If there is one thing that drives me nuts at the dog park it’s dogs mobbing the front gate, the gate through which dogs enter and exit. There is so much energy at that front gate. The dog coming in is excited and amped up and the ones inside are excited and amped up and become even more so when they see another dog coming in who is in the same state.
When there is a mob by the front gate, I wait for the other dogs to leave. If they don’t, I ask their owners to come and get them. If that doesn’t happen, I leave and go to another gate or leave altogether. I won’t put my dogs at risk for an attack.
Last week I witnessed two dogs start to fight after an excited setter entered the park and several dogs mobbed the gate. The owner really should have waited until the dogs had moved away or until the owners moved their dogs away physically, but she didn’t. She probably wasn’t aware of the dangers in not waiting. As was expected, the excited setter was attacked by one of the dogs on the inside of the gate as soon he entered. And as the two wrangled a bit, several other dogs decided to join in. Fortunately for the dogs, the owners were close enough to intervene and did so quickly, but for a second there I thought it was going to devolve into something more.
Entering a dog park can be dangerous if an owner is not aware and does not plan ahead on what they will do if there is a mob at the gate. Given my recent experience, I thought it might be good to share another video from Great Dog Productions showing just such a situation at a dog park. I am also including the slow motion version of the same video so you can see how quickly things can turn ugly. Watch as some of the other dogs join in after a black and white dog jumps the doodle that is entering the park.
Here is the slow motion version of the same video. Notice how the Lab is pushed away from the gate, but quickly comes back when the black and white dog goes after the doodle. Also notice the little Westie who started to join in. Watch the body language of the doodle. How is he feeling right about now? Scared? Nervous? You bet.
I don’t believe that dogs do something out of vengeance or anger.
My dogs are not looking to get back to me for some transgression.
So when I did this…
I don’t think my dogs collaborated together and sought revenge when they did this…
Instead I think…
Crime of Opportunity (I dropped the elf ears when putting them away last night)
I can’t really blame them.
Trips to the dog park have been pretty rare lately. A combination of whole “fall back” time change and the extremely cold temperatures has made it near impossible to get there, except on the weekends. On Saturday it was warm enough to stay for over an hour. We saw lots of our friends and some new ones.
Towards the end of our walk, I was chatting with one of our friends when I noticed a yellow Lab running across the field with an Irish Terrier in hot pursuit. I watched as they had a fun game of chase, taking turns on chasing and playing.
Suddenly, two other dogs joined in on the pursuit and what was a fun game of chase quickly became harassment. The terrier, already over aroused and excited, amped it up, and then the other dogs joined in on the pursuit. Soon the Lab was running for his life and had one dog nipping at his side and two others on his tail.
I could tell the Lab wasn’t having fun anymore – his hackles were up and several times he stopped and rolled on his back in hopes of stopping the hot pursuit and harassment, but it only led to the terrier nipping at him continuously while the other two dogs barked and lunged and barked and lunged. He quickly got up and started running again.
Realizing that someone needed to intervene, I yelled “Hey! Hey! Three on one is no fun!” and started walking quickly towards the dogs. My shout got the other owner’s attention and they started running towards their dogs to intervene too. A couple of owners made a grab for their dogs and pulled them away from the interaction. The Lab ran back to his owner for reassurance and just like that, the whole incident dissipated.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not often you see owners intervene like that on behalf of a dog. And yet in this case, all the owners intervened. It was awesome to see such involvement. I wish we all saw more of this type of owner behavior at dog parks.
Later, the Lab’s owner mentioned that he wasn’t sure what had happened because just before his dog had been playing chase very nicely. His comment was not surprising. All it took was an excited dog getting amped up and a couple other dogs keying in on that energy and joining in, and suddenly everything changes. It’s a great example of why owners must always be aware of what is going on and be ready to intervene if necessary.
This incident reminded me of another dog park video I had recently watched showing some great examples of dog harassment at a dog park and what happens when an owner intervenes. It’s a great reminder that we dog owners can help dissipate this kind of behavior by simply interrupting the behavior before it gets out of control. I hope you will watch and then pass it on.
Just a quick reminder – not all dogs should be at a dog park and not all dog parks are safe for dogs. You have to be your own dog’s advocate. Be aware. Be alert. Be ready to intervene.
Over the holiday weekend, my dogs enjoyed daily visits to the dog park. They loved getting to walk in the woods every day and to meet up with some of their old friends and hang out. Daisy is more comfortable exploring when she knows her friends. She knows what to expect from them and she knows they will respect her space.
Going to the dog park can be quite an eye opener for the new dog owner. Not all dogs have doggie social skills or a respect for other dogs’ space. You have to know what to watch for and have an understanding of what is really going on.
I have been known to intervene in situations where I feel a dog is in danger, afraid or in need of a little assistance. I am used to hearing people say “Dogs can work it out themselves.” or “Let them be. They’ll work it out,” but that is not always the case. We as dog owners have a responsibility to protect our dogs and to prevent them from harm. In some cases, that means not going to a dog park at all. In others, it means you need to be aware and know what to watch for in case trouble starts.
