Certified Professional Trainer
While I hope everyone enjoys a restful weekend with their friends and family, I also hope everyone takes a few moments during this weekend to reflect on the reason for the Memorial Day Holiday - to honor and remember those in the armed services who have died serving this country and protecting our freedoms. Every time you enjoy freely expressing an opinion, please consider the soldiers that made sacrifices to protect that right for you. Others in many parts of this world do not enjoy our freedoms!
Since I am a dog trainer and this is a dog blog, I'd also like everyone to remember there have been thousands of military working dogs who have helped keep our soldiers safe - many have died or been injured during that duty. There's a very nice website at http://www.uswardogs.org/ which details many personal stories of these dogs, and provide a bounty of additional information.
Happy Memorial Day !
Over the years I have come to find many common preconceptions when visiting owners. Many of the items below are all the rage on the internet, others are rhetorically reinforced among some training camps. Today I thought I would share my "Top 10" common points of dog advice that in my experience bear no substance.
10) All aggression is fear based.
9) All fearful or skittish dogs were abused.
8) All dogs of the same breed will be similar.
7) The most important ingredient for training success is a dog's intelligence.
6) My young dog will outgrow its problem behaviors.
5) Dog parks provide healthy socialization.
4) Dominance is common in many dogs, and letting dogs sort out pecking order is natural.
3) Ignoring a dog when mis-behaving removes the attention it seeks, and will teach the dog to stop the behavior.
2) Correcting a problem degrades the relationship an owner shares with their dog.
1) Good behavior and reliable obedience come from relationships based entirely on friendship.
In several stories regarding dog attacks over the past weeks, I've seen one common thread that most of the writers don't seem to discuss - unsupervised children. Reporters seem quick to suggest that certain breeds have propensities for aggression, or that bad owners result in bad dogs. The reality is that both breed and human interactions can play a role in dog aggression. But in many stories I read, the dog was simply responding to poor human interaction, often involving children.
In one recent story, a boy was mauled by 2 Rottweilers who where subsequently put down by the owner. Some details were available in this story, and the matter involved young teen boys, one of which climbed a rather high fence and trespassed on a commercial property. The injuries were, of course, tragic. These dogs were in what seemed to be a well-secured, fenced area. They were there for protection of the commercial property, and they saw an intruder. They did protect, and they died for doing what they were there to do. The true tragedy here is that a child was injured. But should the dogs pay for a child that was unsupervised, broke the law, and subsequently was injured?
While some may think that all dogs should be good with children, in reality not all dogs are. There will always be a responsibility for parents to teach their children important safety points around dogs. More importantly, parents need to supervise child interactions with all dogs - known and unknown. Small children especially, should never be left unsupervised with a dog - regardless of how "good" it may seem with kids. Small children are notorious for rough and inappropriate interactions with dogs, as well as odd movement and noises - things that can be very unsettling for even the best dogs.
I ran across a recent dog advice article (newspaper) regarding dogs that are generally well behaved but become crazy on walks when other dogs are nearby. The article was rather lengthy and offered theories on why some dogs behave in this manner, a behavior I and many other trainers classify as 'reactivity'. The author in the news article, in the end, suggested this behavior was fear based and the result of some prior bad experience somewhere in the past of these dogs.
Dogs that behave poorly around other dogs, most commonly on walks, are dogs I see several times weekly. This is a very common problem which in my experience can have several causes - anxiety from a prior bad experience being the least common. Because the reactive behavior can look similar regardless of divergent causes, and because of the abundance of online diagnoses being offered, I'm certain many owners become thoroughly confused when researching this problem. It would be my suggestion to seek professional help from someone who deals with this regularly vs relying on a website that cannot evaluate your dog.
At every initial visit I spend time working with owners and their dogs on walking. Walking is a leadership exercise (or should be), one that also builds communication with a pet and teaches focus and calming with many dogs. Aside from reactivity, dogs that pull or lead are not focused on their owners! Working with a trainer can not only show you how to get your dog walking properly, but you'll probably be surprised to find how tiring and calming a healthy, thoughtful walk can be for your dog. Dogs that don't walk well typically have a host of other poor behaviors in a home, and have little or no understanding of commands or obedience.
Warmer weather is here early this year! Now is an excellent time to start helping your dog earn a more privileged life. Well behaved and trained dogs can go more places and enjoy more activities with their owners, because their owners know they can trust them to listen and behave properly in diverse situations and settings. Training takes time, and like all goals it doesn't happen without work and a plan. Every plan requires an initial first step.
I ran across a news story recently (here) discussing a program to help prevent dog bites. The story went on to state that over the past 15 years the number of documented dog bites has doubled, and that "national experts" are at a loss to explain this uptick in stats. One person in the story suggested poor care for dogs is the reason, giving the example of how leaving a dog chained outdoors for all hours can add to aggressive behavior. While poor treatment of dogs (including isolated tethering) can certainly increase occurrences of aggression, in most stories involving dog attacks this is rarely pertinent. In fact, many attacks occur in homes with family pets, and/or involve dogs ranging unsupervised through neighborhoods in pairs or packs.
While I applaud any and all programs geared to help humans and dogs live better lives together, I also have some strong opinions regarding why communities are seeing more bites and aggression in dogs than in years past. In short, we have spent the past 2-3 decades using human thinking and theory to explain dog behavior! Dogs are not people, and many of the popular approaches to gaining good behavior solely through friendship are based on near sighted human perspectives IMO. For years on this blog, I have been addressing this fundamental lack of understanding and respect for dogs. They are very different from human beings in very many ways.
When we fail to look outside our limited, theoretical, human boxes, we also fail to appreciate what motivates dogs and helps them to live well in a human world. In short, dog behavior is more strongly rooted in respect than friendship. It's fine to be friendly to your dog and love it, but dogs need more. A dog that sees you as simply a friend will also see your wishes as simply optional. A dog that sees you as a leader, however, will defer to your judgement while being more relaxed, calm, mannered, obedient, and better behaved. It's a shame that many training philosophies over the past decades have equated leadership with harsh punishment and intimidation. Leaders never intimidate, but they do provide clear expectations while teaching required behaviors. Human-centric theorists simply don't get this, and aren't thinking beyond their human perspective. So while the number of owners training their dogs may be up over these past 15 years, perhaps these friendship-focused training philosophies aren't really helping dogs live better in our human world.
Also, I cringe reading many of the online recommendations for "socialization". Socialization is great, but there's a huge difference between good socialization that teaches dogs what's normal in our world, and bad socialization which allows (and thereby teaches) poor behaviors. For the past 2 decades many dog behavior "experts" have been advocates of dog parks and doggy play time. What are we really teaching our dogs in these settings and situations? From my own experience, I believe many dogs are simply learning how to be wild and poorly behaved around other dogs. I certainly let my dogs interact and play with other dogs, but they're never allowed to annoy me or another dog. That's not what's happening at many dog parks and doggy social settings. And many owners, not understanding what is healthy socialization, are letting their dogs go down a path that will not serve them or their pet well.
So while the "experts" may be at a loss to explain why dog bites are up over the past 15 years, I'd like to suggest these statistics may be fallout from the humanization of our canine companions. Fewer bites and better behavior come from leadership and respect, not from friendship alone. Please take a few minutes and read more about respect here. When you do, consider whether dogs meeting the "HIGH" criteria listed there are likely to be biters?
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