The Responsible Decision

You can cry, ain’t no shame in it.
- Will Smith

Photo by Jf Brou on Unsplash

Photo by Jf Brou on Unsplash

I recently had  training session with Jake, the gorgeous, huge Malamute/Husky/Hybrid mix. Jake was very much a dog’s dog.  A beautiful boy who happened to have some slightly scary behaviors.  I was initially contacted by his new owners because of some dog-reactivity on walks, and general problems in the house.   He had a lot of money in his Piloting Piggy Bank.  There is indeed a contest to find out who is Pilot, but the cool thing is that we all want whomever is best to win.  How do you find out who is best?  By answering questions for your dog.  Each question you answer gets Piloting money from their piggy bank into yours.  Whoever has the most money wins.  

Can I jump on you?

No, Jake, you may not. ($0.25 added to your Piloting Piggy Bank or PPB).

Can I drag you on the leash?

No, Jake, you may not.  ($5.00 added my PPB).

Is this what you mean by “sit”?

Yes, Jake!  Nice job! ($.40 added to my PPB).

The more questions I answer for a dog (without resorting to pain and violence nor bribery), the more money I get in my bank.  Once I have more money in my PPB than the dog, I’m officially the Pilot!  The greater the buffer I have, the easier it is to answer a dog’s questions, so I never stop hoarding money in my bank.  Compared to my dog’s “bank accounts”, I’m rich.  So nowadays, answering their questions is easy.

Just like people, dogs have a certain amount of money in their PPBs.  Some have more than others.  For people, it’s easy to Pilot their dogs.  They accept the answer they’re given at face value…”because I said so” is good enough for them.  That’s fine and dandy.  Others dogs require a reason why.  Almost a conversation.  There is no good reason why they should accept an answer just because you gave it.  You chip away gradually at the balance in their PPB until you finally have more money than they do.

For example, my Sparta had about $1.25 in her PPB.  From the start she asked me questions, and very quickly I was able to get that money out of her bank account, making it pretty easy for me to be Pilot.  Any time I see she has any money in her account, I take it right out by answering her questions.  So think of money in the account as questions that haven’t been answered yet. She doesn’t have too many questions, and that’s fine.

My Orion, however, had a rather large bank account when I first had him…we’ll call it about $350.  I answered any and all questions he asked, and I quickly got the money out of his account and into mine.

Which dog is the “bad dog”?  Both.  Neither.  Dogs are incapable of being bad. They are asking questions.  They are trying to relate to the human world we have thrust them into.  It just happens to be easier for some dogs than for others, hence they have more money in their account.  It’s not a personal affront to you, and they aren’t trying to get back at you for anything.  It’s how they were built.

Unfortunately, Jake was having a terribly difficult time adjusting to living in a human world.  He had a lot of money in his Piloting Piggy Bank – perhaps $50,000.  Does that make him bad?  Of course not.  It just means that he is not going quietly into the night when he has a question.  He firmly believed he had better answers than just about anyone.  But the cool thing about dogs is that they’re usually willing to “discuss” these answers.  In other words, he’s willing to see if you have a better answer, but you damn well better have the better answer, or he’s sticking to his guns. (He was described to me as “stubborn”, but I believe that stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction.)  So be it.  It’s my responsibility to keep answering Jake’s questions until I have all the money out of his Piloting Piggy Bank.

Now Jake lived with another dog, a beautiful female husky who had no money in her bank.  A sweet girl who Jake was madly in love with, and was quite willing to defend from any perceived threat; and he usually defended her with his teeth.  Snarling, growling & snapping, he was like a a mama bear defending her cub.

 

 

To top it all off, Jake, when presented with the concept of passing by another dog (or human!) on a walk, would typically determine that said entity was most definitely a threat. 

Needless to say, there was a lot to unpack there.  Also, did I mention Jake lived with two small children, roughly 8 and 10.  Thus the tragedy begins.

I worked with Jake’s owners on answering his questions.  How to spot any questions he may have on a walk, and how to answer them.  Jake saw most things as a potential threat, and decided it was better to shoot first and ask questions later.  It was up to me to help Jake have enough faith in me first, and then his owners, to trust our answers more than his own inferences.  A daunting task, but we did it.  By the end of our session, we had a lovey walk, worked on letting strangers into the house (thanks to a family friend to stopped by and was willing to be “bait” for a bit). Things looked great!

