Today, I am sharing another blog post from Daisy’s blog, “Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab)“.
Daisy is my former puppy mill breeding dog that I fostered and then adopted in November 2007. Even though I don’t write on her blog much anymore, I still treasure the words I wrote back then because they remind me of how far Daisy has come in the past 5 years.
This post was written on November 17, 2008, nearly a year after I first brought Daisy home.
Friday morning was a cold day at the dog park. The dogs didn’t seem to mind, but I certainly did! I was not ready for the bitter wind that came with the low temperature of 15 degrees. Brrrr! Nothing like having your legs go numb while you watch your dog run and play in the woods. As a hearty Minnesotan I should be used to it, but I’m not. Despite the weather I was still able to enjoy the sun and laugh at the dogs and their antics.Daisy’s buddy, Brutus, a 110 lb. Rottweiler puppy was there, as was her favorite pal, Henry. Everyone seemed ready to have some fun. Brutus was looking for a playmate so the chasing and running began as soon as we got inside the park. Daisy really likes Brutus, but I was still relieved to see that she was okay with Brutus stalking and chasing her. I was expecting her to be a bit tentative or fearful, especially after last week. Thankfully, she wasn’t fearful at all.Last week Daisy got into an “altercation” with another one of her friends over a stick. In past experiences, Daisy has learned that a stick can be a great toy to play a game of tug. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong partner this time. She chose someone who was not open to sharing the stick. On top of it, Daisy thought she would tell the other dog she wanted it and that led to the altercation between them. It escalated when other dogs in our group also joined in. In the end, Daisy ended up with a few bites to her head (just above her ear) and one to her backend (by her tail). She is totally fine, but I think she learned that perhaps she should be a bit more cautious about who to challenge when her stick is taken. It reminded me how careful I need to be when Daisy’s gain in knowledge can be.As her dog mom, it has been fascinating to watch Daisy learn from the other dogs at the dog park this past year. It’s like she’s trying to figure out how a dog should act. Obviously, some things are instinctual, like the constant need to carry something in her mouth (definitely a lab thing to do), but other things she has learned by watching what the other dogs do. She started picking up sticks and chewing on them only after watching other dogs do it first. She learned how to drink out of the spout of a water bottle after watching other dogs do it. She learned how to roll over on her back and wiggle around in the dirt and wood chips after watching her friend Turbo do it. She learned how to chase a squirrel after watching her friends Prince and Princess do it (luckily she has never caught one, but I don’t think she would know what to do with it even if she did!).The first time she left my side to go run through the field with some of her friends was amazing. In the past (and still to some degree today), Daisy has always walked beside me or right behind me. The first time she ran off with her friends was a beautiful moment. It’s like she was saying, “I’m free! I’m free!” Her tail went up, she started bouncing along the trail ahead of me and then off she went flying over shrubs and tall weeds. All of this was learned from watching other dogs and then mimicking their behavior.But that’s also why I have always been a bit cautious with her. In many ways, Daisy is like a tabula rasa, a blank slate, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, so every behavior that she observes leaves an impression on her. You can actually see her watching everything the other dogs do and mimic their behavior. She seems to learn from from every interaction. Picking up a stick and then flaunting it in front of another dog so he or she will chase her, is something she learned from watching her friend, Turbo.Unfortunately, not every dog displays good behavior. Sometimes they are aggressive or possessive, or they jump up on people, or they nip at other dogs. And yes, sometimes they think that their stick has magical powers and must be protected at any cost. It is because of this that I constantly watch Daisy to see what or whom she is observing. I encourage her when she acquires a new desirable behavior and displays it, and I gently discourage her when it is a behavior that I don’t want her to display.Overall, I Have to say I am very lucky because she really hasn’t picked up any behaviors that have caused me real concern. But it is something I am aware of each time Daisy interacts with another dog. It made me think that in some ways that my role as Daisy’s owner is very much like a mom or dad’s role in raising their children. Parents are there to set an example for us. They show us what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior throughout our lives. Although my job is much, much easier than any mom or dad’s, it is something I take seriously. I want Daisy to be a good citizen – one that interacts with both humans and dogs in a positive manner.So today, I want to recognize all those parents out there, to both human and animal. Keep up the good work! May your “child” represent the best of you. And, may they make you proud!
A few weeks ago I asked you “What has your dog learned by watching other dogs and you?”
The responses were funny and interesting, and they completely reinforced my belief that dogs are waaaaayyyyy smarter than we give them credit for. We still have so much to learn about them….
One of the things I often ponder is what my dogs have trained me to do, like playing ball when they want or letting them outside for a potty break or cuddling when they demand it. All three of my dogs have behaviors that indicate something they want.
Jasper will wave his paw in the air when he wants me to continue rubbing his belly. Daisy will pace back and forth, between her kennel and the living room, when she wants to go outside, and Cupcake will stand on her back legs and place her paws on my lap when she wants attention. All are behaviors that have worked for them in the past so they know it will likely get them what they want.
Of course, I really do know that my dogs haven’t trained me as much as I have trained them. By giving them what they want when they exhibit these behaviors, I am reinforcing in their minds that this is the behavior they must do to get what they want. It sounds like a circular argument doesn’t it? It is to some extent.
When Jasper wants to play ball and continuously drops it at my feet and I pick it up to throw it, I have told him that dropping it over and over again at my feet will get the desired behavior from me (i.e., me throwing his ball).
We dog owners all have these behaviors we do when our dogs give us a behavior or cue. They have learned from us what works because we reinforce it. Barking at something outside gets our attention, whether it be positive or negative. Jumping on us gets them attention too. Again, it may be a positive or negative response, but it IS attention.
One of the things Jasper has learned is that walks are really, really exciting. When we leash up for a walk in the neighborhood he starts barking and jumping and pulling. Up until last week, I was reinforcing his behavior by giving him attention (“Jasper stop it!” or “Jasper, no barking”). He had learned that barking, jumping and pulling were all behaviors that got him what he wanted… a walk through the neighborhood.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t been taking my own advice, the one I had been giving to clients for years – stop reinforcing the behavior.
So, last week I stopped reinforcing the behaviors by taking away the expected response (i.e., continuing on our walk).. Instead of responding to the Jasper’s behavior with the desired result (to keep walking) I just stopped and ignored him until he stopped barking. When he was quiet for more than 3-5 seconds we started walking again. If he started barking again, we stopped and went through the whole process all over again until he stopped.
It didn’t take him long to figure out that he wasn’t getting the desired response he wanted when he barked and jumped and pulled. I was training him what desired behaviors would get him what he wanted (i.e., walking quietly and without pulling = moving forward and walking). we still have some work to do, but he is getting better about our walks.
I bet many of you have behaviors your dog has taught you to do too. What are you reinforcing with your dog? What behaviors does your dog do that leads to a desired response from you every single time? Have you tried changing your response? What happens when you do?
Besides the Minnesota Sheltie Rescue Reunion, there was one other event I was really looking forward to attending – the Dog Body Language seminar being presented by my friend Kate Anders. Unfortunately, I let the crappy Minnesota winter (I refuse to call this spring) get to me. It snowed most of the morning and rained the rest of the day. I thought it would be too icy to venture out at night. I was wrong. I should have gone. I love attending seminars like these because I learn so much. (I am so sorry Kate!)
With that on my mind today, it shouldn’t be surprising that this video would capture my attention Monday night. My friend Mary Haight over at Dancing Dog Blog shared it. I was immediately fascinated.
It is a great example of the dog body language of a threatening dog. Some people might find the video funny, but what I saw was all the signals the dog gave that signaled an attack was about to happen. Can you pick out the signs? The most obvious one is the growl (notice how it is almost a panting growl), but there are more signals there. Try listening with the sound off. What do you see?
Not sure? Let’s walk through the many of the signs I see.
First, notice the dog’s eyes. They are staring straight ahead at the dog in the mirror – this is seen as a threatening behavior by most dogs. Two dogs staring at one another (a direct stare) is a sign that trouble may be just ahead (unlike two dogs playing with one another who will look at one another but also look away.)
Also notice how hard the dog’s eyes are compared to say, your dog. They are not soft and liquid. They are hard and focused and most likely dilated. They are not blinking either.
