Breed and Behavior

Photo courtesy of PetPlace.com

In Dangerous Deeds, residents are divided by a proposed ordinance to ban what some consider “dangerous dogs” in the county. Those in favor of the ordinance believe some breeds can never be trusted, while others disagree and refuse to endorse the proposal. When asked her opinion, dog trainer and owner of Waterside Kennels Maggie Porter has this to say:

“Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only breeds on somebody’s banned list that can be dangerous. Any dog that’s not properly trained or supervised or exercised regularly is capable of harming others. The answer isn’t a ban. The answer lies in better training for dogs and education for everyone in the community.”

Maggie’s stance on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is similar to the positions held by the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s published position statement argues that “breed does not predict behavior” and offers a thoughtful and comprehensive review of BSL and offers cogent alternatives.

And while some people think bans are limited to what they consider dangerous breeds, research by groups such as the Responsible Dog Owners of The Western States suggests at least 75 breeds are listed as either banned or restricted. You might be surprised to learn that two of the most popular breeds—the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever—are included on the list. Even more troubling, many bans extend beyond named breeds and instead rely on physical descriptions. Consider this excerpt from the article Why Breed Bans Affect You published by the AKC this year:

Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.

The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed.  However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?

Whether you support or oppose breed bans, I hope you’ll agree that responsible ownership can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for people and dogs alike.

Responsibilities evolve over the lifespan of your dog. Check out the AKC’s 75 Ways to Be a Responsible Dog Owner for a comprehensive overview. A great read for anyone new to sharing their life with a dog, and a great reminder for all of us!

Photo courtesy of AVMA.ORG

“It’s raining cats and dogs”

 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Strong storms rolling across the hills this morning brought to mind this 19th century image.  If you’ve never heard the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” you might enjoy reading the possible origins noted in this Everyday Mysteries post.

Some suggest this was inspired by tales of Odin, the Norse god of storms. While no evidence exists to support such a notion, it certainly presents a compelling image.

More plausible is the theory offered by The Phrase Finder: “The well-known antipathy between cats and dogs and their consequential fights has been suggested as a metaphor for stormy weather.”

It’s fair to say neither Buddy the Wonder Cat nor Sasha would venture out in stormy weather, although the cat did make it as far as a chair on the covered patio. Despite being sheltered on a chair well back from the patio’s edge, he was soon soaked, which led to time-out in the laundry room with Sasha for company, who wanted no part of the rain. This strikes me as funny given Sasha’s recent adventures with the lawn sprinklers–which results in me using every spare towel to dry her thick coat. She’s not picky about the towels I use, but Buddy The Wonder Cat won’t sit still if I use anything except his personal favorites.

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A fan recently emailed to ask for news about the next book in the Waterside Kennels series. He added “My wife and I really enjoyed Deadly Ties and are glad to have it in our library.” I’m happy to report that Dangerous Deeds is still on track for publication this year. I’ve committed most of this summer to editing for continuity (important in any book and essential when writing a series). Balancing pace and plot lines often leads to more revising and rewriting than I’d anticipated. Some writers claim to manage this easily; alas, I am not among them, but I am persistent, and eager to share this story with you.

Today’s work focuses on the scene in which Sweet Pea finds an injured kitten. Maggie Porter—kennel owner, dog trainer, and sometime-sleuth—uses “leave it” and “drop it” to manage the situation. If you’re not familiar with these “must know” commands, these may help:

Prefer text? Check out these helpful links:

Teaching your dog a super-strength leave-it command

Teach Your Dog to Leave It: It Could Save His Life

Teaching Your Dog to Let Go Of Things

Sasha mastered both “leave it” and “drop it” early on in our time together. She was slower to embrace “take it” but we’ve made progress with that using her Puppy squeeze toy as part of indoor “fetch” and “bring it” time. I highly recommend these commands to all dog owners!

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Whistling Past The Graveyard

“Look at that!”

In the many months I’ve been working to help Sasha overcome anxiety after having been attacked by off-leash dogs, we’ve tried just about every strategy and training technique that’s been published on the subject. Like most things in life, some days we make more progress than others. Sasha is doing her best to be brave in scary situations, and I make sure  she knows she’s loved and safe with me.

If we’re in a trigger-stacked environment, Sasha defaults to what I consider her “stress bark.” She’ll lock eyes on the target, lunge, and generally appear to warn off the other dog with fierce “Don’t come over here!” barking. This happens most often when unleashed dogs approach. If I spot the danger before she panics–and before the dog gets too close–I can persuade her to turn away and move on with me. I’m glad to report we’ve had fewer interactions with unleashed dogs recently, and the dogs we see on our walkabouts have been far enough away that we’ve avoided major distress.

I looked back through the training log this morning and noticed a definite pattern of improvement emerging. While experts might shake their heads over our methods, I’ve seen the best results when I let Sasha choose how to react. Sometimes she’ll park herself next to me when we see someone on the opposite side of the street walking our way with a leashed dog. She won’t make much eye contact with me, preferring instead to focus on the treats in my hand. In between nibbles she’ll toss occasional glances at the dog and a short bark or two.

