away with the higher value food, call the dog and hand it over. Repeat. You can have several bowls with different food, or you can increase the amount of the same food, so that each time your dog leaves his dish voluntarily to follow you, he gets tastier, or more, food.
~ Put most of your dog’s ration in the dish, release him to it, and walk away. While he eats, approach, toss a high value treat, and retreat. Gauge the distance carefully, because ideally you want to toss before the dog becomes defensive, but what you do is not contingent on his behavior. In other words, even if you misjudge and your dog growls, still toss and walk away. Don’t punish tension or a growl by removing the food. Even if you are temporarily successful, there is real danger that you create a time bomb without the tick: a dog who still feels defensive and might explode, but won’t signal it any longer. Think away from reinforcing the growl with this toss and retreat exercise, because what you are after is to change your dog’s emotional response. His mind. What a person near his bounty means: From it potentially disappearing to more materializing.
In a considerable short period of time your dog will anticipate your coming closer with excitement, not suspicion, and then you can get closer and closer, and eventually add the extra loot by putting your hand in his bowl, and then take some out and put it back in, and so on.
Although you want to practice this, also let your dog eat in peace. Being bothered while consuming food, even when bothered with a cookie, is irritating. Try it. Give your partner and kids permission to nicely interrupt each meal you enjoy. I mean, my morning coffee is sacred. I don’t speak English before I haven’t had my coffee, and the last thing I want is someone solicitously offering me candy.
Adding instead of removing is the core concept regarding other resources as well, including when dogs aggress against other dogs. If you have three dogs have three toy boxes and ten balls in the yard.
When a new dog moves in, life has to become better for the other ones, meaning more resources, including attention and interaction with their humans.
Food is a dog’s right, and they shouldn’t have to jump through figurative hoops to receive it. Regarding other resources: toys, space, your food, teach your dog to “leave” and “give”. There is a lot wrong with forcing a dog, but nothing wrong with controlling access to what’s important to him. I wrote about “leave” http://voice4dogs.blogspot.ca/2011/04/leave-it.html before, and give can be a fun game when you trade in and up. Check out Chiraq Patel’s fabulous Drop-It clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTiVOCNY4M
One last thing: Once a dog trusts, you can count on it that he is safe, but keep in mind that life is never static. What an animal deems important enough to defend is dynamic and can change with age, health or situation.
Take for instance the dog who never guarded food, but is on medication and always hungry. You might suddenly see aggression against other dogs pop up, rarely against his humans.
Think of a dog who is sore and more defensive being touched because it hurts.
My friend’s dog never guards food or water because he lives in a land of plenty, yet once snarled a dog away from a water dish because he was particularly thirsty after having played Frisbee on a warm sunny afternoon.
Smart owners know that dogs are living organisms and not programmable robots, and they proactively take measures to decrease the chance of conflict when life becomes more difficult. I always err on the side of caution, and so did my clients who segregated their two male littermate brothers while their biological mother was in heat. The boys are castrated, so an unplanned mating wasn’t the issue, but they had an injury inflicting fight history with each other, and made progress to a degree that surprised me. To prevent any regression, the owners temporarily backtracked when the situation in the home changed.
We saw in the first Holly/Millan clip what can happen when a dog is under pressure. It beats me why anyone would choose a method that puts him, and his loved ones, at risk. In all fairness, it is not just Millan who applies these methods, but he happens to be the one who influences laypeople the most these days; people who do what they see on TV even though there is a disclaimer that tells them not to.
When you choose a non-confrontational way to deal with a dog’s defensive behaviors, you CAN do it at home. That said, whenever aggression is involved, hiring professional help expedites progress. Some dogs have such a deep-seated fear of loss, based on ongoing deprivation, that they can be quite dangerous and harder to convince that their needs will be predictably fulfilled from here on in. The problem is compounded when the dog is also defensive of himself; feels unsafe in the vicinity of humans, when touched, and reacts to hands that reach for him. With such dogs, one can’t work beyond their comfort level. Neither reason nor compulsion can make one feel safe; it has to be experienced, and even gently caressing hands initially can be too much for a dog who is that jaded. An experienced and positive dog expert will be able to accurately determine where to begin and how to proceed, so that trust can be established again, and the dog eventually becomes trustworthy.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Without a boring introduction and further ado, cause this is a longer post, I’ll share with you how I address barking and lunging on the leash; behaviors so many dog owners are struggling with.
