Do’s and don’ts of dog & dog interactions.

Ah, the world-wide web and even books are a lovely thing. However, like all things in life there are also some sore spots about both of these venues. Ask any professional on pretty much any field how they feel about the advice promulgated on the web or in “how to books” and you will get the same response… don’t believe everything you see on the web or on print.

When it comes to dog & dog interaction the advice above could not be wiser. Here we are dealing with sentient beings that will be most likely the ones that suffer when ill advice is followed.

I have taken it upon myself to write on this blog, among many topics, about some of the most insidious recommendations given as to how deal with aggression, fear and even dog & dog interactions. As always my knowledge and recommendations will be based on the ethology of dogs as well as the sciences of animal learning & behavioral sciences.  While science does not always “know” at least there is so much more basis for the claims made about what constitutes who dogs are as  and how to best care for them, etc. In short, for those folks interested in learning about the ethnology of canis familiaris there are ample and accessible sources to do so and that is really good news.

Now to some of the do’s and don’ts of dog & dog interaction. While far from being a comprehensive resource, I hope that these guidelines will make life easier for you and your pup.

IMG_0368Don’t: Engage in a: “they will figure it out” attitude.  One often hears this from folks visiting a dog park where the possibility of dogs getting into scraps abounds. While it is accurate to say that when dogs are properly socialized to their own species they will be master readers and responders of the other dog’s body language so it’s not accurate to assume that a dog will not benefit from human intervention as well. The problem lies in most people not even understanding simple canine body language.  Some folks of course can observe it and even describe it but few are versed in the “meaning” of what the dog is expressing.

Do: Learn about dog & dog body language and learn how to decipher what the ongoing set of communications means.  Here is a fantastic website: http://www.ispeakdog.org/  that will make the learning a comprehensive experience.

Do: Intervene if your dog is being bullied by another dog.  While you might not be able to do much or anything at all about the other dog while at a dog park say, you can ALWAYS do something about your own dog. Bullying in dogs is quite prevalent.  Just like it is with human subjects. Dogs that bully other dogs find the bullying reinforcing so the keep on doing it. For the receiving party this could be really scary and detrimental to their well-being.  One easy way to determine if your dog is being bullied is to keep in mind that all dog & dog interactions MUST be consensual by both parties.  Of course, dogs that know each other well and are true “friends” can withstand some “harassment” from their pal, as long as the pal also learns to “take it, and not only dishes it out”.  In any event, if you see that your dog does not want to interact with another dog and that dog keeps on insisting, it might be that your dog is being bullied.  Remove him immediately. Give him some needed emotional support. The same goes for dogs that want to “control” another dog’s movements by say, blocking them when they attempt to move from lying down, walking around etc.  However, it goes without saying that we should always look at the receiving party behavior so that we can better understand the nature of the interaction.

Don’t: Allow your dog to meet other non-friend dogs on leash. Period!  This puts dogs in a very disadvantageous position in greeting another dog.  It is rare, truly very rare, the person that can hold the leash with such finesse that is not interfering with the dog’s ability to greet freely as dog normally do:  via frontal and anal investigation and not straight on with a tight body posture.

Do: Jolly your dog when meeting other dogs at the dog park, on the trail, etc.  There is evidence to suggest that when we act really matter of fact- and even jolly our dogs (if they care about our opinion LOL) they will take our behavior in and they themselves will approach the interaction more relaxed.   Always a win-win. All things being equal we can also jolly-out the dog from an interaction that is not going as well as expected.  Learning to “act cool as a cucumber” while feeling some stress takes practice.  So, I recommend practice by visualizing (when you are not in the thick of the action,) by seeing      yourself with as much detail as possible being relaxed and “jolly” as your dog meets other potential BFFs.

Don’t: Punish, yell, hit, or “Alpha roll”- are we still doing THAT??? Pleeaazzee! Stop it! Now.  etc. at your dog for after he has stopped fighting.  Remember that dogs do not have the capacity to string action to consequence when the action and the consequences are not immediately linked in time. So in essence you are presenting an aversive to your dog for STOPPING the fighting instead of fighting.  How ill-deserved this is.

Do: Get professional help if your dog is the one bullying or fighting on a regular basis. Especially important if your dog is hurting the other dog.  How many fights has your dog been in?  How many times has the other dog had to visit the vet as a result of the fights?  Knowing these facts are essential preliminary steps in determine if your dog’s fighting habits needs a professional and reward-based intervention.

Don’t: Yell at the top of your voice once the dogs are fighting.  I am defining fighting as dogs having somebody contact that is escalating in severity or duration.  My loose definition for explanation purposes here. Your yelling might very well elevate arousal levels in the dogs.  However, I have with success given a sharp  HEY!  the nano-second dogs might begin to argue and having the dogs move on to other things. Again, timing is everything here.

Do: Carry a citronella spray (not pepper spray!) with you at all times when walking your dog.  While nothing is ever 100% the citronella spray is not damaging to dogs and it might just stop a potential fight or even stop one once the dogs are engaged.  Yes, you might have to spray your dog in the process but that is okay. Again, no harm will be done to him.

Don’t: EVER use your own body (unless you think your dog’s life is in true danger- then all stops are off for me) in trying to stop a fight.  You will get bitten.

Do: Use anything else that you can throw at the dogs such as water, a jacket etc. to create a startled response that might just break up the fight.

About Interactions with known dogs (especially those living under the same roof).

Do: Be fair and treat all your dog’s equally. Yes, go ahead and have individual relationships with them all and love them and appreciate them for their differences but treat them equally. In other words: house-rules should apply to all dogs under the same set of circumstances.

Don’t: Even think of “supporting the Alpha” even if your vet tells you (or your friend “that has had “dogs aaal of her life and luuuves to watch Cesar Milan…) tells you to do so.   First of: Good luck figuring out who the “Alpha” is since “dominance” or being the “Alpha” is NEVER a character/temperament trait… INSTEAD…

Do: Control resources to avoid any potential fights over them which happens more often than people think.  Yes, dogs do compete for resources and some might push their weight around for a given resource, but that does not make that dog the “Alpha”. She has just learned that pushing her weight around and being rude pays off- because you (or someone else) in some way have allowed it.

Do: Ask yourself (as one should do with any information that can be of consequences to us or others in our care) if the information given makes sense to you.  Check credentials, and challenge your cognitive thinking.  As we all should know- once you are past the age of 7 years of age… life is really complex and so are the issues of behavior, social relations, etc. Oversimplification of complex issues is rarely an indication of sound advice.  We have to look at the bigger picture and ask hard questions at times. As the saying goes… don’t believe everything YOU think, because often our views are just that and not necessarily based on facts.

Do: Embrace learning- it is a calorie-free endeavor and it can truly make a difference on your dog’s well-being.