July 15, 2005 | Dogs
One thing that I never, ever, thought about when we got dogs was that not only would they need training but that I’d need training too. I need lots of training.
Before getting Bear and Dozer I had pretty much been around dogs until I graduated high-school. I thought that since I had been around dogs so much that I knew how to handle them. I didn’t. Unfortunately it has taken a series of high-stress events to bring this to light. I guess I learn rather slowly.
The problem? Us.
It turns out that I didn’t know as much about dogs as I thought I did (typical male thing, probably) and my behavior could have been better in being an alpha to them, a leader. Seemingly harmless events and treatments turned out to be bad for how they see us and thus how they react to other people around us.
Little things have made the difference: how we walk with them, in what order everybody gets to eat, and where they get to sleep are just a few, but I think a few of the most important.
So what do we do about it?
It turns out that a good deal of our problems can be solved with being a leader so that they can just be members of the pack. From what I’ve learned dogs should just be members of the family. They shouldn’t be allowed to feel like they have any kind of role as a leader or a protector or else they can really turn on other animals and other people as well as not see their owner(s) as needing to be listed to.
That seems to be our problem, but there are solutions.
We’ve pretty much let them do what they want on walks just short of running amok. They could walk ahead of us, sniff, mark territory, check out trees so long as it didn’t interrupt the pace of the walk. Bad idea.
So now they walk on shorter leashes (well, the leashes aren’t shorter, we just keep them shorter) and they have to walk next to us if not slightly behind us. This puts us in the position of alpha, or leader, and puts them in a position of following. It shows that we decide where we go and that they should look to us for guidance.
Something we also have to start doing is saying hi to other dogs before they do – we need to show them that we deem the other dog good enough or not good enough for them to talk to, not the other way around. This one is meeting with a little resistance as they feel that they should be the ones protecting us. I did this the other day with Bear and while he didn’t have an issue, per se, with the other dog (he didn’t quite know what to think – the other dog had a cone on its head to protect its ears) as he posing like he wanted to play and that is always a good sign that he’s gonna be alright with that dog.
But I had to test the waters. I brought Bear in on a really short leash, I basically had him by the collar, and then went to pet the other dog. Bear went nutzoid on me like he now feared what the other dog might do to me. A good sign that he feels like he needs to protect me and that is something that can cause stress in an already stressed dog (Bear already has some fear based issues).
So when one of them gets like this, wether I’m saying hi to another dog or they’ve decided to go nuts over something like a squirrel, we make them sit and then lie down. This shows that we’re in control and we’re in charge of protecting them, not vice versa.
At home we needed to make some changes to the order of things. Our typical routine was that when we got home from work we’d turn around right away and take the boys for a walk. When we got back we’d start their dinner while we made ours and the boys would typically eat when our dinner was almost ready.
That was bad – eating first is a sign of dominance and set the boys out to be, in their minds, alpha to us.
So we changed our routine to instead make our dinner when we get home, relax for a bit, then take the boys on a walk. This has had a couple of calming effects on them as they’re now not as nutty when we get home – they know they need to calm down since they’re not going on a walk right away and has helped get them to be a bit more responsive to commands. I think this is another thing that is telling them that they’re not in control and they’re starting to understand that.
At the fence
In an attempt to both secure the boys from getting their heads out of the fence and to protect them from people in the neighborhood we’ve put up wire fencing inside the wrought-iron fencing and attached a beware of the dog sign at each end of the fence that borders the sidewalk.
We’ve gotten mixed results from this. Some people are sad that they can’t get close to the boys anymore – one lady that walks by on a regular basis was wondering how she was gonna play with them now. Apparently they would bring her toys for her to throw to them. Similar sentiments have been expressed to us by others as well.
But we also had to consider those who were scared of the dogs, and those who would take it upon themselves to act upon the dogs should something happen. One older man in the neighborhood threatened to kill any dog who bites him. We have video of another man kicking our fence after being barked at. More details of these two encounters are probably best saved for another entry – though I will say that someone else in the neighborhood said that this guy should just be sure to stay away from the fence.
These kind of people shouldn’t be allowed access to our animals. Though I would prefer if Bear and Dozer didn’t bark at anyone I don’t mind so much since their barking will most assuredly keep anyone out who is not supposed to be in the yard. I like that.
So with the fence up that just leaves a little bit of training. While we’re home and outside with them we need to force them to sit when someone is approaching. Tell them that we dictate their behavior towards strangers. Another thing to do is when we’re talking with some of the people in the neighborhood that have dogs – and there are quite a few that stop to talk – I should go outside the fence to say hi to these dogs so our boys can see that they have absolutely no say in what we do with other people and other animals – that they need to just accept that we decide who gets greeted and how.
When playing with the boys we can no longer play tug of war. This does two things: it tells them that we’re a playmate and it gives them a false sense of victory and dominance when we allow them to win.
From now on when we play they bring us the toy and we throw it or make them jump to get it. This isn’t too hard since they know to let go when I say ‘leave it’ and to then prepare to go fetch.
This is taking a lot of self discipline to make sure we follow all our routines and that we’re aware of what we’re doing with the boys when we’re around them. We still have a long road ahead of us with training them but now we’ve at least managed to alleviate a couple points of stress so that they can be more fun just to be around.
This post is part of the thread: Dogs – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.