MICROMANAGEMENT, THE QUEEN AND MY BROTHER IN LAW

Recently a number of Good Dog clients have started my program after having gotten only so far with obedience classes with us or other schools, and there seems to be a trend in why their training is not working for them.  Micromanagement is how we describe what is happening when people tell the dog about every single thing that they are supposed to do.  They often have a spectacular leave it, but only when they tell the dog.  The dog will wait nicely at the door, but bolt on through if you haven’t specified that this is one of the times that the dog must wait.  The dog is more than willing to get off or stay off furniture if he is told, but in the absence of information, he is right up there and on the couch.

Humans are a species that gather information verbally.  We listen to details like “don’t get on the couch” and store that information for later use.  If we are told “don’t get on the couch” every time we go to get on the couch, most of us store that information and don’t do that behaviour.  Dogs are a little different.  Although dogs readily learn “if I get on the couch in the presence of the human I will be told to get off” they don’t seem to generalize that information to “never get on the couch”.  I suspect that this is a reflection of a few things, including how we train them.

The first thing that this reflects is that dogs don’t have language in the same way we do.  Yes, they have communication, where they are able to send units of information to another individual who can receive and interpret them accurately.  Think about the last time you saw two dogs interacting; if one dog wanted to play, how can he convey that information to the other dog?  Dogs have a whole lot of gestural communication including (but not limited to!) play bows, play faces, head tilts, paw lifts and tail wags.  The receiving dog will either accept the invitation, and a play session will start (full of rich gestures that convey all sorts of information between the players) or turn it down and we can tell which choice the recipient made based on the behaviours we see.  None of this information conveys anything like “later on, when you go home, please don’t touch my toys that I left behind the couch”.  Canine communication is immediate.  It happens in the moment and it pertains to the moment.  Even wolf communication involved in hunting runs more along the lines of “let’s go hunting”, “okay”, “I hear caribou over this way”, “I will flank the herd”.  The last guess may in fact be more than they actually convey in their gestures, but it makes for a better story to illustrate the point!

Next we should consider that when we train our dogs we teach them to attend to what happens next.  Sit when I am making you dinner?  Then I put your dinner within your reach to eat.  Jump up on me?  Then you can have a quick trip to your crate.  Harass the other dog while he is trying to rest?  Then you can have a turn out in the yard on your own.  Lie down nicely in front of the cookie cupboard?  Then you can have a cookie.  On and on, both formally and informally we teach our dogs to pay attention to immediate outcomes.  Practically this is the most efficient way to teach dogs what they should and should not do.

Dogs do learn what your habits are of course, but most often those habits come with predictable immediate outcomes.  Dogs learn for instance that every day at 3pm the school bus passes by and the kids arrive home and when the kids arrive home, you almost always get to play ball.  Some dogs will anticipate this sort of activity by bringing the ball to the children as they come in the door.  This most likely evolves when the ball is handy and the kids are available and the dog puts two and two together, not because the dogs are preplanning the equipment needed to make the activity work better.  Over time and with repetition, dogs can develop sophisticated routines that look like preplanning but there is little concrete evidence that dogs are preplanning in the way that we do.

So what does this have to do with the Queen?  Or my brother in law?  Or my students who are struggling with micromanagement?  Simply this.  If you were invited to the UK to visit the Queen, you would have a meeting with a very nice person who would explain what was going to happen, what you were supposed to do and what you were not permitted to do.  When you arrived at the Queen’s “house” (castle, palace or what have you), there would most likely be a nice person to point you in the right direction and prompt your every step.  Stand here.  Turn that way when I signal you that her Majesty is coming.  When you first see Her Majesty do this.  When you are greeted say that.  When she turns away from you, do this.  If she hands you something take it like this.  Don’t touch her.  Don’t initiate conversation.  Answer in this way.  Every little detail is preplanned and organized so that you know exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  And if you goof, then it is most likely that someone will help you out and make a suggestion about what you should do instead.

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Meeting Royalty is a very carefully scripted event and for most of us, we need the help of someone like a protocol officer to guide us through the experience without any glitches. This is not real life for the vast majority of the world however, and it is a stressful and difficult way to interact because it necessitates someone else directing your every move.