Now look at the body posture. The dog is leaning forward and his body is stiff. These are more warning signs.
This dog also shows his teeth and his upper lip and nose are wrinkled. More danger signs.
Not surprisingly, he did attack… the dog in the mirror.
In most cases, another dog will back down when faced with these kinds of body signals, and offer appeasement signals while doing so, but when faced with a dog that does not back down then it can escalate.
Does this mean this dog is a danger? Not necessarily. But it does mean that when faced with another dog giving threatening signals (and ignoring appeasement signals), he is not likely to back down either.
Obviously, in this case, neither dog could back down since it was the same dog and his reflection. While it may also seem funny to most people, to me it is a great lesson in dog body language.
*****Just wanted to add a few things my friend Dee caught that I missed: “Interesting to see a dog exhibiting threatening behaviors (freezes in place, stares straight at the dog in the mirror, doesn’t blink), interspersed with discomfort/appeasement (lip licking, slow, side-to-side tail wagging, some crouching). When he doesn’t get clear signals the other dog doesn’t mean him harm, the appeasement reverts to threats.” Thanks Dee!
In my early days with Daisy, I often would think refer to her as my tabula rasa, my little blank slate. Being a “normal” dog was so completely foreign to her back then that I’m not sure she even knew how to be a dog. Meeting other dogs (and people) was so new to her that when other dogs came up to her to say hello she would just stand there with a distant look in her eye. More often than not, the other dog would end up walking away with a noticeable air of disinterest. She was so completely foreign to them, like an alien from another planet. She just didn’t speak their language.
But, over time, I started to notice that Daisy was actually learning how to be a dog in the same way children model after their parents. She was watching what other dogs were doing and taking note. Whenever we went to the dog park, she would watch other dogs playing and try to mimic their behaviors. She made it her goal to learn as much as she could from them.
Of course, there was always an up and down side to that. She might be learning how to be a dog, but she was also learning some bad dog behaviors along the way. I was on constant guard to make sure she was surrounded by dogs I thought could show her the best way to be a happy and healthy dog. I didn’t want her learning behaviors that other dogs would find annoying or ones that might make her a less than desirable dog at the park. I know it sounds silly, but I am being completely serious when I say she watched how others dogs acted and tried to copy them – ALL OF THE TIME.
You may already know this, but dogs are observing a lot in their day-to-day lives. They are very keen on picking up on new behaviors displayed by other dogs. But they are just as keen on picking up on our own behaviors. Think your dogs don’t observe you? Try picking up your keys and walking towards the door. What did your dog do?
I think I was more aware of my dogs observing me and my behaviors than I was about them observing other dogs and their behavior. It wasn’t until Daisy that I began to realize just how much dogs observe other dogs and how much they learn from them.
When Jasper came into our lives at 9 months of age, he chewed on everything he could get his little teeth on. He tore up stuffed toys with a vengeance. He destroyed plastic toys and left little bits of them all over the house. Until Jasper came into our lives, Daisy never chewed up anything. Ever. Suddenly, she was chewing up frisbees and other plastic toys. She learned by observing Jasper.
When I started taking boarders into my home, Jasper learned from them just like Daisy learned from him. From Tuffy, he learned that a raised paw flicking in the air would get him a belly rub. He discovered the joys of squeaking a tennis ball over and over again from Maggie, who also seemed to savor her tennis balls in the very same way. He learned carrots could be quite tasty from our friend, Buddy.
When Cupcake joined our family, she learned new behaviors too. She learned from Jasper that putting your paws on my lap would get you lots of love and attention. From Daisy, she learned that running around in excitement would get me up off the couch to let her outside. She learned from both of Daisy and Jasper that stealing each other’s toys was okay and even acceptable behavior here. There is no hard and fast rule that what’s yours is yours. Everyone shared here.
Watching my own dogs has made me realize how much dogs are really observing in their environment. They are constantly watching us and other dogs, and they are constantly learning from those observations. They watch and they learn.
It made me wonder… What behaviors has your own dog learned by watching another dog? What behaviors has your dog learned by watching you? I would love to know.