The video below was taken at a dog park and demonstrates some of the dog behaviors that every dog owner should not only be aware of, but also be ready to intervene in, if they see it. It’s worth watching if you do not understand dog body language. The commentator does a good job of describing what is going on. I have already shared it with my dog park friends, please feel free to share it with yours.
Troll around on Twitter or Facebook and you’re likely to run across a “cute” child and dog video. I very rarely share them. Why? They make me cringe. Most of the videos you see showing children and dogs together are not what they seem. They are not “cute.”
To a dog owner or parent unaware of dog behavioral signals it can look adorable, but if you know even a little bit about dog behavior, you can see what they do not – most of these dogs are not enjoying the interaction, and in many cases they are being way more tolerant than one would expect. Thank goodness too, because in many cases a dog bite is a death sentence for the dog, even when they were telling everyone with eyes to see that they were nervous or uncomfortable, or felt threatened. To the unknowing owner, they think the attack came out of nowhere, that it was unprovoked, but in truth, this is rarely the case. Most dogs tell you what they are feeling long before they bite.
Recently an online dog-oriented website shared a video of a Golden Retriever and a baby and titled it as “Baby and Golden Retriever share bonding time.” I would have to disagree. What is happening in this video is not bonding. It’s stress and calming signals from the dog, and all the signs indicate that dog and/or baby should be removed from the situation.
What you will see in this video is a series of calming signals. My guess? The dog is stressed by the closeness of the baby, and possibly the fact that the baby has already grabbed its jowls and pulled on his face, and is very much trying to calm himself and ease his stress.
What dog signals did I see?
- Yawning (several times)
- Looking away(several times)
- Avoidance (pretending the child is not there; avoiding the child)
Dog and baby videos just aren’t as cute as people think. You just have to be watching to see it.
Monday night, as I came back into the living room from the kitchen, I noticed Daisy with her head hooked back over the arm of the couch watching me. I was suddenly hit with a pang in my heart. That was something Aspen (her doggie sister) used to do. She would hook her head over the arm of the couch and cock it back so she could see what I was doing in the kitchen. It was one of those things that always made me smile. It was her “thing”, her quirk, what made her, her. You know what I mean?
Every dog has that “thing” that makes them special to us. That one quirky part of their personality that stands out in our minds. The thing we miss when they are gone.
All three of my dogs have quirky things they do that makes me smile. They are the things that make them each unique and special in their own way.
Cupcake smiles all of the time, barks when Jasper gets excited and loves to steal toys out of Daisy’s kennel, but there are two quirky behaviors of hers that always make me smile. The first is when she goes out for her last potty break before I go to work. When she goes outside, she just barks. That’s it. Oh she’s not barking at anyone or anything. No. She’s barking at the world to let everyone know she is there. “Hello world! Cupcake is here!” It cracks me up every time.
The other thing she does is put her front paws on my lap (when I am on the couch) and smile and waggle her little butt and tail. I just can’t help but smile. I love it when she does this.
With Daisy, it’s that coy look from the end of the couch and the tail thump that follows and the more recent addition of her choosing to cuddle with me. My heart melts every time.
Jasper has so many quirks, I cannot even begin to name them all, but the one thing he does that always makes me laugh is he gives me something I call “the stare.” I never know what he is thinking or what he wants, but he does it all of the time. Sometimes he just stands there and stares at me and I stare back at him. This can go on for several; seconds and sometimes minutes. You would think it would be a bit intimidating to have a dog staring at you, but it’s not with him. It’s like he is deeply contemplating something about you and hasn’t quite figured it out yet. It’s quite amusing to see.
I love my dogs. I love their quirks and everything that makes them who they are.
What quirky things does your dog do that make you smile? What funny behavior so they do that makes you smile?
Despite what we often may think, dogs can be pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t.
I’ve written plenty about their behaviors and what they mean, but one of the things I am still learning about is dog thresholds. According to Mardi Richmond at the Whole Dog Journal, a threshold is “when your dog crosses from one emotional state to another.” They might be happy one second and concerned or stressed the next. Often the stress or anxiety comes from an outside trigger, like seeing another dog or a person or even seeing a new object in their environment.
Although I had plenty of experience with dogs crossing thresholds at the animal shelter, I don’t even think I knew what the term meant back then. I just knew that some dogs would go from being relaxed and happy to lunging and barking whenever they saw another dog.
What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that the term can also be applied to dogs who go from relaxed and happy to shutting down or freezing in fear. They might be totally different emotional states, but the same thing is happening. They are crossing a threshold.
In the early days, Daisy had a low threshold for nearly everything in her environment – the car, the house, wood floors, people, noises, sudden movements, and me. Any of one of these could put her into a fearful state, but put two or more of these together and you could guarantee she would pretty much shut down, going into a nearly helpless state. Have you ever seen a dog get a vacant, empty look in their eyes? That was Daisy in the early days.
