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Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

There are a few words in the world of dogs that will incite an eye roll in many a modern dog behavior professional. Pack is among them, as is dominant, alpha, command and in many cases, obedience. Faces twist, sighs are emitted and words form in our heads that we struggle to keep unuttered. While it’s a frustrating feeling, taking the dog parenting public to task over these words is not helpful because they simply don’t know any better. Professionals in the world of positive rewards based training, however, should know better and as the compelling words of Maya Angelou suggest, when you know better, do better.

For the dog parenting public at large, education is key but endless. It is a subject that screams exhaustion to every trainer who has to continually bring the facts to the forefront. I am sure that I am not alone in wishing for a way that I can educate a huge amount of people at once so I don’t have to repeat myself so often I feel like a recording. I honestly don’t think I will see an end to the need to educate on this subject in my lifetime. And that makes me feel tired.

Graphic Dominant Pack Alpha Obedience Old School Command

The unfortunate fact that a self proclaimed dog trainer in the national spotlight sadly uses many of these terms makes it harder to make them go away. After all, if they are on TV, they are accurate, right? Nope. Said trainer in the national spotlight has literally no formal education in dog behavior. Furthermore, he failed a test for such in Germany when it was required for him to be able handle dogs in his show that had a tour stop in that country. A full education in dog behavior would erase those terms from the language of dog trainers when discussing the dogs they are attempting to help or even when referencing their own dogs.

I am sure that there are some people who although educated in this subject, simply stick to the words that they have always used. There cannot be any harm in that, can there? Yes, there actually can and is harm in that habit. Words decide how you feel about a subject. Words have great power. Words have strong associations that cannot be easily changed. Some words have been so poisoned with inappropriate meanings that they are better off left behind. Words that conjure a feeling that is no longer applicable, can and do give the wrong impression to those who know less on the subject, but are sponges looking to take in information. Making better and more modern choices with your words will create a kinder future for all dogs.

For example, dogs are not pack animals. That has been determined for many years now yet the number of people who still call their multiple dog household a pack is truly alarming. You are not a pack leader, you are a dog parent. You can also be the dog owner if you prefer a less relationship based term. The relationship that a dog parent/owner should aspire to is however similar to parenting. I have written at length on this subject so instead of reinventing the wheel, I give you links to previous works on that particular subject as well as a compelling study.

Parenting your dogs.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/10/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Dogs are not pack animals
New York Times: The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

What is a leader.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/03/leader-of-the-pack-there-are-leaders-and-then-there-are-leaders/

http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/01/the-elephant-in-the-room-leadership-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

If you by some chance had a group of dogs trained to hunt together en masse, then you could technically refer to them as a pack when they are doing what they trained for. That is the only dictionary definition of the word pack that applies to dogs at all. Otherwise, choose a more accurate term. If you read my book, then you know that my preferred term is crew, as in crew member. We are all in this together and we all have a say. We work as a team. Family works as well. After all, that is what you consider them to be, correct?

As for the dominance debate, I have also addressed that before as well. It would again be a waste of time to rewrite the facts. You can read more on this subject here.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/02/dominance-redux-words-and-consequences-aagain/

The term alpha is very much in the same category as dominance. However, far more people use that term than dominance simply because it’s just so sadly ingrained in the culture of dogs. But we are well past time to toss it to the curb with the others. It’s meaningless. Again, you are not an alpha, anymore than you are a pack leader. You are a parent/owner/team leader. Chose whatever compassionate and kind term you that most resonates with you. But you are NOT an alpha. There are no alphas in the dog world. More on that subject below.
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

Another word that is still in use by some is the word command. I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally want a relationship with my dogs that involves commanding them to do anything. I call the term I use to signal my dogs to utilize a behavior, a cue. More on the inappropriate use of this word below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/11/command-performance-do-words-have-consequences/

And finally, the word that is very likely in use most frequently among even the most educated rewards based trainers is the term obedience. Unless you are actually competing in Obedience trials and are using that term to describe that activity, then toss this word aside PLEASE. Similar to the term command, obedience implies servitude. I don’t want a relationship based on servitude with anyone, especially my beloved dogs. I do, however, want my dogs to have manners so that is what I call them. Furthermore, when done correctly, you don’t have to use cues once manners are taught because you will have taught your dogs to make good choices about life’s moments. What could be easier than that? Imagine, not having to continually tell your dog what to do! More on this subject below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2011/09/to-cue-or-not-to-cue-manners-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

So let’s lead by example and toss antiquated terms to the curb. Choose words with their meaning based in the relationship centered world of modern dog behavior knowledge. Your dogs will thank you and you will leave a path of more knowledgeable and kinder-to-their-dogs people that you have influenced by your actions. Feel free to take the spaces below to tell me how you have moved beyond these old school terms.

