Thursday, July 21, 2011

Puppy License

A wee pup, until about 16 weeks of age or so, comes with a license to kill. Well, not exactly, but she does have a natural permit to explore and test behaviors without getting hurt. No socially normal adult dog attacks or injures a pup regardless what she does, and regardless if she belongs to his intimate social group or is a chance encounter on a walk or at the park. Puppy license, though, does not mean that a rude youngster couldn’t receive a lesson in manners from an older pooch.
World-renowned Norwegian dog expert Turid Rugaas - you might recognize the name when you think calming signals - said at a seminar I attended almost 10 years ago that if dogs raise dogs they get it right. Like humans, some are more lenient and others stricter; some don’t correct even if a pup is hanging of their ear or lip, while others have narrowly drawn lines and swiftly reprimand the little brat if she oversteps it, but still won’t correct so harshly that it inhibits learning, stifles curiosity or creates anxiety.
The first who teaches important life lessons is mom-dog. When the brood is about 4 weeks old, when they become more mobile and a pestering mob, she dishes out consequences for obnoxiousness that can range from walking away and temporarily denying a basic need: food, to applying mouth threats and inhibited bites: the corrector’s mouth briefly taking hold of the correctee’s snout. Bruce Fogle says that it is imprinting deference and feels that if those early lessons are missed, the dog can be nearly impossible to train. The muzzle grab can be combined with a rigid body, or preceded by warnings: a hard stare and growls.
So, Cesar Millan is correct that the mother dog is crucial. But that’s where it stops. He is barking a false tune when he advices that we must continue to be a pretend mother dog when the pup joins us. Why? Because humans naturally get it wrong when they get physical. Humans aren’t dogs. They correct at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, are generally too overbearing and not fast or accurate enough. It takes a certain amount of skill to nose correct an out-of-control dog properly. That’s why Millan pins, I assume, but I argue that that is not a natural correction (more a little later).
Even if a person can pull off a proper muzzle grab correction, it puts the hand provokingly close to a dog’s teeth, and the last thing I want my pup to learn is how to successfully dodge or fight a hand around his mouth. To the contrary, I want her to learn that a hand in and around her snout is always a good thing. That makes it much easier if you have to take something out of it, or if the veterinarian is doing his health check.
Dogs are most balanced when mother’s corrections were less aggressive and the pup extensively groomed afterwards. Humans typically get that wrong as well. They don’t groom, but continue to nag and be upset, or at best ignore the pup and withhold social acceptance for a too long period of time. Granted, Millan, so hyped on what the mother dog does, leaves emotions out of the equation, but still only applies the correction portion, not the extensive making up part that follows in nature.
Plus, how is a puppy ever to understand how we humans function as a species if we crudely, klutzily pretend that we’re a dog.

The warning stare, growls and the muzzle grab are normal canine ways to lecture a pup, juvenile and generally younger, lower ranking dog that is too close, too rude or too wound up. They are meant to teach self-control, teach a pup to tone it down a bit or be space polite. That’s all.
In my opinion, pinning falls outside the “for educational purposes” realm. Yes, some mother dogs pin, but I would question if she was anxious or stimulatory overwhelmed, or if the pup was temperamentally straddling the extreme pole of exuberance, determination and confidence. Pinning is ritualized aggression and signals that the pinner is stressed, frustrated, and needs help; needs a human to referee – the topic of my next post.
In addition to it being aggression, it is also ineffective, even harmful. I met plenty of dogs that were nailed as puppies, by dogs or humans, and despite of it, or possibly because of it, offensively attacked once they reached adolescence.
Another thing that just won’t go away is the belief that grabbing and shaking a puppy’s scruff is how a mother dog punishes her offspring. No, she doesn’t. In nature, she might carry her itty-bitty babies by the scruff, but only when she has to move them, if she needs to find a safer place. It is a nurturing behavior, not a punitive one. In fact, neck grabbing and shaking is how dogs kill smaller animals. Imagine the message you’re sending your pup if you grab her by the scruff, and imagine what it does to her little brain if you shake her head.

When you get your pup, ideally not before she is 8-10 weeks old, she should have experienced appropriate early lessons taught by her mother, and you should continue to provide opportunities for her to meet healthy and socially normal adults. Of course, a puppy also needs to play with littermates, and later on with compatible youngsters, but siblings and same-age friends can’t make up for what elders teach. So you see why it is important to investigate how long your pup was with her natural mother, and how she was treated? A good breeder has that information, the pet store doesn’t - and a lousy breeder doesn’t know and doesn’t care. I recently had a client whose breeder removed mom-dog from her litter when they were 4 weeks old with the explanation, according to my client, that since she can’t nurse anymore what other use does she have.
Your role, when your puppy arrives, is not to morph into another mother dog. People don’t get it right. They don’t heed to the puppy license, unjustly pin or scruff-shake for the slightest infractions or mistakes that are not the pup’s fault. Humans often do stifle curiosity and confidence, and create a dog that is suspicious, skittish and anxious.
I, as a human, stay away from getting physical, but do follow mom-dog’s lead in one aspect: denying a rude pup something she wants. Not food, but social attention and inclusion, another crucially important resource. Dr. Ian Dunbar recommends stepping out of the pup’s playpen with the word “bully”. Even very briefly withholding social attention - the pup should get another chance to play “nicely” right away - has a great impact and will teach an uninhibited one self-control quickly. I love it, and you can do that at home and leave corrections to a wise “grey muzzle”. Hopefully you know one. If you do, trust him in his judgment and execution, even if the puppy yelps. Likely she deserved it. Like Turid Rugaas says, dogs know best, provided they are socially normal.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Disposition: Busy and Bossy

If I ever strike it money rich, chances are that my days would unfold pretty much the same way they do now. I love my job, and every day I meet new or existing clients is a good day. Within that realm though there are good appointments, better ones, and some that are absolutely fabulous. Which is which I can typically predict when someone first contacts me.
I love all dogs, really, I do. But my favorites, my heart dogs, belong to the herding group. Whenever someone is seeking my help with their collie, or Aussie, or heeler, or Spanish water dog, or Corgi, or Sheltie, German and Belgian shepherd, it foretells, with almost 100% certainty, a fantastic consultation.
No exception to that rule with recent clients. I was the second pro they hired, which is not unusual cause I am not cheap and barely advertise, so sometimes folks find me after the other trainer failed to improve the dog’s behavior, or even made it worse. Without elaborating why this particular one didn’t work out, a comment he made totally bewildered me. He said, according to my clients, that training doesn’t work with an Australian shepherd.
What? Trust me, not true. Not at all true. To the contrary: done right, Aussies are a pleasure to train. That is why I have a fabulous day whenever they are my ruff customers.
Okay, I grant that my affinity for herding dogs not everyone shares, and I know that they can be a challeging.
As a group, they were and are bred to organize or move sheep, cattle, geese, goats or pigs, and although fervently ready to obey the ultimate boss, their person, they are also not opposed to taking command. Human and canine shepherd are a team, collaborators in bossing other animals around. From the dog’s point of view, they are playmates with the human setting the rules of the game. Person and dog are in it together, all de live long day cooperate in organizing chaos-in-motion, telling animals that are often physically bigger and stronger where to go, and when.
What traits a successful herding dog must possess is evident: Endurance, intelligence, determination, an intense motivation to work with his person but an equally strong drive to control. Herding dogs are brainy, busy and bossy beings, and much tougher than their little bodies suggest, which means that they withstand physical force. A dog able to pressure animals that have horns and can kick won’t be impressed with a flimsy correction, and loses interest in an owner who comes down hard.
Someone who is controller instead of collaborator, overpowers instead of outsmarts, and believes that an hour-long leash walk sandwiched between the office and taking the kids to piano practice is enough stimulation, is ill-matched with a herding dog - any herding dog, but Australian shepherds have an extra quirk I love so much, but can present an additional hurdle for a stern Type A human personality.
Even when on the job, an Aussie likes to put his own spin on things. They are masters in self-amusement. I would have given a month pay for being able to enter Davie’s brain when she, unprompted, charged straight into a flock of perfectly organized sheep. Out of boredom, grinning I swear, she scattered them, just to round them up again. Our herding clinic instructor called it Aussie-bowling, cause only Aussies do it.
They are not willful, but often lack the seriousness of other herding breeds, are the jesters of them all, are creatively obedient. When teamed with a person who doesn’t have a sense of humor, the relationship easily slides in the ditch, and incompatible teams are more common than one might think cause Aussies are darn good looking. If you take one for a stroll you’ll magnetically attract the attention of passersby. People stare, inquire, google, and then get one. All kinds of people, including the dog inexperienced, mentally and physically retired, and busy-with-other-stuff ones.
So, what can one do with a bossy and busy canine joker when there are no sheep to be organized, and when time is limited?
Any kind of dog sport will do. All herding breeds are excellent candidates for agility, Rally O’ and Freestyle dance, but there are other, less obvious activities that can help to turn an initially mismatched relationship into a mutually rewarding one.
For example people gathering. If there are several members in your family, have your pooch wake each one in the morning, and maybe even teach him to usher the individual to the breakfast table.
Instead of shouting for your partner or child, let your four-pawed Pan relay information with a note tied to his collar.
On off leash walks, spread out on purpose and allow your herder to regroup everyone. Herding humans isn’t the problem, nipping them is, but with a little training your pooch will learn space balance.
Herding dogs love toys. Scatter his stuff throughout the house and make it his task to collect them all, placing them on a mat, or in his toy box. Every Aussie or collie loves to chase after a ball. I swear our Davie was born with one in her mouth, and she fetched and released into our hands at 18 weeks of age, without any training. Your Border collie might not bring the ball all the way in, but likely tosses it in your direction and instantly runs out to where he expects it to land again.
Job creation is paramount for your herding dog, and equally important is, while keeping the Aussie’s comic nature in mind, that he understands that a task is something you facilitate, and not sporadic, self-generated entertainment. That is what commands are for. Don’t just throw the ball, tell him to “fetch” it. Don’t just let him trudge behind you, tell him “let’s go”. If you have a mailbox at the end of your driveway, send your pooch ahead with a “mail” command and then have him carry it in the house.
On hikes, teach him to “jump” over logs or across a brook, “balance” on a sidewalk curb, “up” on a park bench and “weave” around trees that stand close together. Davie learned to “pick” her own Saskatoon berries when they were in season. None of that takes a lot of extra time, but increases attention, obedience and the bond between you, and challenges your dog’s mind and body, important for most any dog, but vital for the innately busy ones.
Herding dogs are sometimes labeled dominant, hyper, stubborn and, wow, even untrainable. Nonsense! They are just inexhaustibly looking for a job, and seeking information from their person how to do it properly. When they get that, the inherently controlling pooch doesn’t get out-of-control, and his intense drive won’t turn into obsession or aggression.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reflections on the Park Day

