Today I went to the dog park in Santa Clara located at Reed & Lafayette. Prior to entering the park with Ginger I set a goal of being perceived as the pack leader, not just by Ginger, but by all of the dogs in the park.
A lofty goal, but I figured I could start with Ginger and work my way up - I decided to start my mission while I was still in the car. My plan was as follows:
1) Get Ginger into a calm-submissive state before moving on the next step in our quest to ultimately grant her freedom
2) Establish Ginger as a member of the pack by walking through the park on-leash with others following and investigating
3) Release Ginger when she has submitted to the environment
4) Correct any unwanted behavior from any dog anywhere in the park
Here's how it went!
Got out of the car, went to the door to let Ginger out, and commanded her to stay in the car even though the door was open. She did, so I invited her out of the car.
We approached the gate to the park. We made forward progress on my terms. She was excited, but I made her sit and calm down about 3 times during the short walk to the gate. Other dogs were coming out of the park, so I made Ginger wait patiently - even though the door was open - for the other dogs to exit.
I made sure to pass through the gate first and made sure that Ginger passed through when I said it was ok (only after she'd displayed a calm-submissive behavior).
When we went in, I kept her on leash and immediately started walking. She was anxious and pulling. I maintained my status as the leader and reeled her in quickly, corrected the pulling, and kept making forward progress by walking around the perimeter of the park. Other dogs followed, naturally, and expressed curiosity by smelling as we walked. Ginger and I just kept walking...no stopping...until Ginger lost interest in the other dogs and the park itself and focused only on walking with me.
We walked, as a pack, with another dog who was skiddish about other dogs after we facilitated the nose-to-butt safe greeting ritual. This put that dog at ease and put Ginger at ease - knowing that they had pack-mates. The other owners were SUPER pleased about how quickly their pooch warmed up to Ginger.
By this point, Ginger was calm and submissive - so I removed her leash. Play time!
A few other dogs expressed some fear when others surrounded to sniff and investigate. I did my Cesar Millan "shhhttt" sound and commanded the attention of the curious pups - and definitely helped avoid a situation when one dog just started to show his teeth at one of the other dogs. The sound was coupled with an assertive touch. The other dogs backed away, the snarly dog looked relieved, and re-entered the group where they all played happily for several minutes without incident.
Did I succeed in becoming the pack leader of the entire park? Not sure - but it was fun to try and I had some fantastic conversations with other dog owners while I was in the park.
Did I succeed in preparing Ginger for a successful visit to the park? Without question! Every step of the way the message that she got was that I was in control, that there were rules and boundaries that she had to play by, and that I would enforce them for her and other dogs. She had also completely surrendered to the environment before she was allowed to co-mingle.
The key take-aways are:
1) Calm-submissive state
2) Establish the dog as a member of the pack - just not as the pack leader...that should be a human
3) Do not stop a new dog in the middle of a pack or you're asking for fear to set in...that triggers "flight or fight" response, and if the dog is surrounded or has stopped and is still on a leash, the only option is aggression (fight). Movement means flight (his preferred response) is a possibility to your dog and it also represents moving as a pack which is comforting to the dog.
4) Correct ANY unwanted behavior...including fear! Fear is the precursor to aggression. If a human doesn't correct it, the pack will...and they will do so on THEIR terms.
I encourage you to give this a try yourself - you'll feel empowered, your dog will be happy and will remain conscious of your presence in the park throughout the duration of your visit!
All the best!
Hey gang - a story problem for you:
Dog A and and Owner A (DA & OA from here) are playing in the park off leash with several other dogs and their owners. All are getting along swimmingly. The pack is happy and stable. DA is the oldest of the pack, has raised a litter of puppies, and is the dominant member of the 4-legged pack.
Dog B and Owner B (DB and OB from here) enter the environment with DB on leash and stop to socialize.
DA is a 60-lb pooch.
DB is a 7-lb pooch.
The 4 established pack members approach DB to greet him by bowing their heads and attempting to sniff DB's backside.
After a few seconds, DB raises his lip, bears his teeth, and then quickly follows with a warning snap directed at DA.
DA retaliates vocally and physically by pinning DB.
OA grabs DA from behind, and in an instant, DA releases, retreats, and it's over. OA corrects DA and they are subsequently at approximately Level-2 intensity.