Here are the Dos and Don’ts.
DON’T allow yourself being pulled toward whoever your dog wants to get closer to. Even if he just wants to say Hi, seeks friendly interaction but is impatient, letting him pull you reinforces pulling and lacking impulse control.
DON’T let your dog off the leash when he is tense, even if you believe that he behaves better off than on. We have leash laws everywhere in North America, and letting every dog loose is not an option. DO relationship and leash work, so that he trusts you, and it, in a problematic situation.
DON’T move closer to whatever/whoever when your dog is on the leash and tense, even if he doesn't pull.
Check in front of a mirror what it looks like when you contract your muscles in your face and body. On your dog, you might see a fold between his forehead, still ears, no blinking, the mouth clamped shut, shallow breathing. The whole dog is still, perhaps only the tail tip quivering a bit, or the tongue tip rapidly, snake-like flicking in and out.
In my last post I said that sometimes an anxious dog becomes more relaxed when he has the opportunity to sniff the other, but the underlying emotional issues: insecurity, fear, nervousness, are not addressed, and the trust in you and leash not strengthened, and as a result the dog will continue being unsure and tense whenever he spots his triggers, typically dogs and/or people. Furthermore, depending on the other dog’s reaction, or a person’s for that matter who can act erratically when presented with a tense dog sniffing his legs, hands or crotch, things can escalate quickly. Allowing a tense dog within teeth range to anybody is never a good idea.
DON’T wait too long when you have an appropriate on-leash greeting before you move on. Keep it short and sweet, and then be on your way with a happy “let’s go” command.
DON’T collar correct, zap or punish your dog. It will do nothing to change his mind about the stimulus he feels queasy about. To the contrary: being jerked back arouses him more, and he might lunge again with increased power.
If the reason for out-of-control actions is frustration because he can’t get to a potential playmate fast enough, corrections can turn a dog who initially sought friendly social interaction into an aggressive one. Force and pain cause distress where there was none before, and remember from the last post, possibly - probably also to the leash.
Regardless of motivation, overreaction to environmental stimuli means the dog is already disengaged from you, and discomfort coming from you will lead to more mental avoidance. Your goal is the opposite: you want your dog to connect and take his cues from you. Not the leash, not the collar, but you.
It is a realistically achievable goal, which brings us to the Dos section.
DO give your dog the information he needs when he is in conflict. If you don’t, he will react like a dog who is frightened or excited. Dogs have to act on how they feel. They have no choice. Most humans do too, despite our rational brain capable of overriding emotions.
Information comes in form of words and gestures, commands, and they have to be taught and practiced before they become, from the dog’s point of view, useful. In other words, the dog must understand them as information.
Some commands dogs can learn by your capturing and naming behaviors. For example, “Let’s go” is our cue for moving in the same direction together, and I say it each time we do exactly that. It is a command that feels good to my dogs, one that is rehearsed often, and one I can also use to guide them away from a stimulus. “This way” serves the same purpose, but I use it when I change directions, and “over” when I curve out to increase distance to a stimulus.
"Walk away”, is a command I only use in conjunction with a subject or object I want my dog not just to ignore, "leave", but to walk away from. When something is on your dog’s radar, but before he loses his mind, turn 180 degrees and bring him with you simply because he is on the leash. Walk away without jerking or luring, and generously reinforce as soon as he mentally disconnects from the stimulus, and reconnects with you. Catch that moment and play a game, toss treats out, playfully jog. I especially love chase games because moving and catching up is intrinsically reinforcing for most dogs, more than tug. Plus, you are using yourself as the reward, which means you have an always handy reinforcement if you forget treats and a toy. When you invite your dog to chase you, be upbeat and animated. I use a staccato-like "quick-quick-quick" to egg mine on whenever I want them to close the distance to me, so when I want them to follow or heed the come command.
