The Accepted Way of Doing Things

Progress, not perfection. – Anon.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I had a session with the cutest Golden Retriever named Ivy a few weeks ago.  Like most other 10-month old Golden Retrievers, she was a bundle of energy.  I gave her owners some ideas on how to manage all that, uh…let’s call it “enthusiasm for life”, which included Ivy wearing a backpack.  Ivy’s owner loved the idea, and mentioned that she’s seen a dog walking around the neighborhood with a backpack on.  I told her it was probably one of the dogs I’d worked with, since I love dogs wearing backpacks like a Kardashian loves to pimp a scandal.

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She described the dog as a smaller shepherd with a petite woman walking it.  I knew immediately who she was talking about.  I asked my client how they looked while walking. “Amazingly composed”, she said. “They pass by other dogs or people, and the dog is just completely focused on his owner.”

This thrilled me beyond all belief, because after getting a few more details, I became convinced I knew who it was.  A dog named Oscar who I had the pleasure of working with  a few times.  Oscar was adopted as a puppy by the most wonderful, caring owners you can imagine.  He was raised in a loving household, where he was never hit nor yelled at, but was treated with respect.

He unfortunately developed dog reactivity.

There’s that myth circulating that it’s all about “how the dog is raised”.  I have experienced first-hand, puppies who were “raised properly”, who were socialized young, who were given love, affection and respectful boundaries, but still developed food aggression, dog reactivity, separation anxiety…the list goes on.  Yes, it is completely realistic to expect that a dog who was abused might become aggressive.  It’s understandable that a dog who never had boundaries set as a puppy might take to bing food reactive or have resource guarding issues.  But the majority of dogs who develop these scary issues weren’t abused. They weren’t bait dogs.  They are dogs who have their own distinct personalities, and who have determined that their behavior is correct.  And they are right.

Dogs are great at being dogs.  The problem is that they really suck at being human.

So back to Oscar and his owner, Lynn.  Knowing that Lynn had worked so hard with Oscar on his dog-reactivity issues, I was thrilled to hear Ivy’s mom talking about how well he was traveling all around Lakewood with his little backpack on, ignoring other dogs.  I sent Oscar’s mom a message that night, passing along what had been said about her walking skills with Oscar.

“Oh, that wasn’t us”, she replied.  ”We don’t walk him anymore.  His reactivity got too stressful to deal with.”

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I was crushed.  Lynn had been doing so well last time I talked with her!  Oscar had a few extra one-on-one sessions to work specifically with his dog-reactivity, and Lynn had absolutely nailed it.  Yes, he required copious amounts of Piloting when passing by another dog, but they were able to do it. Together.  I was devastated to hear that they didn’t do those walks anymore.

But then I had a horseback riding lesson today, and my perspective changed.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I took up riding originally to learn how to learn again, it being a very, very long time since I took up dog training.  I needed to feel how my clients felt, learning a new concept.  For me, horses.  For them, dogs.

During my last lesson, Jessica (my riding instructor) mentioned that my lesson horse, Bounce, was having some difficulty accepting the bit.  Usually, Bounce was so eager to get to riding that she would just crank her neck forward and eagerly snap at the bit.

Recently, though, Bounce had been refusing the bit.  She wouldn’t take it for me at all, and Jessica was having a somewhat of a problem as well.  Finally, Jessica decided to do something different. There’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way to have a horse take a bit.  Usually, you get them into what looks like almost a headlock, with a hand over their ears, and slip the bit right into their mouth.  That’s The Accepted Way Of Doing Things (“AWODT”).

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But Bounce wasn’t accepting it.

Jessica took the bridle.  ”Hang on, let me try something”, she suggested.  Jessica offered the bridle to Bounce in what she referred to as the lazy way.  Bounce immediately Hungry Hippo-ed the bit.  I asked Jessica to take the bridle off and let me try.  Again, Bounce was eager to have the thing on so we could start our lesson.  It wasn’t the AWODT, but apparently the lazy way worked.  Rather than a long, drawn out battle of wills, by simply changing direction, we got to the same place we originally tried to go: the bit was in Bounce’s mouth.

