Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who Let The Dogs Out

"If you have a good dog, trust your dog."

When in a day care situation or a situation with unfamiliar dogs how do you know when to get involved? I know you've said no blood no foul, but obviously you don't know you have a problem you need to intervien with until there is blood? How often do you see small puncture holes (I'm talking the through the skin punctures with no extra tearing or deeper) in day care? Do you ever have real dog fights?

 By my definition, a spat is is over in three seconds. Most dogs DO NOT attempt to maim or kill. That is not normal. Each dog just wants his way.
Want the ball. Want to be left alone. Want to hump you.
We have a lovely chow x husky mix female in our day care. When a new dog comes up to her for the first time, she shows her teeth and snaps them at the new comer. She does not like rough play. We know that she is setting the ground rules with her new friend. We trust Mandy to do that.
Day care dogs are not unfamiliar to us.
In three seconds you should be redirecting your group and assessing the situation.
The goal with a group of dogs is to keep them happily involved in play. When you see them getting stiff legged and uncomfortable with each other, redirect. We must be leaders in the park. 
We panic at a grumble, then over correct a dog from a place of fear. 
The point is to direct or lead the dogs, but to not panic at a spat. 
Shaker's confidence has been shaken by his run in with Stoney. He is more reactive. Do I trust him? Yes, he is a good dog. Will I break it up if he grumbles at another dog? No. I will redirect his attention and praise him when he calms down again. He needs to learn to trust the other dog will respond appropriately to his signals. When he signalled submission, Stoney continued to attack him. Now, he is more reactive with some dogs he doesn't know.
I need to help him rebuild his confidence. Dr. Temple Grandin teaches us what a strong emotion fear is for animals. I need to give him some space to deal with his fear. When he does, I let him know how wonderful he is. My praise calms him right  down. His confidence will return in no time. 
If a dog is afraid and we correct him, that further erodes confidence. The goal is to have enough of a realtionship with your dogs that you can redirect instead of having to correct.
In the six years that I did the day care here, I never had a spat let alone a fight. I read the signals and stay ahead of the behavior. 
Until you get to that point, learning to trust a good dog reduces trouble. Klondyke, a husky in our day care since puppyhood will correct a misbehaving newbie. They listen to him; he speaks the language. The new dogs are the ones to watch, we get a feel for how they handle the comptetion of the chase for a ball or the attention of the handler. 
We evaluate the dogs before accepting them into day care. Reactive dogs are not accepted. 
Most wounds are from two dogs going for the same ball complete accidents. A spat can result in a puncture. Some dogs are reactive when going through gates or doors. They require special handling. We keep records of which dogs are involved in incidents. I don't want a dogs in day care that can't control their teeth.
Don't wait for blood! They have three seconds to solve it on their own after that you have a dog fight. We separate dog fights.
I had a couple of Bullmastiff sisters that would fight. It looked scarey to see these two big girls. Each wanted to win, but they never had a mark; that's no blood, no foul. Did we separate them? You bet.
Here is my rule: if you can't stay ahead of the dog's behavior to prevent a spat; give them the three seconds to settle it. Take that deep breath, then do what you need to do. 
These are skills that take time to develop. I see more wounds with overreactive handlers who try to micro manage the dogs.
We keep track of who is in charge when an incident occurs.
Puncture wounds here are infrequent enough that they still upset me greatly when they happen. I get all on the war path with my staff because we are the humans in charge. 
 Does this clarify? Does it bring up any other questions? 


  1. "Dr. Temple Grandin teaches us what a strong emotion fear is for animals. I need to give him some space to deal with his fear. When he does, I let him know how wonderful he is."

    It seems fear may be the strongest emotion in dogs. A dog overcome with fear ceases to think and purely reacts. I've thought for quite some time now that MOST aggressive events are fear based in dogs. Yes I do think there are some that are not but most are quite obviously based with fear and uncertainty. I agree as well that the only way to build his confidence back up is to let him work through his issue and back him up with praise. I think the only way fear is truly gone is to let the dog realize there is nothing to be fearful about.

    "If a dog is afraid and we correct him, that further erodes confidence."

    I also agree with this statement and will add that it will add to the reactivity problem. You likely will extinguish the early warning to the other dog and end up with a dog that is more "unpredictable". It's easy to punish a growl out of a dog, but do you want a dog that doesn't growl as a warning? Is it better if he just stands there until his threshhold of fear is reached and then react? Punishment can be very effective at extinguishing a behavior but the behavior actually being extinguished will not be the dogs fear and uncertainty. You could even use punishment to get a dog not to react at all. Punishment is a very powerful tool when used by a skilled trainer. Imagine, dog is fearful of another dog... training happens, dog does not react to other dogs at all. Now think, I don't like spiders... training ensues, now I will hold still while spiders crawl on me... Do I like spiders now??? HECK NO! Can you imagine the inner turmoil? I might behave like they don't bother me... I bet you get my point. Sorry to get so lengthy but I thought I would elaborate on one of your points with one of my soapboxes.

    On another note, I am totally impressed that punctures are not a common occurance. Amazing! I really want to come to doggy day care boot camp!

  2. Well said my Dear; you get on your soapbox any time. Skilled trainer- punishment; you'll have to give me an example of when you hook those 2 together.

  3. I didn't say I agreed with punishment... That is not the relationship I strive for with my dogs. Respect and leadership is a little more my style. Plenty of trainers have great success with dogs that seem very happy to work in obedience and field that use positive punishment with great timing and skill. The dogs have a clear understanding of what is expected and therefore have confidence in the work they are performing. Most would be trainers are not that "skilled" and will develope fear or no response in the dog because the dog does not have a clear understanding.