When the interesting, or scary, stimulus is stationary, so not approaching closer provoking an outburst, waiting the dog out until he shifts his focus on his own is an option I like, cause whenever a dog finds a behavior, whenever not prompted, it is internalized; the dog owns the behavior. After he shifts his focus, continue with the same "walk away" routine.
In time, you can get closer and closer to the trigger and tell your dog to: “walk away”. Rehearsed enough, it should become your dog’s conflict copout, which is much better than barking and lunging.
“Leave” has to be trained, but when it is solid and generalized, it can jog a dog’s memory to shift his focus away from a stimulus - leaving it alone and reconnecting with his person. The way I teach it also includes a follow-up word that tells him what to do next. "Walk-away" is one, but also "say hello" when he can greet, or "get" when I permit access to an object or allow chasing a squirrel.
It is critical that a dog learns the meaning of words a person can then use as information. Not teaching that is one of my biggest peeves with Cesar Millan. He doesn’t give dogs information prior to their making a mistake, only corrects when they walk into the trap he set up.
There are two commands people often use in an attempt to settle their reactive pooch: “sit” and “watch me”. Typically neither is very successful, because when a dog is asked into a sit outside, the trigger often approaches closer, and the situation becomes more difficult for the dog. Hence, complying with the sit command is punitive, and not only will he be reluctant to obey in the future, but because the word predicts pressure, it also raises arousal. “Sit” becomes a poisoned cue and backfires.
“Watch me” only works if the dog trusts his human without reserve, and it takes a lot of trust to be able to look away from something that is frightening and might come closer.
Imagine you walking with someone in a dark alley and a shady character is appearing, and perhaps looking at you, making you his visual target. Could you sit still and ignore him on demand? Look away? Comply with the person you’re walking with? Would handing you a five-dollar bill every 30 seconds make a difference?
Perhaps you could trust your partner or parent explicitly because they proved again and again that they have your back and are able to keep you safe, but you probably wouldn’t trust an acquaintance or even a friend that absolutely. So, don’t expect that level of trust from a dog you adopted a couple of weeks ago.
The pleaser or treat-bribed dog might hold it together, but like the punished one, will feel pressure, is internally aroused, and still feels the same about whatever he is worried about.
DO pay attention when the dog’s mood is changing, to subtle signals. When you take action before he is in an emotional outburst, you have the best chance to successfully guide him into an alternate behavior.
Common scenario: a person walks the dog and a human friend joins in. The people yak away and don’t pay attention to the dog and what happens around them. Meanwhile, he is bored and focused on the environment, and spots something that first alerts, and then excites or concerns him. His mouth closes, ears pop forward, eyes become rounder, tail stops wagging or wags frenziedly, and breathing might increase. He yawns or flicks his tongue, lags or pulls – and perhaps even looks at his person for information what “that” is and what he should do about it, but the owner misses it all and keeps moving in the direction of the stimulus that might move head-on toward the dog at the same time. Eventually, the pooch loses it and barks, and suddenly gets his person’s attention.
The oncoming person/dog combination typically reacts as well at that point and likely retreats, creating more distance. Barking worked: his human paid attention and the trigger backed away - the situation changed, and because barking was reinforced, it might be the dog's first and preferred course of action in the future. Barking and lunging on the leash becomes an operant conditioned, learned behavior trait.
Eye contact, the dog reorienting to you, is your clue that he might need something. Eye contact is the primary and natural way for a dog to connect and communicate directly that he needs help. Pay attention to that and provide information and guidance.
Don’t expect your dog to only connect when it matters to you. When I walk with friends, it is an unspoken rule that I might interrupt in mid-sentence if my dog needs me. If I don’t take charge then, and the scary thing comes closer and closer, and she’s got no viable copout, she’ll act in dog-typical ways: lunge, bark, growl, snap.
If your dog erupts because you miss the subtler hints, are on a narrow trail and can’t avoid a conflict, or a dog or person suddenly pops around the corner or stealthily creeps up behind you and startles you both, get through the situation the best you can. Increase the distance the safest way you can, but don’t give it any other attention. Walk with conviction and confidence, but without anger and anxiety, and bring your dog with you without jerking on the leash.