This is how many of my clients treat their dogs.  The client behaves like the Queen’s protocol officer!  They walk up to a door and say “sit”.  Dutifully, the dog sits.  They open the door and the dog, not getting another immediate prompt drags them through the door and into the training hall.  There is a dropped treat in front of the dog, and the client says “leave it” so the dog quite politely does, but when there is a treat the person doesn’t notice, the dog snarfs it up before the client even has a chance to do anything!  How often I have been greeted by an otherwise normal human being chanting “be nice, be nice, be nice, be nice” as though saying these two words fast enough and for long enough will ensure that the dog will “be nice”.  Invariably the human effort at being the protocol officer fails and the dog greets me by launching himself at me like a canine cannonball.

I would argue that if you were taking your dog to somewhere truly different and out of the ordinary, you might want to be the protocol officer.  So if you have to take your dog to say a ballet recital, you might possibly want to play protocol officer.  But UNLESS you are asking your dog to do something truly difficult, such as meeting a world leader, your dog needs to be able to just fit in.  This is where visiting my brother-in-law comes in.

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This is a difficult situation, made more difficult by the fact that the dog who is on leash is pulling and thus being pulled back by the handler. If instead the dog had been taught that when she wanted to play with a friend, she should sit, and offer eye contact and then look at the other dog and look back at the handler, the situation would look much different.

My brother-in-law is a nice guy.  He likes to sit out on his front porch with a cup of coffee and the newspaper on a Sunday morning.  He likes to go cycling.  He is pretty approachable, and will invite you in for a beer if you walk by on a Saturday afternoon while he is puttering in the garage.  He doesn’t own a crown, or a thrown, and he doesn’t care if you turn your back on him when you are in his presence.  He goes to work Monday to Friday, he enjoys his family, he is the master of the bar-b-que.  In short, he is a pretty laid back typical Canadian guy.  And if you visit him, there is no protocol officer to tell you where to stand, what to do or not do, how to dress and what to say.  No one will micromanage your behaviour when you visit my brother-in-law.

This doesn’t mean that there are not expectations for your behaviour while in my brother-in-law’s home.  He would prefer you didn’t break his stuff, and please don’t eat all his food all at once.  Please don’t take his things away when you leave, and please do take off your shoes when you come in the house.  The thing is that his expectations for your behaviour are common enough that you don’t need someone to explain what to do at every step.

Commonly Micromanaged Behaviours and Their Alternatives
Behaviour Common Micromanagement Strategy Alternate Strategy
Dog snatches any edible item within reach Teach the dog to leave things on cue and tell the dog to leave it Teach the dog that he must automatically leave any edible items he finds UNLESS you tell him to take it
Dog jumps on guests Teach the dog to cease jumping up on cue and tell the dog to stop jumping Teach the dog that a guest approaching means that he should sit or lie down
Dog bolts out the door Teach the dog to sit on cue and tell the dog to sit when you see the door opening Teach the dog that an opening door means that he should sit
Dog is more engaged with other dogs or people when he sees them than he is with the handler Teach the dog to make eye contact on cue and ask for eye contact Teach the dog to make eye contact with you and then look at the dog or person he wants to greet and then re engage with you
Dog barks at passersby Teach the dog to “hush” on cue and then tell the dog to “hush” when he is barking Teach the dog that passersby do not need to be barked at
Dog chases the cat in the house Teach the dog a solid leave it on cue and then tell the dog to leave it when he is chasing the cat Teach the dog that chasing the cat is not permitted at all, ever
Dog grabs the toy before you can throw it Teach the dog to leave it on cue and then tell the dog not to touch the toy until you have thrown it Teach the dog that you will throw the toy when he is calm and not touching you, or even when he is sitting and making eye contact

 

The problem I see with many of the dogs who come through my door at the training hall is that the human partner in the team seems to think that day to day interactions need to be handled like a visit to the Queen.  I see people telling their dogs to sit at the door all the time.  And to leave the treats that are within reach.  And not to jump on people as they approach.  The problem with this strategy is that if you aren’t there to micromanage the dog, the dog will do just as he pleases.  If you don’t tell him to sit at the door, he might barge right on through.  And if you don’t tell him to leave the treats on the floor, he will just dart out to take them.  If you don’t prevent him from jumping on guests, then he will greet impolitely and possibly with disastrous consequences!  None of this is what the human wants, but the only solution they have tried is to remind, remind, remind, remind and then remind again.

