Back to Basics: Are You Social? Odds & Ends
Just some odds and ends today, starting with Ebony. Several posts ago I talked about Ebony and the behavioral problems she had. While she made very small improvements, Ebony was euthanized after several outbursts she had while being cared for in a calm state with other members of the Humane Society staff. The reason I am sharing this with everyone is to remind people of a couple of really important points. One, the Humane Society is NOT set up to be a dog psychology center where dogs get "fixed" with behavior problems. There are many dogs there that need good homes that are not problems and are awaiting their forever pack leader to find them. Second, people (as in Ebony's owner) made her what she was because I am sure she was not born like that. But she became that with a lot of work/neglect/affection at the wrong time/no affection -- whatever the combination was, it was wrong because she became fearful/aggressive. Giving affection at the wrong time nurtures a poor state of mind for the dog and is not good for them in the long run, either. If you know of someone whose dogs are exhibiting problems with their behavior, seek professional help -- if it's not me, please select someone who knows dogs and how THEY think and doesn't just teach "tricks". Trainers generally do not do behavior rehabilitation and also usually do not change the human component, which is where the poor behavior originates.
Social Dogs: I recently worked with a Rhodesian Ridgeback/Weimaraner mix who was extremely aggressive and attacked several dogs and almost their owners. This poor guy was always being avoided by the neighborhood (understandably so!) and his owners also avoided all contact with other dogs while on the walk. After showing them how to have their dog respectfully meet another dog (namely, his nemisis -- another Weimaraner) we all walked the neighborhood with both dogs walking side by side with their owners, dealt with another dominant small dog with no outbursts, and left on a positive note. The lesson? Don't give your dog limitations that he/she doesn't have, stay calm when they get upset, choose to see a particular POSITIVE outcome, don't live in the past and always end on the positive behavior you want to have repeated the next time. As always, however, after I show the owners that their dog can do it, it is up to them to continue the work. If you always avoid having your dog meet another dog, what message are you sending? If you always require that your dog meet all dogs respectfully, what message are you sending? It is that simple.
Behavior Mirroring: A little self-analysis test for you! What is it that you see in your dog's behavior that you don't like? Once that question is answered ask yourself, "What am I doing to cause this?" Because 9 times out of 10, well-intentioned and loving dog owners ARE the problem; something is off about what they are doing and it's a relatively easy fix when someone can point it out to them. But you have to think like the dog or at least respect the mind of the dog! Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice -- this is affection for your dog, also!
Obsessive Behavior: There's probably nothing worse than going with your favorite pooch to the dog park to throw the ball and have some big, huge dog jumping at the ball in your hand. Often we create more bad behavior by trying to play "keep away" by turning away or jerking the ball away or both. Both of which can get you hurt -- perhaps not intentionally but you are creating a prey drive in that dog and he/she is not being given rules/boundaries/limitations with play time. The reward for CALM behavior WITH RESPECTFUL SPACE is to throw the ball so that the relationship is calm behavior means reward rather than throwing it just to get them away from you... you know they're coming back, right?! Expect to see and work towards the correct behavior and don't reward bad behavior.
Owning a Dog: Owning a dog is a multi-year commitment to walking, training, directing, and loving your dog who is going to be your shadow for many years to come. And many of us wouldn't have it any other way. The years of my life where I didn't have a dog were times where something was missing. Now, I can't think of not having Koa to have as my companion during the day and when we travel, as well as helping me with the dogs I work with. What I'm saying here is owning a dog can be a lot of work but do it right or don't bother to get a dog. Also, many dogs in the shelter didn't necessarily have a bad life or get abused -- their owners just couldn't care for them the way they should be cared for, or their situation changed drastically which precluded them from owning their dog. I would rather have someone make the decision to give up their dog than to have the dog neglected, abused, and eventually die because the human was too prideful to do what is right for the animal. And, there are plenty of good dogs at the shelter for anyone who's looking (I'm just saying).
Until next time, remember that affection also means making sure that your dog is social, behaves appropriately, and is calm. That can only happen if YOU are social, behave appropriately, and are calm. Then, give your dog as much affection as they, and you, can stand!