Until the text came a few weeks later.  Jake took it upon himself to answer a question that the 8-year old daughter had,

“Can I pet you while you’re eating, Jake?”.

Unfortunately, Jake gave her a negative, and used his teeth to give it to her.  Fortunately, nothing tragic happened, but he did indeed bite her.  Does that make Jake a bad dog?  Absolutely not.  See, Jake was treating the little girl with the same amount of respect he’d give to another dog.  Especially a dog who didn’t have a lot of money in their Piloting Piggy Bank.  Remember, Jake had a high bank account.  So when he was asked a question (“Can I pet  you now?”), he gave the answer as a dog sometimes will:  with teeth.

Now let’s talk about whose fault this was.

Was it Jake’s fault?  No.  Absolutely not.  Jake was being a dog. Some dogs just make better humans than others.  That dopey but sweet Lab across the street who wanders over to your yard sometimes for ear scratches and a biscuit?  He’s a great human.  Lassie?  She was a pretty good human.  Even Sandy from “Annie” was a actually pretty good human, too. Almost like they are all half dog/half human.

 

Jake, however, totally sucked at being human.  Which is understandable, as he’s a dog. So definitely not Jake’s fault.

What about the little girl?  After all, her parents admitted that they had told her not to pet him while he was eating.  Was it her fault?

Again, no.  Children are called children because even they haven’t quite figured out how to adult.  Simply showing affection to a dog doesn’t make her wrong nor bad.  She had never abused him nor treated him with disrespect.  She wasn’t far out of line wanting to give love to her dog; she just made a poor choice in judgement (hence the term, “kid”). That’s pretty much the definition of childhood.  Poor choices made with an honest and true heart.  So not her fault.

What about the parents?  Nope.  The dog had never shown any indication of food reactivity.  They had made sure their children treated the dog with respect.

So here we are, almost through all the actors in this play, and we still haven’t found out to whom we should place the fault for this bite.

Because it’s nobody’s fault.  Sometimes something bad happens, and it’s just flat-out nobody’s fault.  And that’s okay.  Something bad happened, that’s all. Blame and fault are ridiculous concepts anyway, and something that a dog has no concept of (just another reason why we don’t deserve dogs).  Here, let’s let Will Smith explain it to you, as he does an amazing job of it here.

But there’s still a problem.  It’s nobody’s fault that the bite happened, but now what?  Fault and responsibility are two completely different things.  The parents now had to take responsibility for what had happened.  Given the choice, they chose to keep their children safe, as the learning curve on working with food reactivity can be pretty steep, as you can read about here  and here.  That meant they had to let go of Jake.

Now, I know that there will be the Teeming Millions out there who will vilify the parents for giving up Jake.  But as I’ve pointed out, it’s nobody’s fault this happened.  And the parents have a responsibility to their children to keep them safe from harm.  Children are unpredictable.  And Jake is not a great human, willing to overlook this unpredictability.  Not his fault.  Shake it as much as you want, but oil and vinegar will never properly mix.  Jake and children will never properly mix.  And it’s nobody’s fault. 

Jake’s owners tried to contact rescues to take him, but to no avail.  They were mocked and berated for wanting to rehome him.  Let’s put this into perspective though.  Yes, there are plenty of cruel, callous owners out there who have the Dog of the Year, almost like some twisted Chinese Zodiac of dogs:

-2013 was the year of the black Lab,until we got sick of him and sent him to the pound;

-2014 was the year of the Goldendoodle, until he peed on the carpet;

-2015 was the year of the Cavachon, but he had separation anxiety.

And so on.  But this wasn’t the case.  This is about a family whose children aren’t in a safe situation, through nobody’s fault.  It’s so easy to place the blame squarely on someone else’s shoulders, but there’s no blame to be had here.  The mindset of something not being your fault, and therefore not your responsibility, needs to end.  Rather than feeling empathy for the terrible situation this family was placed in, they were ridiculed and harassed.  It is so easy to sit back and judge a person rehoming a dog, but it’s imperative that we ask ourselves why they would choose to do so.  This wasn’t an easy fix for this family; this was choosing the lesser of two evils, and their first duty is to their children.

Further, it stymies the mission of shelters to judge such cases.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and if a family is harassed and harangued for wanting to return a dog because it didn’t work out (after a very valiant effort) or if the situation is dangerous, why on earth would a family with children want to take the chance of adopting a dog through a shelter?

I will never state that dogs are disposable.  They are not.  However, sometimes it doesn’t work.  It’s nobody’s fault.  Nobody needs to be blamed.  But we all need to take responsibility rather than placing it upon the most convenient shoulders.  We need to take responsibility that not every dog can be saved.  That not every situation is good.  In the righteous journey towards Saving Every Dog, we’ve forgotten that we’ve destroyed quite a few wonderful human beings. Children in the house who aren’t safe around the new dog?  Well, that’s a sacrifice we’re all willing to make because it’s not our sacrifice being made.  We still get the Happily Ever After ending of placing yet another rescue into a home, regardless of the suitability of that home.  Never mind that through nobody’s fault, the dog is actually a danger, once a dog is adopted, there it shall remain, and damn the human casualties.

It’s time to understand the difference between fault and responsibility.

So next time you’re ready to blame someone for their actions, ask yourself: are you willing to take responsibility?

What are your thoughts on Jake’s situation?  Let me know in the comments below.

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Keep calm and pilot on

 

 

The Most Aggressive Breed?

You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  - Benjamin Hoff

Credit: Angelina Litvin

Credit: Angelina Litvin

I posted a photo on the Darwin Dogs Facebook page recently.  I found it excessively humorous.  What do you think?

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

So many veterinarians, vet techs, dog lovers, etc. responded with laughter and a knowing nod of their heads.  Some even countered with “Dachshunds”.  One idiot tried to claim that Pitbulls were on the top of that list.  As usual with anything I post on Facebook, I had a PM sent to me offering dissent:

I would like to ask that you take down and/or address this post. I really don’t find it fair to perpetuate stereotypes about any breed of dog, particularly as someone people look to for advice on these sorts of things.

At first blush,  it would appear that the author is correct.  But what they are confusing is three separate issues, or as I like to put it, Why I Have A Career Dog Training.  Because let’s face it, if it weren’t for these three issues, nobody would need help with their dog’s behaviors. So let’s tease this out:  are Chihuahuas inherently aggressive?

 

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

The dissenter was annoyed that I was perpetuating  a stereotype of a breed standard.  But as I have stated many times, I’m not against breed profiling; I’m against inaccurate breed profiling.  Let’s face it, if I wanted a dog to herd cattle, I wouldn’t be looking at a poodle. If I wanted a dog to clean out all the vermin in my farm, I wouldn’t want a Staffie (honestly, most pitbulls would count them as their new friends).

dec15c

So obviously this is profiling breeds.  So is the fact that I will NEVER get another Shepherd mix from the shelter…

I love my Sparta so much, but I long to wear white clothes again without fur.  Or any clothes without fur. Or coffee without fur...or PB&J.

I currently own two Roomba vacuums in addition to my upright vac.

Of course you can state that how much a breed sheds is only a profile of their physical attributes, but let’s delve deeper.

- If I were to mention a dog that likes is obsessed with water, would you be able to come up with a breed off the top of your head? Maybe a Lab or a Golden.

- If I asked what dog is good at guarding flocks, Great Pyrenees immediately come to mind for me.

- What about dogs who tend to have a very high prey drive?  Jack Russells, and Irish Terriers immediately come to mind.

Now, does that mean all Labs love water?  No.  Only the vast majority.  Are they the only dog who likes water?  Obviously not.  But love of the water is what they were bred to have. Pyrenees were bred to be, according to the AKC:

“In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate. While territorial and protective of his flock or family when necessary, his general demeanor is one of quiet composure, both patient and tolerant. He is strong willed, independent”

And while I have no use for the AKC due to their love of registering dogs, but disdain for actually stepping  up for animal welfare (**cough cough** PUPPY MILLS **cough cough), they do have a rather succinct description for each  breed’s general temperament.  And honestly, I’ve found most of these to be spot on. Side note:  I love that when describing Pyrenees, they used the word “independent” rather than “stubborn”.  I hate the word stubborn.

So when someone calls me and asks me for help with their Border Collie who is destroying everything in their house, I know to start by discussing Activity and Work.  Are you giving your Border Collie enough exercise to equal herding sheep for 8 hours a day? Are you using the right dog for the right job?  Didn’t think so. What kind of mind games are you giving to your Border Collie, the dogs I call the Hermione Grangers of the dog world?  None?  Well, there’s your problem.

So don’t get a Jack Russell if you enjoy squirrels in your yard.  Or do…just realize you will be spending a lot of time Piloting them (unless you enjoy the sound of squirrels screaming, you twisted monster).  Which leads me to the second, bigger reason why people need help with their dog’s behaviors.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Wait, didn’t I just state that breed standards are important?  Yes, they are.  Especially for purebred dogs that you didn’t get from a puppy mill (sorry, if you got your dog in “Amish Country” or from a pet store, it’s a puppy mill dog). Reputable breeders strive to maintain healthy breed standards.   But there are always outliers.  The Border Collie who is terrified of sheep.  The Lab who hates water (haven’t met one yet, though).  It’s like the kid whose parents are forcing him to major in medicine because he comes from a long line of doctors.  They failed to notice that the child has no brains in their fingers, and will therefore never make a great surgeon.  Plus the fact the poor kid faints at the sight of blood.  But no child of mine will be a writer!  Med school for you, boy!

This is a big reason why I love shelter dogs.  Most of the time they are Frankenmutts.  It’s exceptionally difficult to determine their breed(s) without DNA tests.  And even then, they tend to look like a Pollock painting of different breeds, with no single breed comprising more than 8% of said dog.

 

His owner stated:Boxer/pit/husky??? That's our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

His owner stated: Boxer/pit/husky??? That’s our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

Lack of Piloting is the huge issue my clients have.  What is Piloting?  Essentially answering your dog’s questions.  For example, my Sparta:

Sparta:  Can I kill our new cat?

Me: Um….no.

Ta-da!  I answer her question.  Now, the more you Pilot, the easier it gets.  When I first got our cat Echo many, many years ago, Sparta did want to kill him.  So I took things easy, and answered every single one of her questions.  Years later, they are kindred spirits and often hang out together.  But it took a while before I felt I had Piloted Sparta enough to start to trust (let alone anticipate) my answers.  Because that is the ultimate goal of Piloting:  to help them anticipate the answer.

About 3 years ago I brought in another kitten.  While I still had to Pilot Sparta around the newbie, it wasn’t nearly as arduous as when I got Echo.  Not only had Sparta and I been through the whole ordeal previously, but there was another three years worth of random questions I had answered for Sparta in between getting those two cats.  Can I eat out of the litter box?  No, Sparta.  Can I play rope toy roughly? Not right now, Sparta.  Is the postman a threat? No, Sparta.  Do  you want me to be calm when I see a squirrel in the yard?  Yes Sparta!  Nice job!

So each question I answer for her is “money” out of her Piloting Piggy Bank.  It goes into my Piloting Piggy Bank.  And remember, whoever has the most money wins.  Let’s also bear in mind what the definition of “anxiety” is:

Anxiety: noun
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

In other words, fear of the unknown…unanswered questions. Start Piloting your dog.  Most people don’t understand that their dogs need to have Piloting.  Or if they have an idea, they don’t understand how to tell their dog that the mailman isn’t going to kill them.  But if your dog actively shirks from new people, or they are inherently suspicious of other dogs, I don’t care what breed of dog they are, or what the breed standard says they should be: don’t force Wally the Golden Retriever to be a therapy dog just because a lot of therapy dogs are Golden Retrievers! Work with the dog you have, not the breed you bought.

Photo: Alice Dote

Photo: Alice Dote

Those are the three reasons why a dog owner parent may call me for help with their dogs behaviors.  So let’s apply that to the original issue:  that meme.

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Why Chihuahuas? Why did so many people share this, and laugh and agree?  Because it’s true.  There were some of you who voted for Dachshunds, too…for the same reasons I’m about to write about below.

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

What does the AKC have to say about Chihuahuas?

General Appearance: A graceful, alert, swift-moving compact little dog with saucy expression, and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.