It’s a couple of days after our “dog watching with Silvia” event, and like I thought, it was a lot of fun. The weather could not have been better, warm and sunny, and the park was populated with dogs of all sizes. On the small end a few pugs, a mini-dachshund, and a few terrier crosses, who all mingled with many larger ones: a couple of boxers, a German shepherd, several retrievers, a Bernese mountain dog, a standard poodle, quite a few mutts – likely shepherd something mixes, and three Amstaffs. There was a confident, fabulous puppy, maybe toller in her, who behaved like she’s done off-leash parks forever. Likely partly genetics, probably nicely raised wherever she was bred, but it also appears that she has a great canine role model. She arrived with two humans and a larger adult male, black with a white chest and socks, who was also very confident, had a lot of presence, but was super savvy and appropriate with every dog he encountered. He sniffed canine newcomers’ head and face first, then genitals and butt, but often refused to be checked out in turn and walked away. Most dogs he ignored after that, but when one shared his jerky play style, he interacted for a bit, pausing frequently and heeding to the other dog’s stop signals instantly. He let his puppy do her thing, but at the same time was very aware of his surroundings and split when other dogs were a tad too exuberant. The only one he attempted to bark away was a male greyhound who came muzzled. He, the hound, was yelled at from the front by the black dog, and mounted at the rear by an otherwise very laid back golden retriever. Both dogs, without any of us humans having any indication other than the muzzle, knew right away that this dog meant trouble, and indeed the hound terrorized every small dog in the park, including the puppy. The owner had no recall, no control, and didn’t leash him even after repeated attacks, obviously thinking that having her dog muzzled was good enough since he couldn’t bite and do “real” damage. Finally, perhaps because she picked up on the dirty looks she received from the owners whose dogs ran away screaming in fright, leashed him and left. I hope she won’t return until she’s worked through the dog’s predatory issues with the help of a professional.
But that was the only conflict between big dogs and small ones; the only conflict period. All other dogs either played with or ignored one another, no dog chased or was rough with the children who were there, and no dog seemed to guard toys, sticks or food.
And there were many toys. In fact, one thing that stuck out for me was that all the “bully” owners had a Frisbee and interspersed letting their pooches socialize with playing fetch. That was fantastic, cause it prevented that any of these very energetic and boisterous boxers, young Labradors, and Amstaffs pestered another pooch out of boredom.
What I also really liked was that every dog had a normal buckle collar on. No chokes, prongs or shock collars from what I saw, and almost every dog responded happily and instantly to their person’s request to return, follow, or hang close. So, to my surprise it was almost positive all the way.
Almost. There was one mid-size brown dog, maybe a Lab or hound mix, who charged up quickly, and whose behavior with other dogs was out-of-control. He didn’t respond when called, and was also the only dog I observed who was corrected and physically, Millan style, forced into a certain position as soon as his owners got physical control back. Other than correcting him, they didn’t seem to do much else - didn’t walk much, didn’t play, didn’t seem to have a toy or treats, so it appears that they expected perfect manners, calm submission, and mindless obedience around many distractions without giving anything in return.

