Why Your Dog is an @SSH0LE

Never negotiate with kids. They don’t have life experience, and they don’t have repercussions for bad decisions; they still get fed and housed.  - Gene Simmons

Matheus Bertelli

 

I never thought that I’d be using a Gene Simmons quote in my blogs, but there you go.  Sometimes life takes a funny turn, and his quote was perfect for what I wanted to tackle today:  this image that has been floating around The Internets.

dog uncomfortable

Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t even know where to start with this.  Ready for an unpopular, possibly offensive truth?  Your dog is making people uncomfortable because he is an asshole. 

There.  I said it. I guarantee a lot of other people were thinking it, and just never told you.  And even worse, you’re pretty much victim blaming.  So now that we have opened up that can of worms, let’s get down to business and de-asshole your dog. 

 

What’s making people uncomfortable about your dog?  Let’s break it down:

Fido is in their personal space. 

 

I personally don’t not want to be licked by either of them.  I love dogs.  Like, LOVE, dogs.  I don’t like drool. Or Gene Simmons, but here we are.

Think about it.  How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and was completely in your personal space?  Uncomfortable, right?  Or what if I invited you to my house, let my kids climb all over you and trample you, but stated that if my kids were making you uncomfortable, I can lock you up in another room? (C’mon, they’re only trying to be friendly!)  Yet we accept that behavior from our dogs?  I guarantee that if your Fido tried that behavior with another dog, Fido would get corrected very quickly!  It’s about manners, and dogs have them the same way people do. Learn to expect good manners from your dog.

Fido is guarding. I can’t tell you how many times a client calls me to their house to work with their aggressive dog, and when I arrive and ring their doorbell, they simple let their dog loose on me to snarl, bark, and lunge at me.  Their reasoning?

“We wanted you to see what he does.”

Oh, by all means, let me whip up an anti-aggression incantation.  That will solve the problem!

I freaking know what Fido does…he’s aggressive towards strangers!  You told me on the phone!

I know how to deal with a dog who is snarling at me, or giving me “fuck off” body language.  You stand perfectly still and let the dog thoroughly investigate you.  You do not move.  You do not make eye contact.  Even after decades of doing this, it’s still terrifying every time it happens to me (usually at least once a week).  I have resources, knowledge and experience.  What do your guests have? Fear and anxiety.  And you have a potential lawsuit coming your way when Fido finally snaps.  Just because he’s never bitten anyone before doesn’t mean he never will.  And no, the answer isn’t just to “just let Fido smell you, and then he’ll be fine.”

Your dog is jumping/trampling your guests. And what do you do about it?

“FIDO NO JUMPING! FIDO, NO!!! FIDO STOP OR I’LL SAY STOP AGAIN!!!!”
Yeah, it’s not helping. Fido is still jumping.

I work with quite a few “aggressive” dogs.  Usually at least one per week.  And you should see all the massive bruises and injuries I have…from “friendly” dogs jumping on me.  My legs look like I play professional soccer without shin guards.  I have scratches all over me (yes, even through denim jeans).  All because of Fido who “just wants to make friends”.  Sorry, but consent exists with dogs the same way it exists with humans.  Your dog is hurting me, and it’s not a game, nor is it cute.

As I said, we need to un-asshole your dog.Let’s start with how you are perceiving your dog.  It has to do with your soft bigotry of low expectations. You expect so little from your dogs.  You claim that your dogs are your kids, yet you allow behaviors from your dog that you’d never tolerate from your children (I hope!).  The thing to remember is that it’s not about having perfectly well behaved kids/dogs; it’s about having a game plan for anything that happens.  Can you predict that your preschooler would suddenly start rifling through great aunt Bertha’s purse? No, that was unexpected. But what makes you a good parent is how you deal with the situation, or more importantly, if you deal with the situation.  

I firmly believe in treating everyone appropriately.  Dogs are great dogs…they just suck at being human.  Kids are great kids…they just suck at being adults.  It’s up to you to be the adult human in the situation and to Pilot them through whatever issues or questions they are currently embroiled in. So let’s get started.

It starts with Piloting.  Piloting is answering your dog’s questions, and they have a lot of questions.  “Can I jump on you?”  “Can I eat that chocolate?” Wanna snuggle?”  You answer each question according to how you feel.  My answers would be No, No and Yes respectively.  How do you give a negative?  Using simple body language outlined here.   No prong collar.  No shock collar. No need for a spray bottle full of vinegar(?!)(seriously, I’ve been hearing this a lot…stop it).  It’s a conversation.  Communicate, don’t dominate, subjugate to alleviate…

…sorry, that was a little INXS.

Just remember, it’s a conversation.  Your dog isn’t bad, Fido just has questions.  So answer them!

I’m going to give you a bonus hint:  I don’t ask my kids or my dogs if they want to do something.  I tell them, and then ask for questions.

Example, if I want the dishwasher emptied and re-loaded:

Me: River, would you please empty the dishwasher and then load it?

vs.

Me: River, I want you to please empty the dishwasher and then load the dirty dishes.  Do you have any questions?

Do you see the difference?  If River does indeed have questions, (“Do I have to?”), I’m prepared with my answer.  I do not negotiate.  I will listen to hear reasoning why she shouldn’t have to (and sometimes she’s correct), but I do not make deals with her.  I do not lower my expectations unless new or different information is given.

For example, if River says she doesn’t want to because she wants to play video games, oh well!  I want a pony and I don’t have a pony.  Now get in there and do the dishes.  But if she says she doesn’t want to because she’s trying to (legit) study for her test tomorrow, I may change my mind about her doing dishes, based upon the new information.

How does this apply to your dog?  Suppose I show up to your house and Fido starts to jump on me.  It’s up to you to Pilot your dog, giving them a negative. And they accept your answer, calming down.  Nice job!

But what if later while I”m at your house, you see Fido start to jump on me again?  You start to give him another negative, but then I tell you that I started it because I wanted to wrestle with him.  What do you do?  Let it go?  Give a negative anyway?

The answer is entirely up to you. If you decide you don’t want your dog getting riled, you give me a negative  If you are okay with us wrestling around, then by all means let it go.   You’re the Pilot; you are actively choosing to let a behavior continue, rather than not doing anything about it because you don’t know what to do.  Remember, it’s not about having the dog with the perfect manners all the time. That dog doesn’t exist.  But now you don’t have to tolerate those unsavory behaviors any longer.

So congratulations, we’ve successfully de-assholed your dog!  And let’s face it, he probably wasn’t really an asshole to begin with.  He’s just a dog.  A wonderful, intelligent, perfect dog….who really sucked at being human.

 

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

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