What if instead of reminding we took what we know about how dogs use information and taught them an expected behaviour.  What if we taught the dog that the door itself was the prompt to sit and wait?  Or if instead of teaching your dog to leave a treat when told, we just taught him to keep his nose out of treats that you haven’t told him belong to him?  What if we taught him that a person reaching out to say hi means that he should sit or lie down?  What if we looked at training as if we were preparing someone from a different country to visit my brother-in-law?

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This sort of interaction doesn’t happen by accident! Likely these two animals were posed for the picture, however they would not be completely relaxed in the image if the dog had been taught that he could chase the cat unless told otherwise. Dogs need immediate relevant consequences to teach them what they should do. If this were my cat and my dog, the dog would learn very quickly that every time he chased the cat, he would have a turn in his crate for a short period of time. This works especially well with young dogs. Copyright: dikaya37 / 123RF Stock Photo

Turning the training paradigm around so that we are no longer teaching the dog to do as he is told, but instead to know what the conventions are is a very easy way to resolve a lot of problems.  To do this, you must spend some time thinking about how to accomplish making the trigger to the behaviour the cue to the alternate behaviour, and some of the time it means providing a consequence such as going to your crate or losing a turn at play to stop the undesired behaviour.  It usually takes a little longer, but in the end, you have an adult dog who knows what to do, when to do it and doesn’t need a protocol officer to micromanage all of his behaviours!

MICROMANAGEMENT, THE QUEEN AND MY BROTHER IN LAW

AND PUPPY MAKES MORE

Originally posted May 2013

If I had a nickel for every time that someone said to me “Danish GutterHund, and you know they are like potato chips, you can’t just stop at one” I would be a moderately wealthy behaviour consultant.  When I first got involved with dogs almost everyone I knew only had one dog, or maybe a dog and a cat and very few people had multi dog families.  Now multiples seems to be more and more common.  We had a family join us recently who have FIVE dogs and had just gotten another puppy.  Increasingly I am being asked for help integrating the newest puppy into a multidog household.

I have lived with more than one dog for most of the past twenty years because when John and I moved in together, he had a dog and I had a dog.  When his dog died, we had a brief period where we only had one dog, but we have almost always had two, and often had three or more dogs living full time with us.  When we were raising service dog puppies, we integrated a new puppy into our home at least once a year, so we have this down to a bit of a science.

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It is always a good idea to know what the rules are going to be before you bring home your puppy so that you can start showing him the rules before he starts to get into trouble. Copyright: Fotofront69 / 123RF Stock Photo

To start with decide on what the rules are.  This is a good idea even if you are preparing for your first dog.  It is much easier to teach your puppy what you want him to do if you have spent a little time ahead of time working out what the rules are going to be.  In our house, dogs are not permitted on furniture, they are not permitted to rough house indoors, they are expected to sit before doors open and they can touch their toys but nothing else in our very messy house.  When the resident animals know the rules, then it is much easier for the new animals to learn the rules.

From time to time I meet a very unruly adolescent dog and the owners tell me that in the past they had older resident dogs teach the youngster the ropes and they expected the current older dog to pass along the rules of the house to a puppy.  While the adult dogs are helpful in modelling good behaviour in your home, they cannot be responsible for teaching the puppy what is expected.  The older dogs and other pets don’t have thumbs and cannot open doors, operate the car or control any of the fun stuff that comes to young dogs who are well behaved.

When we bring a puppy home, he spends his first two months or until he outgrows our puppy crate in our kitchen.  We live in a 160 year old farm house, and our kitchen has a door directly to the outside, making this a great place to toilet train puppies.  We work strange hours and we tend to be up at about 8 in the morning and the first thing we do is clip a leash on the puppy and take him outside to toilet.  Then he comes in and stays with us as we do our morning routines of making coffee, hitting the bathroom, cleaning teeth and so on.  When we have the early morning basics underway, we hand feed the puppy a meal, usually as part of a training session.  The adult dogs eat in their crates separately.

After the puppy eats his breakfast, we go outside again to toilet and sometimes if the weather is good to have some outdoor exploring and play time.  We live rurally which means that there are lots and lots of outdoor rules to learn too.  We want our pups to like our horses, but we don’t want them to harass the horses.  We have electric fencing and eventually pups learn that they mustn’t touch that or they will get hurt.  We also live near a busy highway so we have boundary training to do so that the dogs learn never to go across our driveway towards the unsafe road.  If the weather doesn’t co operate we will play with the pups in the kitchen.  We have a system that helps us to teach puppies what to do.  We have a giant puppy toy box filled with everything a puppy could possibly want to play with. The pup is permitted free access to the toy box when he is loose.  We also have dozens of shoes and boots and other household items that just hang out on the floor of our kitchen.  When a puppy interacts with an item that is permitted he gets to keep playing.  When he touches an item he may not we call out a warning signal; “that’s enough”.  If the puppy stops immediately he gets to continue.  If he continues to touch the forbidden items, then we say “too bad” and put him in his crate for a short period of time.  After a few minutes, the puppy comes out and gets to try again..

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Baby D’fer explores the adult dog water bowl.  It was raised because we had an elderly dog who had difficulty dropping his head to drink.  Notice that I am right beside him actively supervising what he is doing.  Supervision is key to success with young dogs.

You may notice that so far I have not mentioned having the adult dogs interacting with the puppy.  After the pup has had his morning play time, I allow the adult dogs up and the pup can see the adults through the crate and they can get to know him without being harassed by him.  In our current home we have three adult dogs.  One of our dogs, Eco is a great dog for interacting with puppies.  He sets boundaries and shows them cool things.  He gets time through the day to interact in a supervised way with the pups.  Another of our dogs does not like puppies at all and he never gets to interact with them.  Our third dog has not yet had a chance to help raise pups because she has so far been too young, but I am better that she will be terrific with them.  Through the day, we provide opportunities for the puppy to interact with the adults in supervised structured ways, but we don’t just let the puppy loose with the adults without guidelines.

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D’fer meets Bear for the first time.  Notice that John is right in the middle of things.  Bear didn’t like puppies and John allowed him to escape through his legs and kept his hand on D’fer so that he could not follow.  When an adult dog tries to avoid a puppy, we support the adult dog; the puppy can learn some manners before he is required to put up with D’fer loose in the house.  D’fer and Bear went on to become fast friends as D’fer matured into adulthood.

If you are integrating a puppy into a home with a cat, you can use the “That’s enough, too bad” system for harassing the cat or cats.  I don’t expect puppies to cuddle up with cats until the are much older, so my early introductions are all about being polite to the cat and not playing roughly and setting a boundary and guidelines about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour related to the cat.  You must decide ahead of time what you want this relationship to look like and if you have a cat who objects strongly to the dog, you must put the needs of the cat front and centre.  Cats usually cope quite well if they have space to go and avoid the dog.  Cat ladders, baby gates and hiding spots for the cat help a lot with the cat’s ability to relax in the company of the dog.

Most of my pups quickly learn that after breakfast is a time to chill out and relax, to settle and to rest.  The busiest part of the day doesn’t come till late afternoon.  After a morning nap, we repeat our early morning routine at noon, training through the puppy’s lunch.  Adult dogs are in a different room when we train the puppy.  With young pups, we teach a lot of self control activities such as the automatic leave it, waiting for the food bowl to drop and not touching it till told to, waiting at doors and not rushing through them, creating puppies who are mannerly and self controlled.  Most of our pups also master sit, down, touch, come when called and go to mat by the time they are about sixteen weeks of age.  After lunch, we may take the youngster out for a walk with one adult dog.  We have found that walking a puppy in the company of multiple adult dogs is risky; adults get to running and racing and it would be a small thing for the puppy to be tripped on or trampled.

 

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Puppies need naps, just like children do!  When you cannot supervise, or if your puppy is tired or if you are between play times, a crate is a perfect place for a puppy to rest.

Our pups go back down for a nap in the afternoon and at about four pm we move our activities to the training hall.  When we are at the training hall our pups are always crated in our kennel area where they can be safely contained and kept out of trouble.  Our pups usually get into a class at least once a day, and this is where they have their third meal.  By having our dogs at the training hall we are able to get them out to pee on a regular basis and they learn that there are behavioural expectations at work.

As our puppies learn the ropes, they get more time out of their crates and doing things and gradually they spend more time both in the house and outside with our adult dogs.  When the pups go through periods of testing the boundaries, we back up and give them fewer freedoms.  We really feel it is important not to allow our puppies out of our sight until they are about sixteen weeks of age.  At that point they start getting more house time as long as they are not making mistakes such as getting on furniture, stealing items that don’t belong to them or playing roughly in the house.  At about sixteen weeks, we start adding pups into play groups in our yard.  We are fortunate to have a yard attached to our farm house and with multiple dogs we find that it is important to give each dog some time with us alone.  This time each day means that the dogs are more bonded to us than to one another, which makes training easier.  In our house, adolescent and adult dogs get time in the yard with one another, and time in the house with us, both alone and with the other dogs.

It is also important to keep in mind that your adult dogs didn’t sign up for a puppy and they will need time alone with you.  This is where having a crate in the kitchen where we spend the bulk of our time can be really helpful.  We can have the adult dogs out with us, and the puppy can learn about the adults in a safe way, but the adults don’t have to put up with a rude puppy who might interrupt time with me.  Puppies in our house also learn that it is not always their turn and that if they start to fuss in their crates then everyone will just leave the kitchen.

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Bear was never impressed with having puppies around.  Generally Crow (the German Shepherd) liked puppies, but he did not like change and the first few days home with a new pup were always difficult for him.

Integrating a new puppy into your home is really a matter of deciding what you want and teaching your puppy the rules.  Young pups need lots of supervision and when we cannot give it to them, using a crate is a great way to keep your puppy safe.  Not everyone has the luxury that we do of being available for our pups all day long, so sometimes we have to work around other constraints.  Many families arrange to come home at lunch time to let their puppies out and then leave again for the afternoon while their pups nap.  Sometimes a good strategy is to get a dog walker who can come in and let the pup out while you are away.  Whatever your schedule is, working around keeping everyone relaxed and happy depends on knowing what you want ahead of time, and then implementing a plan to meet the needs of your household.

AND PUPPY MAKES MORE

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME…

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO IT RIGHT….when will you have time to fix it?

On Facebook recently a colleague brought up the issue of behaviour clients who when asked why they didn’t go to puppy class respond that they didn’t have time. We hear this regularly. Families get a puppy and then don’t have time for class, don’t have time to train, don’t have time to exercise and then they come to us when the puppy is about 8 months old and tell us that the dog is now a nuisance. Further these clients often tell us that they have limited time and resources to fix their issues.

Everywhere I go, I hear about the pressures of time, and how often we spend time doing things such as surfing Facebook and Twitter or doing things that are empty time fillers. I hear about how fast paced life is and how much we each have to do in such a busy society. Apparently the time saving devices such as laundry and dishwashing machines, computers, faxes and phones have in fact created situations where we have so much more to do in our lives that we are busier than ever. In the face of the pressures of busyness at work, social commitments and activities, exercise demands and the pull and push of taking care of ourselves, our family and our community commitments, then when you get a puppy, he can fall between the cracks of other demands on our time.

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The telephone and the computer have all been promoted as labour saving devices, and yet often they are just adding to the amount that we try and do! Your puppy needs your actual attention and he will learn quickly if you are not paying attention to him. Copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo

I would like to suggest that a puppy, in all of his frenetic and exciting behaviours is an invitation to slow down for a while. To put aside the busy in your life and take the time to do it right. It doesn’t mean that you have to radically change everything you do, but it does invite some reflection on how we structure our lives around change. What you do in the first 8 to ten weeks that you have a puppy will impact the rest of his or her life. Think about that for a minute. If you get a puppy, and you don’t have time to do it right in those first 8 to ten weeks, when will you have time to fix that?

Getting a puppy can be an expensive proposition in terms of money but also in terms of time. We often hear from new puppy families that they are surprised at the costs they are facing both in terms of money and time, so if you can, it is wise to prepare ahead of time. Before a puppy comes home, carve out the time you will need to spend to help that pup develop to the fullest potential. In our experience, a new puppy requires about three hours a day most days, and five hours a day every day you go to puppy class in order to be successful. Luckily those hours don’t all fall consecutively or we would not get anything done!

