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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ask the Dog Trainer:
Give Me Space (or Else)

by Michael Baugh, CDBC, CPDT-KSA
© M. Baugh
Senior Juno
Hi,  I am fortunate that I live within 200 yards from a wood and when I take my Springer Spaniel there she is happy to race around chasing squirrels and sniff around looking for game birds. One thing she hates is when some dog owners allow their dogs to race up to her and she will see them off and be aggressive to them. She is a rescue dog and does not like to play, just enjoys doing her own thing. When other dogs are under control and calm she is fine. 

Yesterday an owner let her dog off the lead and it raced straight to where my dog was around 30 yards away in the stream; she was aggressive once more and the owner blamed her and said my dog needed a muzzle and that her dog only wanted to play. I hate this expression as it seems some people think that it is their right to impose their over-excited dog on yours and are surprised that some dogs are not interested. I now feel that I can’t let her off her lead anymore but am angry as my last dog was one who was over-exuberant and if he succeeded in annoying others I apologized and did not expect others to tolerate it. Am I right?  Many thanks  Annie
Dear Annie,

I sense your frustration and I definitely feel for you.  I can’t help but think of a lesson my Dad taught me when I was a kid.  He would hold out one hand and say, “here is the perfect world the way we wish it was.”  Then he’d hold out the other hand and smile, “and here’s the world the way it really is.”  I didn’t  like his little speech much then, and sometimes it still upsets me a bit.  Nevertheless, personal responsibility is really just that – personal.

We can’t really account for other people’s responsibilities when it comes to their dogs.  I wish we could.  So, let’s look at what we can work with.  There are good programs available for helping dogs who have issues with personal space around other dogs.  That’s what it sounds like you’re dealing with.  I don’t get the sense your dog is chasing after dogs she sees at a distance.  But when they come to her, she gets upset and even fights.  If that’s the case, you should be able to teach your dog to quickly come to you (even move behind you) when another dog runs toward you.  It’s a simple enough trick to teach and there are multiple benefits. 

1)  It’s task-oriented.  Teaching a dog a task in the face of perceived danger sometimes takes some of the emotional punch out of their reaction to the stimulus (the other dog). 

2)  It immediately puts you between your dog and the oncoming dog.  This adds a layer of safety for everyone involved.  It also gives you the chance to say “no” and hold out your hand like a stop sign to the interloper.  Oddly enough, most dogs respond to this even with strangers.

·    3)  It buys you time to calmly but audibly inform the other owner that your dog is a potential threat to their dog.  Nothing gets people moving quickly more than the thought of their dog being hurt.  If it were me I’d say “Sorry, my dog bites dogs who run up like that.  Can you help me?”  This is immediately disarming and a call for action.  I thank my dad for that one too.  People usually respond well when you ask for help.

Work with a rock solid reward-based dog trainer to get that move nailed down.  I’d also recommend you work on “leave it” and “stay.”  Why?  Because when the other person gets their dog leashed up, you’ll tell your dog to leave it and stay while you hand the person your trainer’s card.  “Thank you, we’ve really been working on this.  Here’s my trainer’s card.  She’s really good at teaching coming when called.”

Smile when you do this.  The other person won’t know she’s being put in her place until well after she’s home.  If the other person yells at you, let it go.  No one gets to ruin your day unless you let her.  (That one is my Dad too).

© M. Baugh
My dear sweet Juno died three years ago this month.  She had doggie friends, but not all dogs were her friends.  There is a reason “bitch” is an offensive slang word and there were times when Juno showed all of us why.  But I can tell you this with absolutely no elaboration to her storied memory.  When I said, “okay, let’s go,” Juno walked away from the fight and I stood between her and the other dog.  That was our deal.  It didn’t matter who started it or who was at fault.  When I said it was over – it was over.  Darned if that wasn’t the best trick I ever taught her.  Walk away.  Let it go.  It’s a trick I wish I were better at sometimes.

The truth is my dad is an awesome guy with lots of good sayings.  But, he’s a control freak too.  Okay, the truth is so am I.  I’m a dog trainer for goodness sake; we’re all about exacting control.  So maybe for us the real lesson is knowing what we can control and what we simply can’t (no, this is not a 12-step program).   There’s the world the way we want it to be, and the world we are able to actually create around us. 

The rest, it seems, just tends to run wild sometimes.
used with permission
 from Robyn Arouty Photography

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston and Katy, TX.  He specializes in behavior related to canine fear and aggression. You can learn more by "Liking" him on Facebook and following him on Twitter.

Read more of Michael's articles at his Archive Page, or check out his last few here:


Andre Joe said...

I always to have assertive mind and action when dealing with my dogs. It is essential to control my dog. Before this, i always shows my anger and frustration when dealing with my dog. That's why i can't even change his behavior till now.
Great Post. Sharing is loving.
Have a good day!

Wanda McHenry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

Wanda McHenry said...

Oh my, I feel your frustration. This is a different situation as our dog is a Westie and my husband walks around the neighborhood on the weekends. Numerous times there were dogs that have tried to attack her and my husband had to pick her up and come back home. She's just trying to sniff, walk and be with daddy. She is just enjoying the morning. I guess they know she's timid and just go after her. As far as the trouble maker's that make our dog's uncomfortable, it's always our fault...don't you know that? LOL

Dawn said...

LOVE this post! Your dad sounds like an awesome guy, Michael. I had the opposite problem with my dog Maya. When she was younger, she was the dog who ran up to other dogs. After being put in her place a couple of times by the other dogs she learned to be more careful. I did not blame the other dogs at all. It was my own fault for not having Maya properly trained at the time. However, I do think that if it is in an off-leash area, there should be responsibility on both sides. Proper training by both parties is ideal (but as you said, it is an imperfect world).

Adam said...

Good advice.

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