If you are thinking with me, you might argue that increasing the distance reinforces the barking and lunging, and depending on the dog’s motivation, you are correct. But you really have no other choice at that moment. You have to do something, and it is better to guide your dog to walk away than to wait until the environment, which you can’t control, takes action. When you act on your dog’s behalf, you become trustworthy. Doing nothing and letting the environment decide makes you a useless bystander from the dog’s point of view.
DO pay attention to your two friends: Distance and Alternate Behavior.
Regardless if your dog’s motivation is to make the opponent disappear because he is afraid, or seeks social stimulation and is frustrated because he can’t get to it quickly enough, distance and fun interactions with you are the two key components that will authentically change his behavior.
You need distance because when a dog is too close to the stimulus he is unable, not unwilling, but unable, to respond to you.
After an outburst most people go home. A dog’s acting out leaves people feeling discouraged, frustrated, or even defeated, and understandably they want to retreat to their safe cave. But if the goal is to change the dog’s emotional response to the trigger in the future, what they should be doing is to turn the troublesome event into a positive learning experience by interacting with him in the proximity of the trigger, but at his comfort level.
The threshold distance is when the trigger is on the dog’s radar, but when he is still able to voluntarily shift his focus away from it and back to you, and the emphasis is on voluntarily, so no prompting or luring. That distance is different for each dog and situation, so pay attention to subtle signals. When he reconnects, stay engaged: have fun, do tricks, toss treats or a ball, work the area in a positive way. Yes, it might be counterintuitive to interact playfully with a dog who acted “aggressively” and embarrassed you just moments prior, but remember that it is not his choice. He is not being bad on purpose, his actions not a calculated move to tick you off. Rather, he acts on how he feels, on emotions, and your job is to remain rational and make the area a safe one – a safe one again, and interacting in familiar and rewarding ways together does that. Always aim to end the outing on a high note, and then you go home.
That said, if the dog absolutely can’t chill out, but reacts to more and more triggers from farther and farther away, he is too charged up and too overwhelmed, perhaps even just by virtue of being outside, and then do abort your walk and go home. If that happens often, you might have to give the dog a complete break for a couple of weeks, and then very incrementally introduce stimuli back into his life.
When you interact with your dog in a way that is rewarding for him, you are the big deal, not the environment. The anxious dog will have a viable copout that involves you – and you might be surprised how many dogs are agreeable when an alternative is opened. I met many forward lunging dogs that were almost relieved when controlled retreat, walking away and doing something else, was made an option.
And of course spending quality time with you also works for the bored pooch who lunges and barks because he wants to play with, or herd and control, other dogs.
There are two German words occasionally bounced around in behavioral and dog training circles: One is Umwelt, the other Merkwelt. Translated, the first one is “Surrounding World”, the second “Remembering World”. Umwelt includes all stimuli in the environment the organism lives in and encounters; Merkwelt are the things that get stuck in the brain’s memory center – and yes, dogs have that. You can imagine what happens when everything the dog encounters on a walk is Merkwelt for him; stuff that, from his point of view, matters and is relevant. Not only will he be perpetually overstimulated, but he’ll also be unable to focus on, and be responsive, to you.
Engaging your dog with you forms the contrast between what should be irrelevant: environmental stimuli at large, and what should be important: you, things you do together, guidance you provide in conflict situations – the safety and pleasure you facilitate.
You can’t avoid that the Umwelt is on the dog’s radar. Of course he registers the world around him. A dog should be allowed to look at dogs, people, cyclists, horses, cows, cats, squirrels… and be allowed to sniff, play and greet when appropriate, but you should always be more important than anything else. And if a trigger is already a big deal in the dog’s mind, don’t make it an even bigger deal by either punishing the dog, or treating him when he looks at it. You want to reinforce when your dog willingly looks away from it, and it is up to you to orchestrate many situations that set him up for success. Remember distance? Practice where you have enough space to increase it when you have to.
With a dog who has unlearned to connect with his human once outside - they are typically the ones who were neglected or punished on walks at one point - initially accept and reinforce the shifting away from the trigger, but the end goal always is authentic mental and emotional connection with you, signaled with prolonged eye contact.
DO make sure your dog is comfortable when you are out and about together.
Make sure that he is not hungry or thirsty, and free of pain and discomfort, which includes the equipment you are using. A head halter, such as a Gentle Leader, feels very uncomfortable to many dogs. It adds pressure around the dog’s sensitive nose, often leads to sudden neck twists when he lunges, and that, like a startling neck pain coming from a choke or prong collar correction, or an electric shock, causes or contributes to stress.
I like to use a 6-foot leather leash and a front buckle body harness. My favorites are the Freedom Harness at www.wiggleswagswhiskers and the Sense-Ation harness at www.softouchconcepts.com. Likely you won’t find either in your neighborhood pet store, so check for a local distributor on the manufacturers’ websites, but also compare prices. Sometimes even with extra shipping costs, shopping from someone farther away can save you money.
The body harness allows your dog unrestricted head movements and to communicate freely, it is perceived as comfortable by almost every dog, and you still have good physical control.
DO stay calm.
I despise the term calm-assertive because, although synonyms include confident and self-assured, it also implies forcefulness, pushiness and aggression, and none of those attributes exuded from the person the dog depends on will help him out of emotional conflict.
What happens at the loop end of the leash is very important. When a dog is charged up, the person must remain centered. The dog’s lunging and barking means that he is literally out of his mind at that moment. If you become agitated as well, you’re adding fuel to the fire.
If an insecure dog’s companion conveys with muscle tension, jerky hand movements, rapid patting, increased breathing, and fast-spoken words that there is reason to worry, the dog’s fear intensifies. Dogs don’t have the brain-ability to talk themselves into being rational. They need us to direct them.
Instead of jerking your dog back, or hands-on pushing his butt into a sit, or patting him on the head, or worst of all pinning him to the ground, anchor him: keep a loose leash as much as you can, and confidently, calmly, increase the distance. Use your information words you rehearsed.
Hands-on-body often arouses a dog more, so only physically handle him if you have a certain touch that brings about relaxation. It could be scratching his ear, or for our Will it is drawing a diamond shape with my finger between her shoulder blades. It became a conditioned feel-good touch because I do it each morning when we snuggle in bed.
If you are anxious, sing a song. Your dog will hear your normal sounding voice, and that, unless you regimentally bark orders, should be a conditioned feel-good cue. Plus, singing loosens your facial muscles and regulates breathing. Tell yourself mentally that what other people think doesn’t matter; your dog's welfare does.
Rehearse your copout steps: the shortening of the leash by bringing your hand closer, the leave command, the “let’s go” or “walk away” distance increasing maneuvers, the whatever fun interaction that follows. Rehearse when there are no triggers, so that you don’t have to think about everything at once when one appears.
Calm role modeling will take conscious effort, but is key to success. A calm and confident dog can be a great helper, but be careful with that. The anxious, pumped, or excited dog usually influences the grounded one more than the other way around.
DO teach impulse control. Duration position stays, “leave”, and delaying the reward after a behavior teach the dog patience.
We began with Don’ts and here is one more for the finish:
DON’T be lured into quick-fix, look-good on TV and YouTube solutions. The dog you see after he is rehabbed in 5 minutes or less might not bark anymore because he is intimidated and zapped into silence, but the unwanted expressions are only suppressed. There are others. If you watch closely you typically see stress panting, cowering, whale eye, a tail tucked under the belly, lot's of blinking, or a dog frozen shut. Those dogs are subdued, not calm. You see no fluidity, no offered eye contact, no active communication, no social interaction seeking and inquisitive behaviors. So don’t be fooled: Just because the dog doesn’t bark and lunge anymore doesn’t mean he isn’t distressed anymore.
For that matter, I caution against adopting a dog from a rescue organization or humane society that applies methods that suppress expressions. You have no idea about a dog’s true disposition and behavior if the part of his communication that signals how he feels is quelled. He might show wonderfully at the shelter or foster home, where and with whom the punishments happened, and when under surveillance, but explode in anxiety and stress outbursts in the new, less skilled one.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
If I’d dig up all my clients’ files from the last 15 years, I bet half my dog book collection that on-leash aggression was the single most problem behavior owners hired me to help them with. On-leash aggression, or rather reactivity, is very common.