We’ve made progress when passing dogs behind fences, too. Wherever possible I will cross the street to put more distance between Sasha and the other dogs, but until recently that didn’t reduce the stress reaction. Lately, though, I’ve seen different behavior. I can tell from her tone, and the brevity of her response, that it’s a “Hello there!” sort of bark. Initial greetings completed, Sasha then hurries along, muttering softly while looking anywhere but back at the dogs. The mutters stop when we get past the yard, and her pace slows as well. It’s almost as though she’s determined to ignore the distraction and convince herself all is well. The online dictionary Wiktionary describes this sort of behavior as “whistling past the graveyard” in an attempt to seem calm in the face of something frightening.

Every day I see her inching past her fear as she explores the world around us. Yesterday we saw two dogs–a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix (her owner says she’s a “chiweenie”) and a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel. I confess to an “oh no” moment when I saw them, as the chiweenie has charged off-leash in our direction once before. This time, the dogs were leashed and moving away from where we stood diagonally across the intersection. Sasha saw them, barked once and then just stood there, watching them. (Cue the trumpets!) We followed a block back and Sasha was calm and interested the whole time. She barked just twice, and was rewarded for stopping and looking. From there, it was an easy step to “Let’s Go!”

Of all the strategies we’ve tried, the “Look At That” counter-conditioning approach yields the most consistent results. Here’s a video explaining the LAT approach:

For those of you who prefer in-depth articles instead of videos, check out the excellent article Using Control Unleashed for Dog-Dog Aggression: Look At That authored by Marisa Scully, CBDT-KA. And for a shorter take on the same subject, you might enjoy “LOOK AT THAT!”  by Lilian Akin, CPDT, which was adapted from Leslie’s McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed.” And here’s one more short LAT dog training plan you might find useful.

And for a great round-up of ideas, be sure to check out Nancy Freedman-Smith’s article “10 Tips To Teach Your Reactive Dog To Stay Calm.

My goal is to help Sasha become more confident wherever we go. The “Look at that!” counter-conditioning approach has helped us both enjoy our daily walks. If you have a reactive dog, you might give LAT a try.

    Ready for a great adventure? “Let’s Go!”

Taking control

When you share your life with a dog, some things are essential responsibilities. For me, the list starts with love and attention. Add in good nutrition, regular veterinary care, and frequent grooming. Obedience skills and good manners are on the list, as well; these provide terrific opportunities to bond with your dog.

I’ll add control your dog in public to that list.

I live in a dog-friendly community. From trails to outdoor markets to parks, you’re likely to find nearly as many dogs as people. Some events, such as the annual Dogwood Walk, are all about dogs and raising both awareness and money to support our local animal shelter. When I take Sasha to a crowded event like this—as I did yesterday—I have multiple strategies planned to help her enjoy herself.

Sasha’s irritation with unleashed dogs extends (no pun intended) to dogs on retractable or overly long leashes. Knowing that, we always give a wide berth to such dogs, and to anything that might trigger stress. We settled on a bench off the walking path and beyond the reach of dogs on a standard leash. The exhibitor booths ringed the big meadow on the opposite side of the path. Sasha parked herself at my feet, clearly content to see the action without actively participating. Dogs and people passed by on the path, which gave me plenty of opportunities to say “Look at that” while doling out bits of Ziwi treats—her favorites, second only to cucumbers. All went well until a dog on a long leash came from behind us and rushed Sasha who, predictably, panicked.  When we told the owner, “Control your dog” the woman said, “Shut up.”

No.

I’m not going to shut up. I’m not going to allow any person or dog to abuse my Sasha. Instead, I’ll use this forum to remind people of a few basic facts of responsible dog ownership.

Respect space. Don’t assume all dogs—or people—are comfortable being crowded by strangers. While I was still calming Sasha, a woman we’ve met before came by with a lovely Sheltie and a Pomeranian. She stopped beside the path but came no closer, and all three dogs sat calmly during our brief visit.

Some dogs feel the need for personal space more than others. This is often misunderstood—or ignored—by people who insist their dog is friendly and just wants to play. Those folks would be well served by learning more about Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS).

Be polite. Four Great Pyrenees came strolling along. (I’m not sure Sasha knew what to make of anything that big.) The dogs were on long leashes and one headed our way at a leisurely pace. When I told the owner, “We’re keeping our distance” he said, “Understood” then nodded and moved his dogs along. No fuss, no drama, just good manners and thoughtful behavior.

Practice Responsible Ownership skills, and be courteous to others in the community.

Control your dog. Unless you’re at a designated off-leash dog park, keep your dog on leash and under your control. Save those long lines for open meadows and fields, and use retractable leashes only when it’s safe to do so. Be aware of your surroundings, and accept responsibility for your own actions as well as your dog’s behavior.

You might be familiar with the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. Practicing the skills required for each test can help you control your dog.

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Sasha is a smart dog. I’ll keep working every day to help her feel comfortable and confident in her surroundings. And until others learn to be responsible owners, I’ll continue to protect her from scary dogs and careless humans.