Faith the Airedale came to Kamp K-9 yesterday under the cloud of being fairly dog aggressive and reactive. I know, I’ve seen it firsthand, even with Koa. Since she will be here for 10 days I decided that the strategy would be strict rituals, including Faith being dropped off by her owner and from the car going straight into a long walk. I picked some wooded areas for her so that she would start engaging her nose, some swamp areas, and generally anything that is different from what she is used to. The walk went well, and upon our return the bike came out and we went on a short energy-draining ride.
Meeting the other pack at the house was next. Koa was already familiar to her but I have another dog, “Piper” (not the previous Piper) who is a Briard (an ancient French breed developed as sheepdogs) who is young and not completely social yet, either. So, Faith had a muzzle for the short duration (which was important that she have) and had to go into a relaxed and calm state. Faith will get calm, but not relaxed and I knew that was the challenge with the meeting. After the intense introduction, Faith was put on her side and I waited for her to relax, which took several minutes. Afterwards, the muzzle was off and while you still have to monitor behavior, you have to let the dogs sort it out. Corrections cannot come if you don’t let the dogs make their mistakes, and staying calm is the Pack Leaders’ first order of business. A few short corrections, everyone was getting along.
Faith did go after Shaka, the cat, and actually barely got her mouth on him before I could touch correct. No aggression toward any animal or human is ever allowed and after two severe corrections, Shaka eventually was able to walk past Faith and Faith would pay him no mind. Calm states of mind for corrections are the key, even if the corrections are intense. Remember, the corrections have to match the intensity of the behavior you want corrected.
Feeding rituals are just that – rituals that can be expected by dogs without a lot of change. Mornings are runs (bikes or otherwise), potty breaks at the house, food (calm state of mind for all before the food goes down and all food can be picked up and handled by humans even while eating without displaying a negative response), back outside for potty breaks, and play time if necessary. In less than 12 hours, Faith actively invited both Koa and Piper to play. Koa, being more balanced, was all about the “calm down first” part, as Faith still doesn’t have a long history of calm play, but she is learning quickly.
Piper does not have the ability, being young, to calm down quite so quickly and was having problems not being skittish around Faith. A sprinting bike ride later, and a small explosion where Piper went after Faith and then bounced me with her head when I initially corrected that behavior. She needed to be put on her side to relax, and then the fun began.
Here is where the most important part of being in control of EVERYTHING for the Pack Leader is important. Koa has learned that when I have to go into a more intense leadership position correct a dog at the house, he does not have to help me. He knows I have it. And by helping, I mean that other members of the pack will try to bite-correct (even though there are those that will say “that NEVER happens in the real dog world”) the offending dog to help the pack leader. In a previous post I told you that instability, a.k.a. aggression especially directed at Pack Leadership, is an offense that in the survival world will mean death to the offending party whether it be by ostracizing or immediate execution. Immediate because the continued survival of the survival depends upon balance and a cohesive direction for the social order.
Faith does not know this part yet and while correcting Piper, Faith wanted to help me by charging in. This was not a response to the initial problem Piper had with Faith – Faith had already backed off on her own without being told while I began to deal with Piper. Koa, on the other hand, never stopped chewing a piece of mulch (see? Balance…). While backing Faith off, Piper felt the need to defend herself (it wasn’t necessary, but she didn’t know that yet) and wound up catching my hand in her snap at Faith. In face of being bitten (twice for me in the last month, both times unintentional on the dog’s part and both times on the same hand) you have to remain calm, assertive, and not affected by the explosion because THAT is viewed as weakness by the pack, also. Your response – staying calm and unaffected by the incident – also shows the pack that you are in control, and a true calm leader; and they back off on their own. This isn’t “theory” or imagination; I’ve observed this both times in the recent events and many times amongst dogs outside of my pack . It also doesn’t mean you won’t need to correct the “assisting pack”; in fact, unless they are balanced, you will have to COUNT on correcting them all the while handling the initial problem. Then, back to everyone calming down and ending the event by them being together.
While I’ve been writing this outside on the lanai, all of the dogs have been napping, wandering the yard, and generally just being dogs. That’s Koa’s nature, it’s what Faith needs, and Piper is learning that it’s okay for dogs to like her and want to be around her. Faith invited Piper to play shortly after the explosion, so all is well in the doggie mind world.
Until next time, stay calm and unaffected by stress!