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Saving Them All: At What Cost?

Saving Them All: At What Cost?

No Kill. This is a buzzword in the rescue and shelter community. But to the majority of said community, it is an offensive term. The use of this term implies that all else but no-kill aficionados are to be scorned. No one wants euthanasia. But the sad reality is that it’s not possible to save them all responsibly.

The above paragraph will cause a huge uproar among some rescue circles. But not the responsible ones. Don’t misunderstand me. All lives are worthwhile. But there are worse fates than euthanasia. Warehousing is sadly common among the save them all fans. What does warehousing mean? Unfortunately, it entails keeping animals technically alive but with little regard to quality of life. This can include crating or kenneling for long periods without human interaction and without enrichment. Endless hours without physical exercise or mental stimulation is not healthy for any living being. Why would it be okay for an animal? Is alive really better in this circumstance? Would the animal experiencing this agree with the no kill crowd if asked? I tend to doubt it.

Picture of dogs inside a shelterYet there are “rescuers” who only care about whether a dog is alive. They consider this a win. Dog after dogs are taken in by some rescues, into foster homes that already have too many to meet all their needs. Dogs are crated, with little interaction and exercise. Their emotional and physical needs are only marginally met. They spend long hours with little to do. In other scenarios, they are placed into any home that offers, with little to no screening to determine suitability. These homes often are fickle in their preferences and when the dog isn’t perfect, the dog is given up for the next “save”. These dogs go from home to home, often being given away with no regard to where. The emotional toll this takes on an animal can be permanently damaging. The lucky ones find a place that is home for life, hopefully a home that is good to them. The unlucky ones are victims of abuse and neglect, worse off than their life wherever they started from.

Rescue can be an addiction, like so many other addictions that cause the people acting on them to feel good when they “win”. Numbers are more important than quality. The need is for self approval and self importance, not the improvement of a dog’s life. Rescuers patting themselves on the back, the worse the story, the more attention they get for the “save”. Then the “saved” dogs get shipped off to some foster home that is no better than a warehouse and the hell begins.

I am truly sorry if this comes off as cynical but it’s a sad reality for so many more than it should be. This doesn’t mean that the most shared stories of dogs in dire straits are bad rescuers. Each situation is individual and most rescues who take in dogs who were victims of terrible circumstances are just trying to do a good thing. But there are many others who are looking for their 15 minutes, less about the dog, more about them.

These are the same individuals and groups who think every dog can be saved, no matter the cost to the rescue, the community and the other dogs who will die because of the effort to save one. Let me preface this by saying that I will be the first one to offer to help when a dog with a committed family wants to fix his or her issues. A committed family willing to implement proper management and behavior modification in order to make things safer for the community and their dog is to be commended.

The same type of issue in a dog who is available for adoption is not going to be as workable in many scenarios. Consistency makes for a successful outcome. Consistency is often lacking in rescues and shelters when the issue is severe. Situations such as severe stranger aggression or severe dog aggression pose a danger to so many. Placing a dog who has already killed another dog and attacked others leaves a very small and unrealistic criteria for a successful adoption. Yet there are people who rally for dogs like this to be shipped to some imaginary location where they can be fixed fast.

I hear these “rescuers” say that human errors caused the dog’s issues. They did indeed but we are not placing dogs with aliens. Until we accept that we are all humans and capable of these errors and stuff happens, then we will continue to make mistakes. These mistakes mean that we place dogs who are simply not fixable in the situations they are in, into a household unequipped to handle them.

I see post after post on Facebook about dogs that “need some work”, just needing a place they can go with no other dogs, no cats, no kids, no men, etc. I see post after post about dogs that need to “live with a single woman who never has visitors”. Sure, these homes exist but they are few and far between and they are the ones who already have that dog. There are people taking in dogs like this who have other dogs, who crate and rotate dogs in different parts of the house. This is a very stressful way to live. Accidents happen. They really do. Humans will be human. And then we are back to the lack of appropriate enrichment for the dog with the issue and once again, quality of life rears it’s ugly head.

