It never ceases to amaze me how many parents will carefully visit pre school after pre school trying to find the most caring, loving environment for their childs pre school education; they will look to see how happy the kids are in the playground and take that as a huge factor in their decision. If the kids look happy and balanced and have a great relationship with their teacher, thats the number one choice.
When it comes to their dog, however, their criteria sometimes is completely the opposite.
They look to send their dog to a very ‘serious’ establishment, where the dogs are over powered and ‘shown who’s boss’, very often wrestled to the ground by the trainer, or shock collared in an attempt to knock the ‘insubordination’ out of the dog. The dogs cant wag their tails or bark because….well, that shows a lack of deference and respect for their human leaders doesnt it?
Hmmmmmm, anything strike you as completely out of whack with this scenario?
I had a family call me last week, referred by their local veterinarian, desperate for help with their dog who is somewhat aggressive towards other dogs [their words not mine, Ive yet to meet the dog] and I asked them, as always, to check out our website and the facebook page so that they can see how we do things and what kind of experience the dog will have here.
A couple of days later, I had not heard back from them and called them to see what they wanted to do. The lady readily admitted to me that they were in talks with another ‘rehab’ facility because they had been on our facebook page and it looked like the dogs were having ‘too much fun”. Their other option was a place that first puts a pinch collar on the dog the moment they walk in the door, and teaches the famous TV dog behaviourist adage…’calm submission’.
Now dont get me wrong, I believe that theres a place for very stringent methods of dog training if the dog has exhausted all other possibilities and is an extreme danger to other dogs or humans; I just dont believe that theres a place for it in 9 out of 10 cases.
Dogs learn best vicariously and experientially…like humans, they love to have fun. Also like humans, with dogs, play is practise for life. Simple as that.
Dogs tousle and chase, cower and pounce, strut, cavort, growl and bark all as part of learning how to handle themselves should they ever need to call on behaviours in a certain situation. Owners are very often annoyed when I tell them I will not be tolerating ‘hard wrestling’ here between dogs and tell me that their dogs love to wrestle each other to the floor. I quickly point out that we don’t allow it because when dogs are faced with a serious situation, the thing that theyve practised most in play is going to be the first thing that naturally comes to mind in order to deal with it. We dont want them to wrestle their way out of a dangerous situation, do we? We want them to learn how to look away, yawn [a calming signal], walk away or as a last resort ‘fool around’, which some dogs do to lighten the mood and play the class clown..often diffusing the situation completely.
We can never place enough importance on the use of play and completely unobstructed interaction with other dogs when rehabilitating a problem. Play teaches the dogs when to stop, what offends and what doesnt, how to interact naturally so that other dogs can read their intent and also, its plain good fun.
Kids that play well tend to grow up to be bright, sunny individuals with a keen sense of right and wrong and an instillled sense of teamwork and sharing. With dogs, those that learn to play appropriately can have the door opened to all manner of learning opportunities in a very real sense.
This week we are working on a dog whose issue is his fear of men; he’s fantastic with other dogs, great with females, but put him in the presence of a man and he cowers and growls.
Pop quiz…is the best way to deal with this behaviour to get a man to wrestle him to the ground, yank him on a leash, and show him who’s boss?
Or do we think maybe allowing him to build a relationship thats totally unthreatening and loving with one man, then another, then another, might just open the door to his realm of possibility that men arent all threats?
Best way to build a relationship with that man? Through play and respect.
This week, that particular dog, Hoss, is paired up with the dog closest to my husband. He and Levi are sleeping under my husbands desk between play times, my husband is feeding him in a very remote way [Hoss has issues around food and men combined] and when Levi comes to my husband for love, Hoss follows him and asks for a cuddle too. Already, Hoss is far more attached to my husband than he is to me and I couldnt be happier. Early next week, my husband will introduce him to our son who has learned the ways of asking nothing from a fearful dog, then it’ll be certain handpicked individuals from then on, in different settings. All nice and slow, unthreatening, and totally when Hoss is ready for it. Yes it takes longer, but like any good relationship, you cant rush love and respect; it has to build through time and experience.
Hoss is having a blast playing with lots of different dogs, who all come to my husband for love and affection when he calls them. Lesson to Hoss that first day? They trust this guy and seem to like him, maybe Ill give it a shot too!
Then, when he has had enough, back to some feel good play to break the tension of getting out of his comfort zone. Twenty minutes later, he’s ready to go for it again, and so on and so on.
All play is valuable, most of it, when appropriate, is life saving skills being practised in a non threatening environment. Never underestimate the importance of having a good time with your dog, and of his having a grand old time with other dogs. The doors it can open in your relationships and his are boundless.
Have fun out there, today!