Temperament: Alert, projecting the ‘terrier-like’ attitudes of self importance, confidence, selfreliance [sic]

Meaning, they won’t accept an answer from you Because You Said So. Remember, you need to have a good reason why your answer is better than theirs.  And “I’m The Human” doesn’t cut it.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Fifi is a Chihuahua.  Not a doll. Not the child you always wanted. She is a full grown dog.  Maybe she’s more frightened of loud noises than most Chihuahuas you’ve known.  Maybe she’s not as “terrier like” as the AKC describes Chihuahuas.  That shouldn’t matter.  You aren’t Piloting a breed standard.  You are Piloting Fifi.  Now do your job.  The job you have.  Not the job you want.  I never wanted a dog-reactive dog.  But Sparta has always had a lot of questions about other dogs.  Does that make her bad or aggressive?  No.  It means she has a question that as her Pilot, I’m accountable to answer.  And I do.

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

As seen from the general breed standard description above, Chihuahuas don’t need your help.  Fortunately, though, like all dogs, they are logical.  If you have a better answer, they are more than willing to hear it and act upon it…if it seems logical to them.  The beauty of a dog is that they are able to change their minds based upon new information, just like  Facebook arguments no human ever.  So your Chihuahua, Fifi, is asking you if  you need to be protected from your 5 year old grandchild who just came over for a hug.

What you see:

What Fifi sees:

You didn’t answer Fifi’s question, namely, “Is Reagan/Demon Child going to kills us?”, and the absence of “no” is “yes”.  Therefore Fifi is protecting you.  Sure you yelled at Fifi. You ranted at Fifi.  But all you did was prove that you are not in control of yourself enough to answer anybody’s questions.  By default you asked Fifi to protect you, so she did.  Is Fifi aggressive?  Resoundingly no! Fifi merely handled the situation as appropriately as she could, based upon the information she was given.   Learn to Pilot your dog, so poor Fifi doesn’t have to be The Destroyer of Ankles. 

Learn the Piloting position.  If you have Fifi in a position to protect you, on your lap, facing said stranger, then she will protect you.  Don’t ask for protection via body language, because Fifi will indeed protect you.  And she’ll do a good job of it!

Less of this:

Please don't do The Pretzel.

Please don’t do The Pretzel.

More of this:

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

But *never* do this:

You look stupid, Riker.

True Piloting from a seated position.


So your posture is truly important, especially in a seated position with a dog on your lap. I have a friend who is a vet.  She introduced me to the term “Lap Shark”.  We all know them.  They aren’t exclusive to Chihuahuas by any means, but are almost entirely comprised of dogs who weigh less than 7 pounds who are always perched jauntily upon their owners laps.  Now, I love hanging with my dogs, and more often than not, that includes lap-time.  But there’s a difference between hanging out for cuddles and a dog who is staking a claim upon me, and letting others know that I’m their human.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Chihuahuas bear the brunt of this.  Are they aggressive by nature?  As a breed, no!  No more so than any other dog.  But if they don’t have answers to their questions about your/their safety, of course they are going to react!

So please, stop asking your dog to protect you!  I’ve never actually met a truly aggressive dog.  There is no such thing.  All there are is dogs who have never been Piloted for the situation they have been thrust in. Dogs who have accidentally asked to Pilot and protect.   A dog who is doing the best they can, and sometimes that means teeth.  Believe me, I’ve been bitten many times, but never by what I’d determine an “aggressive dog”.

If a dog tells you they are going to bite, they are going to bite. The beauty of dogs is that they never lie.  So when little Fifi is sitting on Grandma’s lap snarling, she is telling you that if you come closer, she will be forced to bite you. But since she’s such a small dog, nobody takes her seriously, and the human forces the issue.  Nobody would do this with a larger dog.  Poor Fifi is a victim of her size.

So the bottom line:  are Chihuahuas more likely to bite than other dogs?  Possibly.  I’ve been bit by more Chihuahuas than any other breed of dog.  I work with more Chihuahuas than I do Sharpeis or Borzois, simply because of the popularity of Chihuahuas. However, as far as dog breeds go, who is set up for failure more than any other dogs?  Arguably Chihuahuas.  The numbers alone are against them:  born in a puppy mill.  Sent to a home where they want The Perfect Little Dog, but aren’t willing to Pilot their little Fifi.  Treated like trinkets and dolls rather than capable, independent beings.  Not given activity, mental work.  Never given credit for having minds of their own. And worst of all, being asked to protect themselves from all forms of danger, most of it on an order of magnitude, 50 times their size!!!! So why are Chihuahuas No. 1 on that list? 

Because we put them there.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training In Cleveland, Ohio