Lest you declare me the Hitler of dogs, I am wholeheartedly supportive of proper attempts at behavior modification with the appropriate commitment level, with the dogs that fit these descriptions. If there is a place where this can happen and given the proper attention, then everyone deserves a chance. But here is where the attention to common sense and reality must come into play. If you have done everything that could be done and the dog you are trying to help is not improving, despite appropriate attempts at behavior modification, medication, vet screenings for organic causes and people and/or animals in your care have been injured, then you owe it to those people and other animals to take a long hard look at the situation. No one should be pressured to not give up just because others don’t share their own common sense. Pressure from others to “try just one more thing” causes guilt on the part of the person trying to help. That is hardly helpful.

Every life is worth putting an effort to save. But an effort should not involve placing so many others in danger in any given foster home or the public at large. It also should not be mean that perfectly lovely dogs with wonderful temperaments in overcrowded shelters be placed in danger of euthanasia simply because of space. What about their right to being saved? I realize that this is an extremely controversial subject and emotions run very high on both sides. But we all need to stop and realize just how many good dogs are dying because of our choices. We need to consider quality of life and not just being alive.

Everyone has different personal beliefs about life after we leave this earth. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with mine. But mine are that this is only but one realm of our existence and that nothing is to be feared about leaving this realm. I believe that leaving this realm doesn’t mean an end to consciousness. Perhaps that helps me make hard decisions easier than some who don’t share this belief. In any case, I believe we have an obligation to the animals in our care to do the best that we can by them while we are with them and that includes letting go when we should. Peace to you all in your own decisions on this subject. Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the spaces below but I ask that you please keep it classy.

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Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

If I had a dollar for every time a client apologized before telling me that their dog(s) sleep with them, I could have retired by now. Old school style training dictated that dogs not be allowed on raised surfaces or they would consider themselves of equal or higher status than their “masters”. Hogwash.

The only time sleeping in the human bed is advised against is if there are guarding issues of some sort. Guarding, in this case, can pertain to the space on the bed. Guarding from the humans is a biggie that needs addressed in person with a qualified behavior consultant. Guarding from other canines or even felines is also an issue that needs addressed with a professional. But overall, that provides less of a threat to the humans, aside from breaking up a fight that is. I am obviously not going to give advice on these issues here. On the spot assistance is what you need if these issues ring a bell.

Aside from the previously mentioned red flags, sharing the bed is fine if that is what you wish to do. Of course, if you don’t wish to share your bed with your dogs, I am not here to say you must or your dogs will suffer. What I will share with you is this: dogs feel so much safer being permitted to sleep in the vicinity of their human family members. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on your bed or in their own bed in your room or that of another family member. Even being permitted to be on the same floor as the sleeping area is better than not.

Safety: we have discussed that here before. Safety is a crucial feeling to all sentient creatures. Safety is vital to survival. Safety provides emotional and physical security. The amount of stress a lack of safety adds to an emotional state cannot be overstated.

The Author's 3 dogs are very comfortable on the bed.Familial bonding is another often overlooked facet of this scenario. For example, most households have some sort of regular weekday work or school schedule that prevents a lot of bonding and togetherness during the workweek, whether that be weekdays or just several days strung together where the canines in the family get less interaction than they need for emotional stability. Consider then that the dogs in the home may sleep separately from the humans and you have very little togetherness going on.

The easiest way that involves very little effort once established is to permit your crew to sleep in the vicinity of the humans they care for. It involves little effort once you get past the novelty, if you are new to this. And it rewarding for all involved.

I often get quizzed on why dogs who don’t sleep near their humans are so needy on workday evenings. The answer is that they spend so little time together on these days. Sleeping in the same area is an easy way to remedy that situation. Less neediness on the dogs side, more peace on both sides.

What if you have allergies? Well, some of you are not going to like my answer on that but here goes. Allergies are over-exaggerated in my opinion. I am allergic to just about everything including dogs. So my take on that is if you are able to have and love on your dog, you are able to sleep in the same room as your dog. Just limit them to their own beds rather than yours.