Meanwhile, OB has picked up DB, and begins to berate OA at approximately Level-8 and quickly walks away - still chastising OA in front of the other pack members and their stable owners. OA is deflated and embarrassed. OA pursues OB to verify that DB is unharmed. OB states that DA is an aggressive dog, should never be off leash, that DA attacked DB, and that it's not a fair "fight" because DB is only 7-lbs.
1) How would you characterize the demeanor of DA and DB?
2) What, in your opinion, was the trigger point?
3) What could have been done to avoid this - or more specifically, what is the desired behavior from: OA, OB, DA, DB?
Just like our human relationships, the problems we experience with our dogs can usually be attributed to a misunderstanding or miscommunication. The premise behind the popular book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", by John Gray, Ph.D. is that men and women speak different languages.
Similarly, dogs and people speak different languages. Perhaps humans are from Earth, and dogs are from Pluto?
Unfortunately, you and your dog cannot sit down at the dinner table or lie together on the couch and express your feelings and perhaps even apologize. You, the human, are left with the entire burden of both interpreting your dog's foreign language and trying to deliver instructions in something other than your native tongue!
So - what to do? Ask yourself, "What conversation am I having with my dog when Problem X arises?"
For example - if your dog is pulling on the leash while you walk, look at the mechanics and positioning of you and your dog. Now put yourself in the dog's shoes. Does your dog think, "my pack leader is taking me for a walk", "I'm taking my human for a walk", or "OMG! I see and smell everything! It's total chaos...every man for himself"?
If you come to the conclusion that it's one of the latter two - you should feel good about yourself. After all, you now have a deeper understanding of your partner. :-)
One technique that can help you change the conversation is to re-trace your "go for a walk" ritual from the moment you decide you're going to venture out of the house. At what point does the situation transition from, "I'm calmly laying down on my dog-bed with the TV on in the background" to "it's party time, come on - let's go crazy!"?
Once you've identified that point - modify your demeanor so that the conversation you're having with your dog is, "I'm taking YOU for a walk. It will be a peaceful journey in which you will follow MY lead".
With walking in particular, forward progress should be made with you: physically out front, relaxed and confident, and acting purposefully (short potty break, bonding experience, fitness walk, etc).
When you blurt out in your cutesy-tootsy voice, "come on puppy, mommy's gonna take her little pumpkin out for a walk" - are you communicating relaxation, confidence, or purpose? Are you inviting insanity?
When the dog starts getting excited before you put the leash on, are you continuing the "go for a walk" routine - or do you stop there and wait for the dog to be calm before progressing? Excitement is fine at play time or when it's invited by you - be sure you're not unintentionally inviting excitement at walk time.
For other behavior issues, apply the same process: What is the conversation? How might the dog be interpreting the situation? When does the miscommunication start? What universal language gestures do I need to use to display my relaxed and confident demeanor? What universal language gestures do I need to use to clearly communicate what I want from my dog?
There are many techniques for reducing or eliminating unwanted behavior from your dog. Next time your dog is doing something that you don't approve of, ask yourself if you think it would be best to:
1. Ignore the behavior
2. Re-direct the dog's attention or energy
3. Correct the behavior with sound, gestures, and/or touch
Then act accordingly!
Many dog owners go into nurture mode to try to calm the dog down - talking in a sweet and soothing voice, and perhaps petting the dog. This is nurturing/rewarding behavior. The words you are speaking do tell the dog to calm down, but unfortunately your dog's understanding of body language is much more advanced than his/her knowlege of the English language. As a result, your dog may interpret the conversaion as, "good dog - I want you to repeat this behavior every time we're in this situation".
Remember to react in a universally understood language using sounds and gestures that make it perfectly clear to your dog that their behavior is not acceptable!
After being inspired by an old co-worker, Aaron Ross, I've decided to "make money through enjoyment". I enjoy coaching people and I enjoy helping dogs in my neighborhood get along better with one another. Like Reese's did with peanut butter and chocolate, I'm going to do with coaching and dogs!
I hope you'll try my services and leave feedback on the range of offerings, the quality of my service, and any other comments/suggestions you may have.
By the way, check out Aaron Ross and his inspiring endeavors at http://www.pebblestorm.com