Having AWODT is always a good thing.  Always mounting a horse on the left, always making sure your dog is calm before setting down food, etc., creates a ritual, and helps keep things normalized when sometimes they aren’t.  But horses and dogs aren’t one size fits all, just as humans aren’t.  It’s important to know when to deviate from a set path, even if that path is the AWODT.

Jessica realized that with Bounce.  Lynn realized that with Oscar.

Lynn wasn’t saying she gave up on Oscar.  She decided that the “We’re going to have fun whether we like it or not” walks just weren’t working.  Yes, she was able to Pilot Oscar past other dogs.  Yes, Oscar trusted her to do it, but each and every dog was considered such a threat to Oscar that the amount of Piloting necessary was a tremendous stress to Lynn. In other words, she did it, and then knew when to stop.

Oscar is still getting plenty of exercise (with an older canine sister and a dog “cousin”, if you will).  Oscar isn’t a youngster anymore himself, and is well into middle-aged for a dog, so he doesn’t require a huge amount of activity anymore.  He was never going to be that dog who relished walking through a crowd on the busy streets of Lakewood.  Yes, he could do it, but why?  Fundamentalists will be extremely up-in-arms over a dog who isn’t walked regularly, just as I was initially.  How dare she stop walking her dog!  But no living being should be boxed into doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done.  Oscar is still getting the Piloting, Activity and Work that he needs.  He’s getting the love and affection he wants.  So where was my problem?

In the future, I will always bridle a horse in the correct way: pseudo headlock style.  But if for some reason, the horse won’t accept the bit, I will think of Bounce and remember that the Accepted Way Of Doing Things isn’t about a regimen of uniformity and correctness.  It’s about looking out for an animal’s best interest and making them feel safe, secure and Piloted, which usually looks the same way each time.  But sometimes it just looks a little different than the AWODT.

Thank you, Bounce and Oscar, for teaching me that lesson.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Pit Stop

I originally wrote this post about 6 months ago, but after a recent trip to a local pet store out in the Pennsylvania area while on vacation, I thought it prudent to post it again, as I witnessed another dog fight right in front of me.  It was two small, mixed dogs, and it ended quickly and without bloodshed, but make no mistake: it was real and very violent.  I ask you to read this article before traveling to any pet store.  

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

― Sherrilyn Kenyon

A pit bull attacked another dog on Wednesday. The incident happened at a PetSmart in Georgia.  Frankly, I’m not surprised that the pit attacked.  Because he’s a pit?  No, don’t be stupid.  Because he’s a dog.

Breaking down the situation, here’s what happened according to Fox 5:

Mitch Philpott, 66, of Newnan, said he had headed down an aisle where the Pit Bull and its owner had been looking at merchandise.  Philpott said he asked the owner if her dog was okay and proceeded to pass her and the dog.  He said the Pitt Bull grabbed his Great Dane by the head and ear and bit him several times.

 

In a police report FOX 5 obtained, the Pitt Bull owner, Suzanne Peterson, told officers that she gave Philpott a verbal warning that she was not sure how her dog would respond to his dog and to stay away please.  The report quotes her as saying that Philpott continued anyway and said, “it’s okay, their tails are wagging.”  Philpott told Fox Five he never said that to the woman.

So who is wrong in this incident?  Both humans.  I’m not saying that the incident was deserved by anyone (let alone the dogs), but it was brought about by selfish owners.

Let’s take a step back here and dissect the scenario.  No, I really don’t care who said what and who did and did not control their dog.  However, it should be pointed out that this was obviously a fear-based “stay away from me” rather than an attack.  If it were an attack, there would have been actual serious damage, if not death, to either dogs or owners.  But I stand by my accusation that both owners were selfish.  Why?

Take a look at the average pet store where you can bring in your dog.  Narrow aisles for dogs to pass closely by each other.  You may say that the aisles are wider than grocery store aisles, but I can also say that Bill Cosby (who allegedly raped unconscious women he drugged) isn’t quite as bad as Jared Fogle (who allegedly raped conscious children).  It doesn’t matter.  Neither is a good choice for a dinner date.

