Saturday, April 10, 2010

Learning To Be A Canine Camp Director

Back at work at Carrvilla it's time to train new staff to play with dogs. Everybody who has been to dog park or played with a dog thinks they know what they are doing. I tell them to learn from the dogs and get the cutest looks.
Teaching day care workers when to intervene or how best to control a group of dogs is long process. Most people think that they have to mirco manage every "conversation" a dog has. In day care groups dogs learn to work out the politics of their relationships; they learn to speak dog.  
Dogs talk to each other in a variety of ways. There is the excited stiff legged standing on tip toes greeting in which the dogs tail wags rapidly, but only a short distance. These postures convey an excitment for meeting mingled with a flavoring of "I am ready for anything".
Verbal conversations between dogs are the ones people seem to want to control the most. Granted there is a point at which a conversation gets out of control. The talent in handling dogs is to stay a head of the the curve on that.
Prolonged barking is never good. The short very intense barks that sound so angry the hound from hell is in the building fall into the same category.
Day care staff need to hear the sounds they must respond to so that dogs are protected. Once trainees know what the serious sounds are, then I want them to observe and learn the the sounds or conversation that occurs just before. This is the point where the dogs are mostly speaking non verbally.
In this level of training day care workers become aware of the conversation that preceeds a possible spat. This is now an aware staff member. Prior to this stage people say things like,"There was no warning; he just snapped."
I am always so happy for people when they reach this observational plateau; not everyone reaches this point.
Because the concept of dominence has such negative baggage for us many will become pro active and begin to interupt dog speak in the pre phase. They assume that the precursor conversation will lead to a spat or may lead in that direction.
Skilled staff will at this point redirect play in a positive way rather than becoming corrective. Dogs will happily be seduced away from a spat by fun or interesting; don't waste your breath with a corrective tone at a distance. The only one you're impressing is you.
The worse thing you can do is grab a dog by the scruff or yell. You are simply adding to the negative energy. Remember at this conversation moment nothing bad has happened. During the phase when dogs are on their toes, we don't know what they are saying to each other. This conversation very often leads to play bows and a ton of fun.

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