So what if you don’t have room for all your dogs in your bed or even your room? After all, if you are reading this, you are very likely a multiple dog household of some quantity and not all households have human beds big enough for the humans and all the canines! So the solution to that is providing plenty of comfy sleeping surfaces and options for all dogs who reside there. If there is sufficient room in the bedroom, then place beds all over that room. If there are multiple family members, consider both canine and human preferences for favorites and plan from there. A word on that however: some children or even adult family members may permit too many privileges for a dog that may not be ready for such privileges so keep that in mind when choosing sleeping places.

Some readers are likely wondering about dogs that don’t want to sleep near their humans. Some dogs may prefer a bed in a close by empty bedroom or a dog bed in a hallway nearby. But in that case, what is important is that the choice of where to sleep is there. Meaning, the dog(s) has the run of the house at night and chooses this alternate spot. What I strongly advise against is crating day and night away from the humans. Not only is it cruel physically, it’s emotionally isolating. Obviously puppies need crated or otherwise movement restricted at night for safety concerns. But said crate should be in the vicinity of a human family member.

The difference in the emotional neediness is obvious when sleeping safety is considered. Easy bonding while sleeping can only be beneficial. Please share how you arrange your crew’s sleeping routines in the spaces below. And sweet dreams!

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Happily Ever After? Sometimes, It’s Not an Easy Feat.

Happily Ever After? Sometimes, It’s Not an Easy Feat.

I get a lot of inquiries through my training business for help with multiple dog issues. Most are fixable; some with an easy tweak, some with more effort, some would be easy if people would use simple common sense. Some are sadly not fixable, but not fixable is thankfully rare, at least in my experiences.

My most frustrating cases involve people who have good intentions but don’t think things through and expect a magic solution. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions.

The basic facts are this….if your current dog has not been exposed to or doesn’t like other dogs, getting a puppy (with or without training said puppy) will not go over well with your current dog. There is no magic wand that will fix this situation. Only solid behavior modification for the adult dog and training for the puppy, will “fix” the situation. Benevolent leadership and taking a parental role in the situation will go a long way towards a remedy.

Three dogs, one is being snarky.

I wish that I had an easier solution, I really do. Part of the problem that I run into is that I cannot change a person’s basic personality. You either are comfortable being a leader or you aren’t. Some aspects of this position can be taught and some can’t. I find myself in the position of seeing very workable scenarios with people who are not comfortable taking the lead.

A dog who has had his or her life spent in a certain comfortable routine won’t easily be happy changing said routine without feeling safe with the household leadership. This plays a key role in whether your dog rolls with the changes easily or not. Dogs need to know that you “got this covered”. In particular, an adult dog who either has already shown a dislike for other dogs or has never been exposed to other dogs, will rest far easier knowing that you will keep them safe from puppy stupidity.

I have had both successes and failures with this particular scenario. It so very much depends on the determination of the owner to make things work and above all, the ability of the owners to “step up” and take the reins of benevolent leadership. This does not in any way, shape or form, involve using force or being “dominant”. What is does involve is being the human that keeps the peace. It involves being the human who will keep everyone in the home safe. That includes teaching the new puppy manners so that the resident dog feels safer exploring the new dog. It involves spending time acclimating said resident dog to the new puppy in a positive manner. This usually doesn’t happen overnight.

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Many people continue to believe that the best way to fix a conflict is to allow the dogs to “work it out”. That could not be further from the truth. Someone needs to make the decisions about what is and isn’t allowable with all canines involved. That same someone is expected to set guidelines and limits and kindly enforce both as well as teaching everyone to make better decisions. Dogs thrive with routine and structure. Show them what is expected of them and that YOU, the HUMAN, will keep them safe from harm and take care of all basic needs and it all flows more smoothly from there.

When the human “in charge” is uncertain or anxious about the situation at hand, it’s evident to all the canines in the household. Safety is a primary need of all living creatures. Uncertainty and anxiety create stress and stress creates conflict when the dynamics are unstable.

My own situation with Trent and Kenzo would be disastrous in a less skilled household. There would have already been bloodshed. But things go well because *I* set the rules. Trent knows I am keeping him safe. Kenzo has been taught what is and isn’t acceptable. Supervise, supervise, supervise is the name of the game here with a gradual increase in privileges.

For those of you reading this before getting a new addition to your family; if you have a dog that already has issues with other dogs, then fix that first. Don’t just assume things will fall into place because you get a puppy rather than an adult dog. It just doesn’t work that way. It might but again, it might not. It’s frustrating to see situations that could be fixed easily by changing the humans, not the dogs.

The bottom line for success with a potential conflict between new canine housemates is to feel comfortable taking the lead. I can show you what to do, tell you what to do, guide you along the process but I cannot do it for you. I don’t live with your dogs, you do.

Those who have successfully worked through this process, please share your experiences in the spaces below. Failure stories are welcome as well.

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The Final Countdown: Kenzo’s Neutering is Scheduled

It has been a long and challenging wait for this upcoming moment. The big day cannot come soon enough for me. I am guessing Trent will also be relieved when Kenzo comes home that day sans testosterone creating equipment. I know the few neutered males who view him warily at his bi-weekly social will be happier. As will the friendly male Golden who Kenzo normally plays well with, that he unexpectedly and obsessively tried to hump at the last social I took him too.

The last time I broached this subject on here, the tone of the comments was much more pleasant than the tone on my Facebook page when I asked for input on the pros and cons. But because this subject is such a hot button with many, I expect that now that I have the surgery scheduled, this may heat things up a bit again. I only ask that all those who comment remain polite. Censorship is alive and well here for those who choose not to censor themselves from rudeness!

Image: Trent can't wait for Kenzo to be neutered.

Trent can’t wait for Kenzo to be neutered.

Make no mistake, the surgery itself is not up for discussion; it is happening no matter how much some may disagree with it. For others, it is late in coming, I am sure. Kenzo will be one year and two days of age when he goes under the knife, so to speak. I have waited longer than I ever would have with a smaller dog. He is about 7/8th of full size, I am guessing, at a weight of approximately one hundred and twenty pounds. He has another month to develop further though that is only by the grace of surgery scheduling for his size, not my own timeline choosing.

This road has been challenging, with an increasing interest in indoor marking on Siri’s favorite spots, Trent’s bed and anything in his path on the way to the door to the yard in the morning. He wore a belly band for a couple of weeks so that I could allow him to walk out of site without worrying about having to launder everything in my house. He got the message quickly, thankfully so that is no longer an issue. He did, however, feel the need to mark the water bowl at the dog social after drinking from it at the last attendance, the same day that included the humping issue. Clearly, that was a trying day.

His interactions with Trent have improved thanks to constant vigilance on my part and Trent now feels comfortable initiating play. They play together most days, now that I am placing a premium on setting aside playtime as often as possible in their playroom. Even without pre-arranged playtime, they often interact playfully in the living room during family time or while I am working on the computer. The decrease in the friction makes me happier than I can possibly express. But it’s still there and it’s still the testosterone that triggers it.

The progress may have you wondering why I am not waiting longer. Well, Kenzo still thinks he has big boy pants on far too much for my tastes, though that has admittedly decreased. Trent is still more nervous than I want him to feel in his own home. But the biggest concern is how some neutered males treat him at the socials. With a dog as large as Kenzo, well developed social skills with other dogs are crucial. I don’t want him to get to the point that he starts viewing arriving at socials warily, wondering who will be too rude next. I want him to
remain viewing these gatherings as some of his most fun days. Avoiding having a reactive dog of this size is a worthy goal!

Kenzo is actually progressing very nicely but quite frankly, I fail to see how waiting for further physical development would be worthwhile. Kenzo is very large already. He is healthy, both mentally and physically and quite frankly, I am more concerned with the mentally healthy part than the physically though obviously both matter.

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My goal as both an owner and a dog professional is to minimize the chances that Kenzo will view other dogs as a threat. Right now, with his “equipment” intact, that is a very real worry as some neutered male dogs view HIM as a threat. As anyone schooled in dog behavior knows, this is normal though not desirable.

Most pets today are altered. I am on that boat completely. There are sadly too few pet owners who can responsibly house an intact animal. I am one who can but that doesn’t mean that I want to be “on call” 24/7. I want to raise a dog who views other dogs as potential friends. I have put a lot of effort into socializing Kenzo with other dogs. Keeping this even keeled is super important to me.

I could ramble on and on about the many reasons I am pro-neutering but it would get repetitive so I will let my already stated reasons speak for themselves. What I want to hear from others now is why they chose the altered path or why they didn’t and the downfalls or the happy endings of each decision. Be nice! We are all in this together!