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I think we can all agree that given a choice between the two, Cosby and Fogle, the answer is a resounding neither.  The same goes for aisles that are too narrow, or an aisle that is a little less too narrow.  The answer is neither.

Compound that with extreme stimulation.  Your dog isn’t happily going shopping with you for doggie supplies, as you’ve fooled yourself into selfishly thinking. Your dog is in a confined area with a lot of food and treats that they may resource guard, or have to be on the defensive against other resourcing guarding dogs.  And by the way, that other dog isn’t just another dog.  It’s another dog who is just as overstimulated as every other dog in the place.  Some are resource guarding. Some are desperately trying to guard themselves and their owners (as I believe was the case with the pit).  Others are too goofy to know this is a horrible situation and act all kinds of crazy, thereby increasing the (negative) energy of all the other dogs.

Remember, that idiot jacking his dog up in the car before he even gets into the store will be sharing close quarter aisle space with your dog.  Add to it the fact that the dog is under no semblance of control once they are in the store (the owner is following the dog around at the end of the leash like a moronic cow).

I will not bring my dogs into pet stores for this very reason.  There are many frightened, hyper, out of control bundles of energy in there.  And that’s just the people.  By being selfish and getting that “I Brought My Beloved Pup Into The Store” high that people so desperately want, we are actively ignoring all the warning signs of a dangerous situation, and blithely moving forward.  YOU are the adult human.  YOU are the one with opposable thumbs.  YOU are the one who should be realizing that this is a dangerous situation.  Even if your dog is very chill and well behaved and you Pilot the hell out of them….where is your guarantee that every other person in there is the same way? You don’t have one.  Suck it up. Find other ways to get that rush of “I Spoiled My Dog Today” high that you are so desperately seeking.

“Oh, but Fifi loves it so much!!!”

And I loved cutting class when I was in high school.  Believe me, that was not the answer my parents gave my principal when I was caught: “But she loves cutting class so much!”.

Yeah, I got grounded 6 months with another 6 month probation.

Yeah, I got grounded 6 months with another 6 month probation.

And now I’m grateful for their harsh punishment.  It helped turn me into a functional adult.

Point is, parenting, whether it be a dog or a human, involves tough choices.  Yes, it’s not always fun, and it most definitely involves handing down decisions that you’d rather not, but that’s why you’re the adult. That’s why you have the opposable thumbs.  Because you’re the one who is supposed to use rational thought rather than emotional reactions. So I blame anyone who subjects their dogs to this situation. I don’t care that Rover, a Lab who is 14 years old, loves going and has never bit anyone in his life.  Don’t do it.  The same way I don’t drive my kids around without their seat belts buckled.  ”Well, we’ve never gotten into an accident yet, I’m a careful driver, and my kids are well behaved.”  It’s just as stupid and reckless.  Yes, I can control my kids, my behavior, and perhaps even my car, but I can’t control situations around those things.

Finally, I blame PetSmart, Petco and all those other big box stores that allow pets into their store.  Simply to raise revenue and profit, they cater to the irresponsible people who bring their pets in, thereby putting the animals at risk.  Yes, the owners should know better than to bring them in, but I’ve already established that the owners are not always in the right frame of mind, and (if I’m going to be generous here), misinformed and didn’t know better.  Know who else operates on the same basis as these pet stores?

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A dog was put in a tough situation.  He was uncomfortable. He was nervous, and scared.  And he reacted the way a dog (or human) can be expected to react when pushed beyond their limits.  The real story isn’t about a dog who defended himself from attacked another dog.  This story is not about pits being aggressive, nor is about pits in general.  This is about failure.  Dogs being failed by their owners, and being failed by the very stores who are designed to benefit them.  All to boost their profitability.

End it now. Don’t bring you dog into such a situation.  If you want that “I Spoiled My Dog” rush, spend more time with them. Teach them agility. Teach them a trick.  Pilot them. Give them what the need, and stop trying to buy the wag of your dog’s tail. Earn it.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio