Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Sue Sternberg’

Dogs: When does play stop being play?

September 13, 2015 13 comments

Jasper as a puppy, harassing DaisyOver a week ago, I wrote about the Sue Sternberg seminar I attended and the Red Alert Behaviors she often sees at dog parks. What I did not share then was how much of a revelation it was for me when she shared the videos showing what these behaviors looked like. Until then, I had not realized that one of my own dogs, Jasper, displayed and practiced some of these behaviors in his early years. Until then, I had not made the connection that Daisy had been the unfortunate recipient of these behaviors not only from him, but also other dogs at the dog park.

Sometimes we can see things going on around us and not really “see” what is right in front of us, you know?

The Red Alert Behaviors Sue identified were:

  1. Risky chasing behaviors almost always include out of control and high arousal chasing that may include one of more of the following: group chase, hard physical contact, pinning, high tail carriage, neck or throat fixation and the chasee hiding, or trying to get away.
  2. Mobbing is a group of individual dogs approaching, harassing, controlling or attacking a single dog. This can be with or without bloodshed.
  3. Targeting is one dog following or pursuing another dog relentlessly, exclusively, obsessively. It’s relentless engagement that may or may not include many of the behaviors displayed in Risky Chasing.
  4. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior through the use of physical overpowering, hard contact, body slamming, hip-checking, shoulder-checking, relentless engagement, chase or ganging up to affect an individual dog.
  5. Hunting is when a dog moves around the dog park going from dog to dog, looking for something to jab, chase, poke, pounce on, roll. This is not looking for a playmate, but forcing himself on other dogs.

After that first day of Sue’s seminar, I came home and started looking through old video footage of Daisy and Jasper. (You can see one of them below.) It was pretty clear from what I found that the behaviors I saw were not always”play.” I wasn’t paying attention to dog body language, but seeing only what I wanted to see as a proud dog owner hanging out at the dog park. You can even hear me laughing on some of them. Maybe some of what I recorded was “play”, Daisy does have her tail up and she appears to be having fun in some of the video clips, but I would argue that sometimes what was fun for Jasper was not always fun for Daisy.

It’s a strange feeling realizing that the people you are railing against (for not intervening when a dog was being bullied or mobbed) in Sue’s videos was YOU just a few years ago. I should have been Daisy’s advocate and protector more than I was. I am not beating myself up here, just acknowledging that had I known what I know now, I would have done more to intervene, not only with Jasper, but with other dogs too. I think all of us can relate to moments like this – when one realizes that what they thought they knew about their dogs and how to work with them was not how they would handle it now.

I tried to keep that in mind while watching the videos I had taken back then (six-seven years ago). I can see now that Jasper did a lot of Targeting behaviors and when he got too excited, and when took it to a a higher energy level, it would sometimes lead to Mobbing or Bullying by other dogs. I am thankful someone finally pointed out to me what I could not see at the time so I could stop it before it really got out of control. Sue Sternberg says the dog park is often a place where dogs practice aggressive behaviors. I think there is some truth to this.

This doesn’t mean Jasper or other dogs are inherently bad, they are just exhibiting bad behaviors that should be interrupted and stopped. Jasper still herds Daisy from time to time, but he does not do it for longer than a few seconds and he does not escalate it to a higher energy level like he did when he was younger. I think that is because I finally learned to intervene and stop it before it any further and was consistent about it.

So what are appropriate play behaviors? Here is what Sue shared with us in her seminar:

  • Play is usually limited to two dogs. When there are more it stops being play.
  • Play often is limited to games of chase (between two dogs), with the chasee initiating the game of chase and both dogs taking multiple breaks in between the game of chase.
  • Play also may include air biting, but no actual contact with skin and no actual biting. (Dogs who “play” by biting or grabbing a dog around the neck are practicing aggressive behaviors.)

You might be thinking to yourself, “Only two dogs?”, but I would suggest that if you sit at any dog park, you will see that when a third dog enters play between two dogs, they are often going in to harass the dogs or one dog (like a nip to the ear or leg). They are opportunists and taking advantage of the situation.

And when a group of dogs gets involved in a chase it is usually not play, but the chasing of a weaker dog. This is a dangerous situation that can escalate very quickly and cause harm to that dog or another dog involved in the chase.

You can see one of Sue’s videos showing some of these dangerous behaviors here:

We dog owners need to be more vigilant when our dogs are playing with other dogs, and we shouldn’t hesitate to intervene, when necessary.

Have you intervened when your or another dog’s behavior escalated to a dangerous degree?

Worried you won’t remember any of these behaviors? Or, worried your own dog is practicing these “bad” behaviors in your dog park? I highly recommend you get Sue’s Dog Park Assistant app for your phone. It only costs 99 cents, but it will pay for itself in the long run.

Advertisements

“Playing” at the dog park – Red Alert Behaviors

September 2, 2015 12 comments

Poor guy has a lot of dogs checking him out. Nice dog too. #dogparkThis past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop on dog interactions, dog behavior, aggression and behavior management. One session focused on behaviors often seen at dog parks and doggy daycares. It was eye-opening, mind-expanding and thought-provoking.

One of the key learnings I took away from the seminar had to do with what we often like to think of as “playing” at the dog park. (Hint: Most of what we see at the dog park is not playing.)

When we think of dogs playing, what do we often see them doing? Chasing?  Wrestling? Playing tug? Probably all of those right? But what are we missing?

If you’ve watched any of Sue Sternberg‘s dog park videos, probably a lot. Dogs are always communicating with one another, whether it be before, during or after their interactions with one another. What we consider “play” at the dog park is often not play, but something else, something frightening and dangerous – dog-on-dog aggression.

Sue calls out five “Red Alert” behaviors that we dog owners should be watching for when we take our dogs to the dog park. We should be intervening immediately when we see them. These behaviors include:

  1. Risky chasing behaviors almost always include out of control and high arousal chasing that may include one of more of the following: group chase, hard physical contact, pinning, high tail carriage, neck or throat fixation and the chasee hiding, or trying to get away.
  2. Mobbing is a group of individual dogs approaching, harassing, controlling or attacking a single dog. This can be with or without bloodshed.
  3. Targeting is one dog following or pursuing another dog relentlessly, exclusively, obsessively. It’s relentless engagement that may or may not include many of the behaviors displayed in Risky Chasing.
  4. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior through the use of physical overpowering, hard contact, body slamming, hip-checking, shoulder-checking, relentless engagement, chase or ganging up to affect an individual dog.
  5. Hunting is when a dog moves around the dog park going from dog to dog, looking for something to jab, chase, poke, pounce on, roll. This is not looking for a playmate, but forcing himself on other dogs.

I have seen many of these behaviors at my own dog park and have intervened as often as possible, but it takes everyone in the dog park watching for them to ensure dogs stay safe. And, if you are the owner of a dog who is hiding, has a tucked tail, is cowering or running away or the recipient of any of the five Red Alert behaviors, remove him from the park immediately. Not only is he not having fun, but he could be injured.

Worried you won’t remember any of these behaviors? Or, worried your own dog is practicing these “bad” behaviors in your dog park? I highly recommend you get Sue’s Dog Park Assistant app for your phone. It only costs 99 cents, but it will pay for itself in the long run.

The app provides you with not only descriptions of Red Alert behaviors, but also videos showing what each looks like. It also shows you other common dog behaviors at lower threat levels. You can input your own dog’s profile and set it to remind you to intervene while you are at the dog park or review some dog park tips, best practices and find external resources to help you.

I know many of you will say “This is why I never go to the dog park.”, but as Sue said in the seminar, they exist for a reason and they are here to stay. With more of us living in cities where green space is difficult to find, and where more and more homes are becoming two-dog households, dog parks serve a purpose. Dogs need to run and in some cities, dog parks are the only place available for them to do that. But, if they are to be safe, we all need to take a part in keeping it that way.

Here’s an example of Bullying, one of the five Red Alert behaviors.

%d bloggers like this: