With the hot “dog days of June” upon us, I thought that instead of just waiting to have another get together/course, I could just share details of some of the things our morning pack is doing and everyone will get some benefit whether you’re able to walk with us in the mornings on the beach or not. And thanks to our new friend Jameson, he is able to teach us even when we’re absent.
I’m now a dog handler at the Humane Society and I did it for two main reasons: First, I have the time right now and I have the knowledge to safely interact with dogs even in an unbalanced environment such as their kennels (THAT is an understatement!). Second, I wanted to help each individual dog with taking away the burden of needing to be in a leadership position all of the time and get a chance to just get outside and be a dog, even for a little bit. It’s exhausting for dogs to be in the roles of leaders; but more about that in a minute.
First, the background: Jameson is a mixed breed that two friends have lovingly and graciously volunteered to watch while his owners are away for two weeks on their honeymoon. Jameson, however, apparently hasn’t been socialized with other dogs and is very canine/prey driven, which leads to excitement, dominance, and aggression. I don’t think he has chosen to do this; dogs who do not have a calm/assertive authority figure think that it is their place to fill that role – it’s hardwired into their heredity for survival. That is why they can change so rapidly when animal/dog/breed are respected with calm energy from the pack leader, and the pack leader takes on the responsibility for leadership. It’s not in the dog’s PRIMARY nature to be a pack leader; they are followers and that’s where they are the happiest and most balanced. You can see that in our own pack. However, Jameson thinks he has to lead and NO ONE is following him so he has to PROVE that he is the leader, which is WAY unbalanced and causes his excitement/frustration/dominance and can lead to aggression. U.S. Presidents age significantly when they are in office – that’s a clue as to how stressful it is to lead all of the time! And they pitch temper tantrums when no one is listening to them or if everyone wants to follow someone else…. (meet Jameson!).
After several days, Jameson has already improved in the VERY limited time he has been with us, but he is still a challenge. Why? Because he has not had rules/boundaries/or limitations and he protests that he has them now, especially since he apparently hasn’t had them all of his adult life. So he becomes alert/excited when another dog approaches, and tries to dominate by a lot of noise and “climbing” the other dog (this is “high ground advantage”, a tactical term, not “humping” and starts with placing the head on top of the shoulders before climbing with the legs). This is textbook excitement/dominance which leads to aggression and leads to a fight or a bite (human or canine) especially when it’s not corrected at the beginning. The key is to prevent, not break up the fight after it starts.
So, timing in a correction is everything. You must have the right type of collar (no harnesses), the right kind of leash (no flexi-leashes) and the collar must be placed correctly (high on the dog’s neck just like a dog show) to keep the head up and not down or forward. After the correction, the leash must not have any tension because the dog has to think, “Oh, I get it; they want me to relax.” Sound, not name, is used, and never block the dog to get his/her attention (blocking, or standing in front face to face to correct, allows the dog to control human movement – they will always look around your legs, causing you to move back and forth. Too much of that, and the dog may bite to control your movement and get you to stop – his idea of a correction for YOU!). Simply correct, and bring them to YOUR side with both of you facing out – corrections are discipline for unacceptable behaviors, not punishment (so stay calm!).
Remember that this type of correction is a quick tug on the leash followed by relaxing the tension. There is no such thing as, "I have a small dog and his/her neck is too fragile." We are not swinging the dog overhead like a lasso! Small dogs and big dogs alike, their necks are extremely muscular because the skull/nose is in constant movement. Otherwise, just put a whiplash collar on them so their neck won't move at all (and see how happy they are wearing THAT for a while!).
The second morning that correction had to go up a notch for Jameson, after he tried climbing on Koa and got corrected by me. He acted out his protest by trying to climb me after turning at me. Pack leaders are not challenged by followers but if they are, it’s not personal. He still didn’t know the hierarchy, so to teach that point I put him onto his side in the sand with a couple of seconds of kicking and growling – all just a protest. The follow-through on any correct is important; take the time to do it! He thought that after a couple of seconds he was good to get up on his own… this is just another manifestation of no rules in the past. So after another flip to his other side and being pinned down again until he fully relaxed, he finally surrendered to the exercise and I got up and had him get up AFTERWARDS. I wasn’t upset/frustrated/angry/aggressive; I want him to be happy and he will never be a happy dog with that kind of energy or attitude. We are here to help him and the whole thing took less than a minute.
Many of you saw the instant transformation that took place in the ANIMAL, DOG part of him afterwards and even though he still needs reminding (that’s the BREED part of him remembering the repetitious negative energy in his past), toward the end of the walk he was happy to the point that he invited Koa for play (downward-facing dog position in Yoga is the canine body language of, “Let’s play.”). This still means that pack leaders have to limit the intensity of the play, just like you should do with your kids, but that behavior change is HUGE in Jameson and has to – and should – take place even for a short while.
All of us have now participated in walking with him (sometimes he is a little challenging in causing us to control the human energy, but that’s probably why he is with us) and have walked multiple dogs – including Jameson – side by side with him for a while. His two days I spoke of have translated to only about two hours total! Think about how long it would take to try to rehabilitate a dominant/aggressive human! That is the greatest thing about dogs – with the right energy, they get it, and they get it pretty fast. It only gets easier from there.
One last point: I said earlier that timing is everything in a correction. Last week I had to correct 2 off-leash pits that surrounded Koa on the beach in AB and had switched from greet to pre-attack mode. One understood after I verbally corrected and stepped in, but the other needed the bite touch. Both understood at that point who the authority figure was and who was in charge and that I wasn’t going to let even balanced but very powerful Koa have to defend himself. Afterwards, they walked along with us like the rest of our pack does. The same goes for Jameson; he is textbook in face to face initial contact, then the ears go forward with the chest and he moves his head around to the side of their face at the neck – classic pre-attack posture, not smelling the rear. If you wait to correct/touch, you will be too late and the dog will be in control of the fight; too early, and you can initiate the attack from the other dog. Timed well, and you will see the dog flinch to the side and look to see where that just came from, while backing down and they will always look at your eyes so they acknowledge that they understand that you meant business. And you should always do this with calm but assertive energy. Most importantly? Once this occurs, start walking and have them follow. This gets them back into the following mode and leaves the incident behind. They’ll remember what you want – calm submission, but unlike humans they don’t dwell on the incident and neither does the offended dog. And neither should you.
Remember, ALL humans are pack leaders and have the same responsibilities with all dogs, not just a favorite – rules, boundaries, and limitations!
Until next time, stay calm and assertive!