A couple of weeks ago a friend posted on her Facebook page that her brain was hurting after attending a Suzanne Clothier seminar. I had to laugh. I could SO relate to what she was feeling. Back in November, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend two of the three sessions held by Suzanne here in Minnesota.
To say the sessions were mind-blowing would be an understatement. I can still remember driving home after that first session and feeling like the synapses in my brain were going off all at once. I learned more about dogs in those first three hours than I had ever learned before. I’m pretty sure I said “Wow.” at least twenty times during that first night’s drive home.
The second session was just as mind-blowing as the first and included a lot of real life demonstrations using dogs with real issues. It was exciting to be able to pick out some of the behavioral cues being given by the dogs as Suzanne worked with them.
But the highlight of the session (for me) was a video Suzanne showed during her last session. When I say it was a highlight I mean that it gave me that “A-ha” moment, a moment of insight into myself and into dogs.
Suzanne introduced the video by saying that what we were about to see was an initial meeting between a potential adopter ( a man) and a Shepherd/Husky/Lab mix. The man had come in to meet the dog after seeing his picture on the internet. He was certain that this was the dog for him.
We watched the video in silence as the man met the dog outside. Right away, it was evident that the dog had no interest in the man. As they stood on the gravel driveway, the dog made it clear that he wanted distance. He stood at the very end of the leash and put his back to the man (facing out and away from him). When the man tried to pull the dog in closer to him, he resisted and tried to maintain some distance from him.
When the man sat down on the ground, he pulled the dog in towards him and tried to hug him. The dog tolerated it way more than most people would have, but it was clear from his body language that he wanted no part of it. He pulled away, and even when pulled in close, looked uncomfortable and stiff and always faced away from the man. There were also a lot of yawns and lip-licking (signs of stress in a dog).
As I watched the video, I remember being irritated with the man for not recognizing the dog wanted nothing to do with him. Couldn’t he see the dog was resistant to his attention? Couldn’t he see the dog did not want a hug?
I was so caught up in the dog’s behavioral signals that I had failed to notice something else, something that Suzanne later pointed out – the man’s behavior. In every move and action, he was telling us what kind of dog he wanted,. He wanted a dog who was affectionate and wanted to be close to him. Throughout the video, he made every attempt to create this closeness – pulling the dog towards him,, hugging him, holding him, etc.. The only problem was that he was trying to create that closeness with a dog who clearly preferred distance. This was a dog who probably preferred to sleep on the floor across the room from you or maybe at you feet, not a dog who wanted to be hugged.
What I had completely missed throughout the video was the dynamic between the man and the dog. Suzanne called it a mismatch, and she was completely right. It was a mismatch. The guy was a perfectly nice gentleman, and the dog was a perfectly wonderful dog – they just wanted very different things from one another.
As I thought about it even more, I started to realize how similarly matched me and my dogs are to one another. I am not someone who wants constant affection and attention from my dogs, and funny enough, my dogs are not interested in giving it back to me on a constant basis either. That’s not to say that I don’t like to cuddle with my dogs from time to time. I do. It’s just I prefer not to have a dog glued to my side and needing to touch me at every moment of the day. I like that my dogs prefer to sleep on the floor at night. I love that they have some sense of independence from me.
And yet I know, for other dog owners, this would be the exact opposite of what they want. They want that closeness. They want the little dog in their lap at night… and you know what? That’s totally okay. In the end, it’s making sure that the dog you have matches what you want and that what you both have a need for the same things.
So it made me curious… Do you consider yourself someone who wants that closeness with a dog? Or someone who prefers a little independence and distance? Do you consider you and your dog well-matched? If so, why do you think so?
And, have you ever had a dog that was a mismatch for you and how did you know?
Recently, I came across a news piece debunking common animal myths. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about most animal myths (I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to animals), but it turns out I had more to learn.
For instance, did you know that touching a baby bird does not mean the mother won’t take it back? Or that porcupines don’t shoot their quills at a predator? You can read more about these common myths at Animal Facts & Myths Debunked By Wildlife Experts.
Reading some of the myths we have about wild animals made me wonder what kinds of dog myths I may have fallen for that turned out not to be true. So, off I went a-Googling to see what I could find. It turns out there are quite a lot of dog myths out there. Who knew? (Just kidding. Given how many myths there are in the dog training world, I had to figure there were a lot more myths about dogs.)
Here are some of the more interesting ones I found:
Dogs are sick when their noses are warm – It turns out this is a myth (one I actually believed). “The temperature of a dogs nose does not indicate health or illness or if they have a fever. The only accurate method to access a dog’s temperature is to take it with a thermometer. Normal dog temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees F.”
Dogs like to be petted on their heads – Past experience has taught me that this is definitely a myth. While some dogs may not mind it, most dogs DO NOT like to be pet on the head. In fact, a hand coming at them over their head can be quite an intimidating thing to a dog and can be seen as a threat.
Happy dogs wag their tails – Another one that so many people think is true. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy. “A wagging tail can mean agitation or excitement. A dog that wags his tail slowly and moves his all rear end or crouches down in the classic “play bow” position is usually a friendly wag. Tails that are wagged when held higher, twitches or wagging while held over the back may be associated with aggression.”
Dogs eat grass when they are sick – Haven’t you always wondered why your dog eats grass? I know have. I actually believed this one was true. but according to Dr. Debra Primovic, “Dogs descended from wild wolves and foxes that ate all parts of their “kill.” This included the stomach contents of many animals that ate berries and grass. Many scientists believe grass was once part of their normal diet and eating small amounts is normal.”
Dogs destroy furniture and other items in the house because they are angry – This is actually one of my favorite myths. So many people believe that their dog takes out their anger on them when they are gone. How do they know this? Why their dog looks guilty of course! Afraid not. More and more studies are showing that the guilty look your dog gives you is in response to you (your tone of voice, body posture, etc.) NOT because they actually felt guilty for doing something they knew was wrong. You can read more about a study done in 2009 here.
You should never comfort a scared dog – This is one of those old myths I heard growing up as a kid. My dog Indy was fearful of thunderstorms and we were told to ignore the behavior or it would reinforce it. We did. It didn’t. Her fear just got worse with time. Poor Indy. Now I know better and I comfort Daisy when there is a thunderstorm or fireworks are going off in the neighborhood. Why? Because I finally met someone who understands and works with fearful dogs, Debbie Jacobs. According to Debbie, “One of the first things someone working with a fearful dog needs to understand is that it’s ok to comfort a dog that is afraid. It’s ok to give them a piece of cheese or take them away from what is scaring them.” Daisy is the lucky recipient of this wisdom and I am so grateful. So is Daisy.
Dog growling is always a bad thing – I used to believe this one until I got my dog Indy. Have you ever had a dog who was vocal? Well, Indy was and she loved nothing more than to growl when playing tug or wrestling with another dog. As shared by Eric Goebelbecker of Dog Spelled Forward, “Dogs have a very limited vocal range, and like reading body language, making a judgement based on a single indicator like a growl is a bad idea. Growling during play, such as a game of tug, is perfectly fine.”
Using head collars will cause neck/spinal injury – I recently came across this one when someone I know on Facebook admonished a foster mom for using a Gentle Leader on her foster dog. According to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), a well-recognized and respected dog-training association, “This is an oft-repeated claim that can be found all over the Internet. In fact there are no documented cases of dogs getting neck and/or spinal injuries from head collars. Proper use of these types of collars should have no ill physical effects on your dog.”
Dogs are descendents of wolves and therefore training should be based on how wolf packs interact with each other – Ah yes. The whole “pack theory” approach to dog training. You can read my friend Pamela’s post Why is the Dominance Theory of Dog Training Still So Darn Popular? but you may also want to read what APDT has to say on this… “Dogs are not wolves and there are many significant differences between dog and wolf behavior such that wolf behavior is completely irrelevant to how we live and interact with our dogs. Moreover, when wolf behavior is mentioned as a model for dog training, the understanding of wolf behavior used is often incorrect and based on studies that have long since been disproven by research scientists who study wolves extensively.”
Pitbulls have jaws that lock, thus making them more dangerous than other dog breeds – False. False. False. I wish I knew where these myths got started. Somewhere I imagine a dog fighter bragging to his dog fighter scumbag buddy that his pitbull has a jaw that locks. Can’t you just see it? According to the Pitbull Rescue Center’s (PBRC) Media Center page “there is NO SUCH THING AS “JAW LOCKING” IN ANY BREED.” And this, from several veterinarians who were consulted on this matter. The whole “pitbulls have a 1600 PSI bite pressure”myth is also false. PBRC shared some very interesting information on animals and bite pressure:
- Humans: 120 pounds of bite pressure
- Domestic dogs: 320 LBS of pressure on avg. A German Shepard, American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) and Rottweiler were tested using a bite sleeve equipped with a specialized computer instrument. The APBT had the least amount of pressure of the 3 dogs tested.
- Wild dogs: 310 lbs
- Lions: 600 lbs
- White sharks: 600 lbs
- Hyenas: 1000 lbs
- Snapping turtles: 1000 lbs
- Crocodiles: 2500 lbs
Pretty interesting isn’t it?
I look back at when I first became a dog owner and shake my head. What I knew then and what I know now are ages and ages apart. How many of these myths did I believe when I was younger? Probably all of them. It’s amazing what you learn as you grow as a person.
So what myths did you have as a kid that you have since learned were untrue? Did any of the myths listed above surprise you? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Recently a friend posted her volunteer pin from our old local humane society that I used to volunteer at here in town. It brought back a lot of memories for me. We used to be such a tight-knit group of staff and volunteers. There was something special about the place. Even now, two years later, we all still pine for the days when we would all work together to help the animals in our care.
One of the things that made us such a close group was the amount of time we spent learning how to help the dogs and cats in our care. Like other humane societies, ours offered training classes for puppies and newly adopted dogs. We also had training for staff and volunteers, including such topics as cat care, dog care, positive reinforcement training and understanding dog behavioral cues. And, we had a training program for STAR volunteers, for those of us who worked with some of the less adoptable dogs to help them become more adoptable.
I like to think that our volunteers were trained better than those in most other shelters. I might be a bit biased on that front, but I know we certainly were given every opportunities to learn more about dogs and dog behavior (Thank you Rut, Inga, Kate and Colleen!).
Perhaps one of my favorite training segments was the one that didn’t include any dogs at all. It was a regular part of the dog training classes, both for adopters and their dogs and the volunteers and STAR members.
The instructor (i.e., dog trainer) would first have people pair up in class. Once pairs had been established, one person from each pair would be asked to leave the room. The trainer would then tell those who remained that they would be playing the role of a trainer. They would be responsible for training the other person a new trick or command. The catch was the trainer could not use any words to explain to the other person what they wanted them to do. They could use some hand gestures and head nods, but no sounds or words. The class trainer would then assign a trick or command and let the other people back in the room.
It was always fun to watch the other people come back in as we tried to get the to do what we wanted them to do. They would stand there with puzzled looks on their faces trying to figure out what were asking of them. Many would try the obvious commands -sit, down, come, etc. Others would resort to offering a variety of behaviors in hope they would hit upon the right one eventually. Most people figured out what they were being asked to do, with a little time and trial and error, but occasionally, they wouldn’t be able to figure it out and would just give up.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the purpose of the exercise was to help us understand what our own dogs go through when we are trying to train them. As many of you already know, training a dog with words only works if you first show them what the behavior is that you want. Saying “sit, Sit Sit, SIT!” over and over again is unlikely to get the behavior you want if your dog has never been shown the behavior in the first place, or if they haven’t been shown how that word “sit” is connected to a specific behavior. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard people going through the dog kennels at our shelter yelling “SIT!” to a dog who had no clue what they were saying or why.)
Dogs aren’t genetically hardwired to know “SIT”. Helping us to understand what it felt like to be our dogs helped us to be better trainers and to have more patience and understanding when working with them. Sometimes putting ourselves in their shoes can open our eyes to things we had not seen before. I know this one certainly made an impact on me and how I work with my dogs.
What about you? Have you ever done this exercise with your spouse or a friend before? How did it change how you work with your dog?