I don’t post super interesting things every day, or even every week, but I do post some of my favorite articles almost weekly and when I get all philosophical about something I write a more in depth post. What started as the documentation of Wally’s life has turned into the evolution of my philosophy toward training, behavior, and living with dogs.
Never assume that a dog approaching something or someone means that they are comfortable with it. Indeed, it can be quite the reverse and if the person responds, that is exactly what could cause the dog to panic.
This recent article from Denise Fenzi really hit home for me because it describes Ava to a T. Often she is very cautious about new things but, being a terrier and a curious being, she is always willing to explore those things. There’s a caveat to that, though: she must control the exploration process. Forcing her to interact with someone or something is guaranteed to put her over threshold and into a reactive state. It would be as if someone forced you to interact with the very thing you’re slightly afraid of. You want to learn more about it but at your pace!
Ava is super sensitive and very cautious, so when she meets new people I ask them to completely ignore her. They are the spider that she is curious but a little nervous about, and if they engage with her (i.e. the spider moves) it triggers her fight/flight response. Does that mean there’s something wrong with Ava? Nope. She’s an individual. Do people have a hard time wrapping their heads around this? Oh yes, they do! They expect all dogs to like people on sight, which is a flawed cultural expectation that Americans have (I’ve noticed it’s not that way in some other countries, like Japan).
Bottom line: be sensitive to your dog and treat them like an individual!
- The layered crap cake developmental phase (Nancy Tanner)
- Accidental behavior chains part 2: how do we fix them? (Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog)
- Worrying about the ‘almighty’ reinforcement (Cognitive Canine)
- What is desensitization and counterconditioning in dog training? (Companion Animal Psychology)
- Why a DOG PARK education is worse than no education at all (Nancy Tanner)
I was so glad to see this article by Nancy Tanner: Multiple dog household dynamics — food. I pulled this quote, which I agree with wholeheartedly:
I don’t let dogs ‘work it out’ if that means harm, fighting, conflict, or a lot of stress. To me that would be a sign of poor management and ‘needs’ not being met[.]
During the short time that we had a three dog household Fiona instigated a lot of conflicts, and some very experienced dog people advised me to ‘let them work it out on their own’. In those cases ‘working it out’ meant all of the things Tanner listed above: harm, fighting, conflict, and a lot of stress (for the dogs and the humans). Just as I refused to take the advice to scruff my puppies when they misbehaved (apparently some people still do this!), I also wouldn’t follow this advice.
Instead I upped the management ante, and when that wasn’t solving the problem I chose to rehome Fiona. Then, with Ava only 6mo old, I was meticulous about making sure she learned to be polite. I policed her play to make sure she wasn’t bullying Wally and I carefully monitored her arousal level, putting her in short timeouts when she needed to calm down. I made sure they always had at least one extra chew/toy and I either monitored or separated them while they ate to make sure they stuck to their own bowls.
Not once have we had a fight and, even more importantly, Wally is now comfortable asserting himself (something he never did with Fiona). He’s a pretty laidback dude but occasionally he does not want to share, thank you very much. And Ava respects that. With just a couple words I can get Ava to redirect her energy from Wally to a toy when she’s getting overstimulated (and thus too rough for my or Wally’s liking).
The dogs are allowed to be dogs, of course, but they’re expected to be polite. It’s a lot like having kids (which admittedly I don’t have, but I was one of three and I have kids in my life). Most parents want their kids to work out their disagreements on their own and the parent only steps in when the kids are incapable of doing so. Very few parents are willing to let their kids have an all-out brawl to settle their differences; why would it be any different with dogs?
- A DNA Primer for Dog Breeders: Quick Start Guide (Institute of Canine Biology)
- Are you improving genetic diversity, or just pushing the peas around? (Institute of Canine Biology)
- How much does outcrossing improve genetic diversity? (Institute of Canine Biology)
- Setting Goals (Denise Fenzi)
- Study Outlines Reasons to Ban Electronic Collars for Dogs (Companion Animal Psychology)
- Traveling with Dogs — Should You? (Dr. Patricia McConnell)
- Goodbye to the “Quadrants” (eileenanddogs)
- The Surprising Science of Alpha Males (TED: Frans de Waal)
- What are animals thinking and feeling? (TED: Carl Safina)
Aren’t they adorbs? These days they hang out together while we’re at work — as opposed to being separated by a baby gate b/c Ava is a tenacious jerk sometimes — and their bond has gotten even stronger. I think it was just the right timing :) Of course this peace only occurs when I’m not home (Josh took this photo); nowadays I lay on the floor with them once I get home (less jumping and barking that way) so Ava can suck on my face while Wally tries to become a fur stole around my neck. This lasts a minute or two before they run off to grabs tennis balls. I love my dogs.