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Dominance Redux: Words and Consequences Again

Dominance is such a dirty word in the dog behavior world, primarily because it has been misused so badly. Misunderstandings about its true meaning abound. Long held beliefs about dominance are clung to in some circles, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The old school world of force-based dog training relied heavily on misunderstandings of perfectly innocent behavior that is typically just a lack of training.

The concept of dominance in dogs has swung from commonly accepted in the old school world of professional dog trainers to discounted or dismissed outright by modern scientifically based dog friendly dog trainers. As of late, however, the new progressive school of thought seems to be to freely admit that dominance in dogs does indeed exist. However, each of these three groups views the meaning differently. Herein lies the problem.

Is it dominance, bullying, or something entirely different.

Fully defining the word dominance as it relates to dogs is far more complicated than I want this blog to be. Suffice it to say that the real problem occurs when the general dog owning public hears that the word has come into favor again. Upon seeing what they perceive as dominant behavior in their own dog, many feel that they are justified in taking some force-based action to correct so called dominant behavior.

The old school definition is still going strong in some sectors; most positive reinforcement trainers understand the probably outdated scientific definition but don’t see a need for the word as a label and the third group are purists for true definitions. I am in the middle group.

Let’s consider the sad fact that some TV trainers would have their viewers believe that their dogs are on an all-out mission to take over the world by exerting their dominance in multitudes of situations, when in fact they have simply climbed on the couch because it’s comfortable for one example. The typical dog owner doesn’t have the time or interest in understanding the nuances in the differing schools of thought on so called dominant behavior. Among the behaviors that have been called dominant that aren’t: rushing out the door first, walking in front of an owner on a walk, jumping up on people as a greeting, the afore mentioned climbing on the couch and even chasing a laser pointer. Some are a simple lack of training, some are comfort seeking and some are just plain stupid. None are truly dominance in dogs as defined by science.

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So I’d like to suggest here that we all stop using the word dominance. It may improve the physical well-being of dogs of the typical dog owner. Let’s rename the behavior. Science progresses, dictionaries evolve. So should word meanings. I propose we start using the word bullying instead. It fits much better. It has far less sinister connotations. In any given multiple dog situation, dominance can rear its ugly head five times in five minutes or no times in twenty four hours, within the same crew of dogs. Let’s give an example of the true definition of dominance that can literally take just seconds of viewing time and has little to do with the often promoted examples.

Spot is chewing on his bone on the floor. Rover wanders in and walks up to Spot and gives him the hairy eyeball without getting physical. Spot really wants that bone but he wants even more to not tussle with Rover so he gets up and walks away, leaving Rover to the bone. All that took maybe ten seconds and no blood was shed. But an hour later, Rover has a tuggy and Spot rolls in and wants that tuggy, because tuggies are his thing. So the reverse happens with Spot giving Rover the hairy eyeball. Rover cares less about tuggies so he moseys along, leaving the tuggy to Spot. Are they both dominant? Yep, in their own particular situation. Would it be accurate to call either a dominant dog? Nope. Dominance is fluid and varies according to any given situation.

So back to my suggestion, why not rename social dominance in dogs? It has such a bad rap and all it really describes, after all, is a dog who is being a bully towards another dog in any given situation. We don’t call human bullies dominant. It gives them credence that no one wants a bully to have.

So why not give this whole dominance thing a kick to the curb and choose a word that brings a more realistic slant to the multiple dog situation. The world progresses with the times. Words take on new meanings because information evolves. I find it curious and unsettling that we hold on to a word that has such bad connotations and is truly unnecessary in helping people modify the behavior of their beloved dogs.

Clarity is really what we all want anyway, isn’t it? The scientific explanation and the just plain English explanation both mean the same thing but are perceived in different ways by different groups, depending on their personal belief system. Let’s not cause confusion. All dog professionals who fully understand the scientific explanation want the same thing, regardless of their desire for word purity. We want dogs being accepted and understood properly as dogs, not as sly creatures waiting to take over the world locking their owners in the basement.

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An Intervention is in Order: Canine Bullies in a Multiple Dog Household

It used to be called being dominance, and in some circles it still is, sadly. But this behavior is actually simple bullying. As in humans, bullying is inappropriate. It can arise for several reasons, among them insecurity, anxiety, juvenile behavior in young adults and puppies and just plain old bad manners.