The typical explanation most laypeople, and some trainers, offer for the kind of barking and lunging that makes everyone’s head turn, frightens the targeted individual, and embarrasses the owner, is that the dog is protective, dominant, thinks he is in charge. It seems plausible: after all, the dog is moving forward, toward the target, and he is loud and threatening. However, “This is my space/mom/kid” - fill in the blanks – “get lost” is typically not the motivation that drives leash reactivity, and more enlightened dog pros know this.
If not dominance, what are the reasons for a dog flipping out? Well, there are several, rooted in following underlying emotions: fear, distress, excitement, frustration.
Failure to socialize, meaning that the pup didn't have enough exposure to a variety of environmental stimuli during the critical developmental stages, is generally blamed when a dog is fearful. Like the dominance angle, it makes a lot of sense to people and indeed, puppies raised in a bubble or in isolation can become neophobic: will fear and react to anything new. That is compounded when the odd novel encounter was unpleasant, and if the pup felt alone - didn't have a safe refuge zone and the loyalty of his owner.
But it is not just the unfamiliar that can cause dogs to overreact. Things known, but associated with discomfort, can provoke an undesired response as well.
Dogs make a blink assessment, based on their life experience, when presented with a stimulus.
Is it familiar?
Depending on the dog, if it is unfamiliar it is automatically perceived as a threat.
If it is familiar, does it announce: Pleasure? Or Discomfort? It is safe? Or not?
Whenever a dog anticipates discomfort, the stimulus is perceived as a threat; a threat to his safety, and that always causes distress. The barking, lunging and growling are the expressions, the symptoms of it.
Familiar stimuli are cues that predict a consequence, and dogs react to cues.
One might expect that dogs perceive other dogs generally as familiar. Shouldn’t a pooch identify another as a conspecific being? Innately “know” a dog as a dog?
Not necessarily: We have a vast variety of breeds that differ in structure and behavior, and if the pup only experienced his own, he might not recognize others as familiar, but as threats.
The other aspect to consider is that dogs to each other are providers: initially food, then entertainment, but also resource competitors. Dog-dog relationships can be complex, with each unfamiliar one a potential rival, and a familiar one a known rival, unless experienced otherwise. In my professional world, lunging and barking directed at dogs is more common than toward humans.
When a fearful dog barks and lunges, his motivation is to increase the distance, to drive the perceived threat away. Yet, many owners report that their pooch relaxes once he gets close enough to get a good sniff in. Why the obvious contradiction of wanting distance, but behaving better when it decreases? There is an explanation: Information reduces anxiety because it makes the unknown more familiar and predictable, and dogs’ preferred way to gather intelligence is through the nose. When there is no information forthcoming from the owner - information that, from the dog’s point of view, provides a copout, he has no choice but to get it from the other dog, and so he’ll attempt to get closer even though emotionally he wants him to disappear.
It is not always fear, though, why a dog acts out. Frustration plays a big role, and there are several reasons why a dog can be frustrated. One, again, has to do with information seeking.
Greeting rituals exist to find out more about a stranger while preventing and defusing potential conflict meetings. That is true with humans and dogs. When we shake hands, smile, bow or curtsy, and introduce ourselves, perhaps hand over a business card, the other understands that we don’t wish confrontation. Socially normal dogs first communicate from a distance: might raise or lower their bodies, lean back or forward, open their mouths or close it, lay back their ears, orient to the opponent directly or avert their eyes, and hold or wag their tails a certain way. Depending on the back-and-forth signals, at one point they might agree to sniff each other, typically in the head and/or anogenital region, to gather detailed information. Out-of-control barking, of course, isn’t part of normal greetings, but neither is being restricted from it. When the rather dense dude at the loop end of the leash prevents his pooch from behaving normally, perhaps even from communicating properly when he manipulates him with a head halter, frustration and its expressions result.
Fear is added to frustration if the dog is choke, prong, or worst of all, shock collar punished when he reacts; when he experiences pain for being curious, for wanting to communicate, for attempting to greet in a, for his species, appropriate way. In short, if a dog’s normal social behaviors and emotions are stifled with force, the stimulus, a dog or person, becomes a cue that triggers a stress response. Even if the consequence only happens sometimes, the dog will respond accordingly all the time.
Not only that, any detail that is part of an unpleasant event can become a cue, for example: the leash, the collar, the person who dished out the punishment, and the area where it happened.
When the leash in itself is an issue, the dog is already tense before the trigger even appears. Frenetic pulling and sniffing, and completely disconnecting from his person once outside, are common signs that the dog is distressed by virtue of being on the leash and/or outdoors.
Anything in a dog’s life that has a big impact leaves a big impression and provokes a big reaction in the future. If it is other dogs that were relevant events in the pooch’s history, he'll react whenever he sees/hears/smells another dog. Big deal suggests pressure and discomfort, but that is not always the case.
Dogs who repeatedly experience other dogs as primary facilitators of physical and mental entertainment, the ones who go to daycare or are chauffeured to the dog park and let loose once a day come to mind, have a certain expectation when they encounter a dog - any dog: fun and romping begins. If it doesn’t manifest because of the leash, or not quickly enough because the person who holds it is a slow-footed creature, the pooch, you guessed it, becomes frustrated, and the outburst can look very similar to the fearful dog’s, especially to a layperson.
And by the way, that kind of frustration, when something that’s expected doesn’t happen, is not reserved to people and dogs. During a “leave” exercise, a 12-week-old beagle pup soulfully bayed at me because he couldn’t access the treat I had tossed.
There is one more aspect that falls in the frustration compartment, and it is not fear or information seeking, and also not exactly play-motivated.
Some dogs, typically ones belonging to the herding group, have a heightened sensitivity to motion combined with an innate urge to control anything that moves. Steve White calls them: “Born with a badge on their chest”. These dogs have a strong natural drive to bring order back into the perceived chaos of animated dogs – or children, and become mighty agitated when the leash prevents them from doing their self-appointed job, but also often behave improperly when off the leash, at least from others’ point of view. Even though at times jokingly referred to as “fun police”, some dogs and most humans have little tolerance for a pooch who stalks and chases; is locked, loaded and controlling. The bossy dog also doesn’t have much fun: He is easily overstimulated when presented with ongoing commotion in a busy dog park or daycare center, and overwhelmed with the task to organize and tone everyone down a few notches. A trained herding dog knows what to do and has the guidance of his handler - and is successful. A dog who has the drive but no training, the instinct but no clue, let loose on uncooperative other dogs and trailed by a yelling, irate owner, is not successful - and distressed as a result, and reactive on, but also off the leash.
On a little side note, the serious always-on-the-job dog can also be short-fused when another butts in while they work. In that context, the ball fetching Border collie who snaps at a space-encroaching retriever is not resource guarding, but annoyed by the interruption. I recently had an Australian cattle dog client where that was clearly the case. Believed to be dominant and aggressive, she was simply so focused on her human and what he had in his hand, and if he might throw it, that anybody who'd pop in her face got a sharp and clear: "Buzz Off!" Unfortunately, in an dog park or off-leash trail, it is exactly that kind of focus that gets other dogs' attention and provokes them to "check out what that dog is so interested in".
Frustrating situations make dogs irritable and pumped, and when confronted regularly with the triggers, the cues, they become sensitized: have a heightened sensitivity to predictors, motion and sound, probably also scent, and act more and more out of control from greater and greater distances. The collar and leash, because of the restraint and discomfort they represents, amplify the problem.
The question one must ask when a dog barks and lunges is what he expects to happen next. Play? A job? Emotional discomfort? Physical pain? That expectation is based on the dog’s experience, and is what dictates future behavior. Expectation dictates behavior.
I bet what you all want to know next is what to do about it. I will tell you – in the next post, but I’ll give you a hint right now: neither clipping the leash off, nor allowing yourself being pulled closer to the trigger, is it. Oh, and commanding the dog in a sit position and coercing him to watch you isn’t it either.