There you are, standing in the middle of the kind of drama daytime TV strives for – in one corner you’ve got Puppy A and Puppy B, who are cowering like they’ve just survived Vietnam, while in the second corner Puppies C and D are play bowing, woofing, and having a good time.
In the third corner—and here’s the puppy you WANT because he’s just so cute you can’t handle it—is Puppy E, who is staring down a very nervous looking Puppy F.
A puppy isn't born with a clean slate. Some personality traits are inherited and will start showing very quickly. By interacting with his littermates a puppy quickly learns how far these can take him. Dog communication systems are up and running from day one, and their personalities are forming faster than mom can pop them out. This is very helpful if you do your homework and know either how to pick the “best” puppy for you or how to handle the puppy you've picked.
However, if you are like most people and pick the puppy that is the most appealing to you —Puppy E, despite the fact that he’s over in the corner trying to give Puppy F a heart attack—you may find yourself with a dog who is already a bully in the making.
But not every dog is BORN a bully—some learn it, too.
How your dog meets other dogs, other people or handles himself in a new environment is just as important as getting to meet them and being exposed to new places and situations.
It will do little good to take your dog to meet a new puppy if he’s allowed to run up and greet him face to face. While humans like greeting one another that way, dogs find it rude.
Dogs prefer what we call a calming curve which means that instead of a face-to-face greeting, they arc their bodies and sniff each other’s rear ends, genitals, and maybe even each other’s mouths. (Yes, sometimes in that exact order. Don’t you just want to let your dog lick your face right now?)
A dog that runs right up to another dog’s face is either very brave (albeit very stupid) or is trying to start something. Since you don’t know how a dog approached this way will react—that is, whether he will assume the pup is just rude or if he will assume that he is trying to eat him—don’t take the chance.
Do you have e a dog who likes charging headfirst toward another dog’s face? Perhaps he’s too excited when he’s going to meet another dog—so excited, in fact, that he’s practically pulling your arm out of socket to get there? A dog like this probably isn’t going to remember his manners.
Kittie (right) is meeting Daisey (middle), who is not dog friendly. Though they'd already met, Daisey is showing her displeasure at having been approached face to face.
Here’s a rule of thumb: If you think your dog isn’t going to meet another dog politely, don’t let him meet the other dog; seeing another dog is still a step in the right direction. Socializing doesn’t always have to mean “meet;” first, your dog has to be able to handle himself around other dogs. If he can’t, he shouldn’t be rehearsing the wrong way to do it.
Wait for calmness, and then proceed.
I mentioned rehearsing the wrong thing. Here’s the deal: the more times a dog gets to do it the wrong way, the harder it’s going to be to retrain him to do it the right way, and the more likely the poor guy is going to get himself into trouble.
Why train him to do it the right way? If you don't, you’re putting yourself, your dog, and other dogs at risk. Not only could another dog take offense and take it out on your dog—or you—but bullying CAN escalate into aggression.
Note: If you think your dog is aggressive, or is headed toward the path of aggression, contact a professional trainer or behaviorist. The IAABC, APDT, CAPDT, and CDBC websites have a section dedicated to finding a professional in your area. Look them up, and give them a call.
What are these “wrong things” I keep referring to? Here are some examples (a few already mentioned) :
- Dog runs straight up to another dog’s face as a “greeting.”
- Constantly tries to put his head or paws over the shoulders of another dog.
- Dog - females included - tries to mount another dog or even hump the air next to him.
- Dog that constantly mouths other dogs - especially around the neck area, even more so if done in an over-the-shoulders fashion.
Case example: Maggie May and adolescence
One day my brother was doing sit-ups on the floor of his bedroom. Maggie was hanging out, sitting on top of the bed and watching him. Suddenly, she hopped off the bed, ran over to him, and mounted his leg.Coping Skills
This confused and distressed my brother greatly - so much so that he abandoned his exercise and immediately contacted our trainer and behaviorist. (…who subsequently probably about fell over laughing. We’ll never know; he won’t tell us.)
Maggie wasn’t being a bully. She wasn’t even being bad - she simply was an adolescent dog who got overly excited, wasn’t quite sure of her position in the pack, and just so happened to think humping my poor brother’s leg while he was exercising was a grand idea.
What do I mean by coping skills? Let's take a look at an example.
Kittie and I were walking along, and lo and behold, ahead of us was a dog that was dragging his human down the street. Kittie was interested and would have liked to investigate, even though the dog was coming off a little strongly for either of our tastes. Being a smart and savvy owner… I knew that I couldn’t possibly know how a meeting with that particular dog would turn out. I turned, called her to me - and away from the interesting dog - and walked away.
A dog with lacking coping skills could have had a variety of reactions to that encounter (or lack thereof.) First, she may have balked and freaked out about the fact that there was another dog. She may have also gotten snippy with me when she realized that I wasn’t going to allow her to meet the other dog.
Whether you’re asking your dog to handle herself in a new environment, handle being told the n-o word, handle hearing a loud noise, etc; she’s being asked to use her coping mechanisms. A dog without them… is a dog who was likely allowed to rehearse fears, demanding behaviors; or if she was ever asked for a command, she never had to perform it. Again, these are examples, and dogs without coping skills also come from abused or neglected homes, or they may even bad genetics.
Case example: Emma Dog
The first day I met Emma, I knew she was a bully. We - my dog Kittie and I - were standing in the front of the Doggy Daycare, waiting for the day’s arrivals when Emma came in to meet us.Bullying is on the rise. And so is puppy aggression. Whether it’s due to genetics, socialization, rehearsing poor behavior, lack of coping skills, or even lack of decent training - it’s still on the rise.
Emma came in nicely, and Kittie tried to engage her in a nicely done calming curve sniff, but instead Emma ran right up to her and started shoving her around using her shoulders. She jumped on her back, tried to bite at her neck, and would do it all over again even after she was called off.
Emma is not a patient dog; she wants what she wants right now and she gets extremely upset when things don’t go her way. The day I met her, I said she was headed straight down a Very Bad Path. I did my best with what little time I had with her to teach her “Permission Please” and it worked well … but only when she was with me.
Unfortunately, Emma’s mom and dad allow her to bully them - and other dogs - into giving her anything and everything she wants.
Emma Dog’s mom doesn’t have her ask “Permission Please” before she gets anything. Emma gets to bark, growl, whine, snap, and rehearse any type of demanding, poor behavior she so pleases before she gets her goody, her ball, etc. So, when Emma Dog comes to daycare, she expects life to be much the same.
Last time I saw Emma, it had been quite a few months since I’d driven the hour and a half drive to Paws N Claws to help out with Daycare for the day. I expected her to be much the same, but since I’d last heard that Emma was going to Dog School, I had high hopes for the once-demanding pooch.
Unfortunately, I was in for an unpleasant surprise. The door to outside is not double-gated, and though everyone is on leash, I ask for a sit before the door is opened, just to make extra sure that everything is in order and no one is going to slip his leash and make a dash for State Route 14. I will not do anything that could result in the loss of one of these precious pooches.
However, Miss Emma Dog - who knows “sit” very well - was too busy staring at the door intently to comply with my “Permission Please” request. I waited…and waited…and waited….
And Emma Dog turned around and barked, whined, and growled at me, demanding I open the door RIGHT NOW. (I ignored this, but moved all other dogs away from Emma, so that she could not make the decision to take her frustration out on anything but a door knob. Emma doesn’t have very good coping skills. When she’s not given her way, she explodes into a frustrated rage and will attack anything near her - be it a fence post, a human, or another dog.)
I just waited. It wasn’t going to hurt my feelings if she didn’t get her way.
She sat out of sheer frustration, but I took it and ran with it, told her good girl, released her, and opened the door.
We need to be educated owners with our dog’s best interests in mind and in heart. That means that we need to train OUR dogs how to properly greet and handle themselves in the presence of other dogs. Even if it means that sometimes we’re going to have to say “no” to an owner of the cutest, most adorable puppy that we don’t feel comfortable allowing our dog to meet. We can’t possibly leave it up to the other dog parents to get it together. When it comes to your dog, it’s up to you. There’s no reason to allow your dog to be bullied by another dog, or to be the bully.
Julie is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and is working on her case studies to become a member of the International Association of Animal Behvaior Consultants. She coaches parents to train their fur-children in Confidence Building for fearful dogs, Agility, Rally, FlyBall, and Obedience. In her free time, she volunteers at local shelters and reads up on the newest dog-world information. You can visit her website at www.northeastdogtraining.org.
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