Being a bully has nothing to do with the breed of the dog who is the bully. Any breed can be a bully. Puppies who are very exuberant and having difficulty learning impulse control are prime targets to become a bully when unchecked in a multiple dog household. Possessing a good temperament otherwise will not prevent a puppy from becoming a bully. One can be a canine bully and be a nice dog otherwise, which is where this act typically differs with human bullies.

Posturing Dogs

Those who have children and who are raising them with limits and guidelines that are parentally enforced will understand this advice immediately. Dogs are not furry children (see separate blog on this subject) but they are equally in need of structure and knowing what is appropriate or not. It is very important to set limits and provide said structure.

We as humans are not meant to be “pack leaders”; dogs know that we are a different species; I can assure you of this! What we are meant to be, however, is the human who provides for all their needs. This includes the need for clearly communicated rules, guidelines, information and reward incentives as well as non-scary consequences for infractions of said rules.

Rules should include, but are not limited to, disallowing these inappropriate activities:
• “nagging” any other dog for any reason.
• sniffing body parts of another dog for lengthy periods of time (especially when the receiver is obviously uncomfortable)
• insistence on play when the other party is not interested
• ”pacing” another dog (physically matching their walking pace outside of the realm of interactive play)
• “walk bys” of another dog (seemingly benign walking by another dog with the intent of intimidation)
• body slamming another dog in greeting
• being “in your face” intrusive without invitation to do so
• any posturing meant to intimidate.

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The list is longer than the above but it’s nearly impossible to include every scenario. Multiple dog households really owe it to themselves and their charges to educate themselves on dog body language and appropriate play. There are several ways to do this. There are a few well done books available that have great information on body language as well as the go-to DVD on this subject by Sarah Kalnajs. Another option is to attend organized playgroups that are supervised by behavior professionals familiar with both positive reinforcement training and dog body language. Watching the interaction through their eyes can help with viewing your own crew more clearly. You get to see what needs interrupted and what doesn’t.

Positive never means permissive when inappropriate behavior is being demonstrated. It is completely possible to intervene appropriately without causing fear or using force. Human to dog body language is useful to learn for this practice. When your crew respects your ability to set boundaries in a clear and concise manner without using an iron fist, they feel safe and secure responding to your cues to cease and desist.

Often the simple act of clearing one’s throat and throwing a pointed look at the offender will be enough to interrupt bad behavior in an otherwise well structured household. Quietly placing your body between the two or more dogs involved can cause an immediate deflection. This is called splitting and dogs use it too. Using what I call “the mom stance”, hands on hips with a disappointed look on your face, can stop an incident if implemented soon enough. Well marked and timed Time Outs are worth the effort to learn to implement correctly.

Those who follow my blog, know that I have a puppy in my household at present. Puppies are rude until taught otherwise. Sometimes I intervene, sometimes another dogs intervenes appropriately for me. This can be permitted if you know what is appropriate in a canine correction and what isn’t. For example, my Kenzo, the puppy stole Trent’s bone and Trent did not stop him. So I retrieved it for him. It took three retrievals and a “mom” look to eliminate this behavior on this particular day. A fourth attempt on Kenzo’s part would have resulted in a time out. I give three tries on benign behavior.

But later the same evening, Kenzo tried on his big boy pants and made a posturing move towards Trent. I did not have time to intervene nor did Trent have time to object because Siri intervened for both of us, immediately and quite correctly. She split between them with her body immediately and roared at Kenzo quite appropriately without hurting him. She did, however, make enough of an impression (based on the size of his eyes!) that I am certain that he won’t try that again soon. So while you cannot simply allow the dogs to work it out among themselves, you can rely on dogs that have appropriate mediating skills periodically.

So it is possible to have a multiple dog household with several strong personalities without having strong conflict of you learn how to intervene when appropriate. One of the easiest ways to help non-professionals understand how early on it can be necessary to step in is to equate what is happening to toddlers doing an equivalent behavior. If your two year old was shoving your three year old or vice versa, are you going to wait for them to ‘work it out on their own”? I certainly hope not! Don’t allow those kinds of decisions to be made in your canine household either and all will flow much more smoothly!

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