These days, Daisy has a much higher threshold on a whole lot of things in her environment, but I also know that a combination of any of her triggers could still cause her to shut down again. It’s something I always keep in mind whenever I am trying to decide whether to bring her along with me to an event or to leave her behind at home, where she will be safe. Most of the time I leave her at home, unless I know I can control the environment for her. I do the same with Cupcake as well. She has a much lower threshold for new people and activities than Daisy, but unlike Daisy who just shuts down, Cupcake’s first reaction is to flee. I just won’t put her at risk of getting lost again. She is happier at home anyways.
Understanding dog thresholds has taught me how to keep my dogs safe, but for other people it may be how to keep them calm. Knowing what they are and how they work can go a long way towards improving your relationship with your dog. I know it has with mine.
I don’t know if you’re interested, but I found a great video that explains a little more on thresholds and something called “trigger stacking.” It is really worth watching if you want to understand your dogs better.
We humans often make assumptions about our dogs.
“He ate my shoes because he was mad that I left him at home.”
“She got into the trash because she was trying to get back at me.”
“He was bad dog because he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“She looks guilty, therefore she must have done it.”
But I wonder how often we actually take the time to examine the reasons behind the behavior?
This past week, I had the misfortune of having someone make some unflattering assumptions about me. It was not a good feeling. I felt hurt and embarrassed and yes, guilty, even though I had no reason to feel so. I think what bothered me most is that no one bothered to ask me what had happened or why. They just assumed I was guilty.
As I tried to come to a better understanding of how and why something like this could happen, I started thinking about how applicable my situation was to what happens to dogs – an assumption of guilt without seeking to understand.
Because they can’t tell us what happened or because we don’t have all the knowledge and skills to understand them, we tend to make a lot of assumptions about our dogs. We assume the one looking most guilty must be the one who got into the trash or destroyed our favorite pair of shoes. We assume that a dog acting out must be a just a bad dog or be mentally unbalanced. Rarely, do we stop to observe the root cause of a dog’s behavior to better understand why they are behaving a certain way.
Most people assume a dog looks guilty because they ARE guilty, but what is often missed is how much our behavior impacts our dog’s behavior. It is often a reflection of what WE are doing. Studies now show that tone of voice and an owner’s behavior has a lot more to do with a dog’s guilty look than actual guilt.
A dog who bites may be a bad dog in our eyes, but he could just as easily be reacting to a sound or another trigger in his environment that makes them fearful and stressed. (A friend recently shared a story of a dog that turned into “Cujo” whenever she heard a common sound in the house. Turns out the dog had started to associate the noise with people coming up behind her and scaring her. She could no longer hear them.)
Sometimes a physical impairment can also cause a dog to behave oddly. I’ll never forget the story one animal rescuer told me about a dog she fostered and later adopted. The dog had been poorly treated by his previous family because they thought he was stupid and stubborn and because he wouldn’t listen to their commands. Imagine her surprise when she took the dog in to foster and discovered he was deaf! The owners had never taken the time to observe his behavior long enough to realize he could not hear them. They had just assumed he was a bad dog – for four years!
As I look back on my experience last week, I can’t help but feel fortunate. As a human being, I have the ability to address my issue directly. I can use my voice to share how a person’s assumptions were wrong. I can use emails and paper documentation as evidence.
Dogs, however, only have us to rely on. I may not have always done so in the past, but I intend to be a much better steward of my dog’s trust. When I find myself assuming, I am going to stop and observe instead. There’s so much more that gets accomplished when one asks questions first, don’t you think?
A co-worker of mine just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. She spent a good amount of time in Finland and Sweden, and some time in Belgium and elsewhere. Of course, she had a great time (who wouldn’t?) and saw lots of great sights. but there was one thing she said she noticed above all – the huge number of well-behaved dogs walking with their owners. She said she saw dogs everywhere she went and she was amazed at how well-behaved they were. No jumping up on people. No begging for food. No barking uncontrollably.
It seems she isn’t the only one to notice this either. Scout’s mom posted this on Dogster in 2006:
My husband and I took a trip to Paris and Germany and noticed the oddest most amazing thing. EVERY SINGLE DOG WE SAW… that’s right EVERY SINGLE one in the big city in Paris, in the small towns in Germany were well-behaved and walked behind their furless ones! It was so weird. It was like all the dogs were sedated! They didn’t pull on leashes, they didn’t look at people, they didn’t beg for food at the cafes and most of all- none of them were shy! Some were even off leash in Paris walking next to their furless ones- even stopping at the cross walk!! My husband and I took so much video of these dogs because we just couldn’t believe it! All kind of dogs too- big dogs, little dogs, all kind of size dogs. Has anyone else seen this in Europe? It makes me want to send Scout to Europe for training! We can’t figure out why- maybe because their lifestyle is so different? Different quieter home life? It was so cool!
There were lots of interesting responses to Scout’s mom’s question. Some thought it was because dogs in Europe were allowed to go everywhere with their owners and therefore had to behave better. Others thought it was because they got out more than American dogs and got more exercise than American dogs. I suspect there is truth to both of these theories, but it seems like there must be more to the story, so I am asking you, my readers, for some input.
Are dogs in Europe better behaved than American dogs? If so, what makes them appear to be better behaved than American dogs? What behaviors do you see with dogs there that you don’t see here?
Do you live outside Europe and America? How would you describe how the dogs behave in your country?