The Seaview park morning was followed with six half-hour, one-on-one guided dog walks, and that was a lot of fun too. I finally got to meet pooches whose people I’ve known for some time.
The first one was a brilliant Spanish water dog, locally bred in Nova Scotia, who I saw first when she was five weeks old. She is two now and very beautiful, and motivated, alert and intense, like a good SWD should be.
The next one was the goofiest looking golden doodle, and on top he is a really, really nice boy – and a rescue. It was wonderful to see how many people open their homes and hearts to second chance dogs. This particular one needs a little confidence, that's all, and maybe I'll suggest for him to join our tracking group later this year. Tracking was the best confidence builder for our Will.
My next client also had one rescue, a pure, older Cairn terrier, and another two-year-old Cairn she acquired as a pup. That one was a bit livelier, clever and spirited, and as a result easily bored. Determined to get the most out of his off-leash time, he wasn’t always convinced that following his person faithfully or obeying a recall command would yield ultimate entertainment. But we managed to find a motivator he liked enough to come when called, readily and exuberantly. Exaggerated, prolonged attention and interaction did the job, and he quickly liked it so much that he lagged behind for a different reason: not to find stimulation elsewhere, but to prompt us to call him so fun with his person could continue.
The last new dog was a Border collie cross, again a rescue. Sweet with me and so willing to work and please, she was a bit reactive with dogs and fast moving humans. Typical for collies, as long as we kept a comfortable for her distance, she was agreeable to be redirected, so I am sure that in time she’ll be fine, especially since she lucked out and found an owner who is very caring and committed and not giving up.
The remaining dogs I already knew and worked with before. One is the sweetest ever Portuguese water dog; a two-year-old female, also locally bred and on the smaller side. That is something I noticed – almost every Portie I saw was smaller than usual. Maybe from the same breeder? Maybe it’s the new flavor for Porties? In any case, this one’s only misbehavior is that she’s a little too excitable at times, and spring loaded then. The jumping, the lack of self-control, is annoying and will take a little patience to change, but she is smart and motivated, so I am sure she’ll be perfect in no-time.
The last two dogs for the day were two Cavaliers, females, adults, one insecure, the other a bossy bitch, and I mean that in a nice way. Very much in control of herself she gave most dogs “The Look” I typically only see female herding dogs use. Without meaning to trivialize her behavior, cause I believe that a lap dog should be treated like any other one and commend the owner for her commitment to teach her girls manners, it was rather amusing when she kept a boxer in line with her eyes only. We watched him straining on his leash to say hello to a small terrier just a moment prior, and when he saw the Cavs he drifted towards them, but quickly changed his mind when he picked up the hairy stare the bossy one darted. He curved out, put his owner between him and us, and inconspicuously moseyed on. The problem behavior I was there for, the barking and lunging, was easily explained. Based on what I observed, most dogs heeded her “mind your own business” signals like the boxer did, so that is what she experiences and expects, and if a dog doesn’t she becomes frustrated and turns communication up a notch. We saw that with a couple of block-headed pooches who insisted on greeting. Keeping them out of her space will curb the barking and lunging, I am sure.
So, that was my day at two parks – one off-leash and one multi-use. It was a long and busy day, and yet I was not as tired at the end of it as I anticipated. I get to this twice more before August, and am really looking forward to it. And because I am slowly figuring out my new I-phone, maybe I’ll have some visual footage the next time I post more park observations.