In the morning, right off the start, we spend about twenty minutes toileting and feeding our pups. Later in the morning we spend half an hour to 40 minutes with the pup. We repeat this at lunch and dinner and then there are a couple of hours in the evening where the pup spends time with us; we don’t count this as time we have to carve out because we are integrating the puppy into what we do instead of carving time out for things that prevent us from doing what we would normally do.

On class days we have to do all that we normally do plus drive to class, participate in class and then drive home. Sometimes we also carve out time for play dates or to invite guests over to meet the puppy, so three hours is an estimate of a normal day, not a day where we do extras. As the puppy gets older, we shift our interactions with our pups so that they are integrated more and more into our lives, but it is important to recognize that having an adult dog is still going to take an hour out of your day each day to do things like feed, water, and exercise your dog.

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Making time for your pup and your kids, without the pressure of busyness is healthy for everyone and helps to raise your pup to be who he has the potential to be! Copyright: ilona75 / 123RF Stock Photo

If you don’t have three hours a day to devote to getting a puppy, plus a couple of hours each week to take him to puppy class wait to get a dog until you have that time. Far too often what we see are nice families who want a puppy and who get one and initially spend 6 to 8 hours a day on the pup and then drop that down to an hour a day after the first three days. Sadly you cannot pack all that a puppy needs into the first three days! Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to raising a successful puppy! On the first day home, I like things to be quiet and calm for the pup. I like things to be low key so that the pup can quietly get accustomed to living in a new home with new routines and rules. When bringing home a puppy is a big to do, a party and an intense activity, and then you don’t follow that up with the day in and day out needs of the pup for structure, supervision and training, there is terrific potential for fallout.

Puppies are a lot like human toddlers. They need guidance and help to understand the world they are learning about. When toddlers are neglected, we know that grade one is much harder for them. When toddlers don’t get their basic needs for play and social interaction with children their own age, they struggle later with making friends when they go out in the world. This is where taking the time to do it right when your dog is under 16 weeks can really matter. If you don’t teach your puppy when he is young what you want him to know then when he inevitably develops problems then solving them is going to require more time and effort than preventing them.

I personally don’t enjoy the puppy phase very much. Cute just doesn’t motivate me! Never the less, when we have a puppy I take the time out of my day and I do the work that is needed to ensure that my pup will grow up to fulfill the potential he deserves. If I don’t have time to meet the puppy’s needs means that I don’t get that particular puppy. Something I think people sometimes forget is that puppies are always going to be available, but not every time that I want a pup will I have the time to meet his needs. If I don’t have time to do it right, I keep in mind that I likely won’t have time to fix whatever problems develop later.

Getting a puppy is a time where you can reflect on the fact that in our busy lives, there is value in carving out that time to slow down and do the job right from the start. Enrol in puppy class. Give yourself a few extra minutes to meet your pup’s needs. Turn off the TV, the Wi, the Xbox, the net and take that time and repurpose it to meeting the needs of the new life you are bringing into your home. The time you take and give to your pup now will mean a world of difference to his life with you forever. If you don’t have the time to do it right, plan on the time you will need to fix it.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME…

RATED R

Originally posted Sunday, May 19, 2013

My dad had a method of rating movies. G movies were good. PG movies were pretty good. R movies were Rotten. XR movies were extra rotten. And when it comes to dog behaviour one of the behaviours people often struggle with are the R rated behaviours; any sexual behaviour and especially humping. Humping seems to be the equivalent of a full frontal nudity scene in a movie; it is at that point where people seem to reliably exhibit one of two reactions; utter fascination or total revulsion. I will warn you now, that if you are squeamish and you don’t want to read about sexual behaviour in dogs, the time to stop reading is right now, because this blog is all about….humping.

Let’s start at the start with the fact that humping is a normal behaviour. Some dogs seem to do more of it than others and some dogs don’t seem to do it at all. Dogs who do it, do it regardless of if they are intact or neutered, male or female. It has nothing to do with dominance. The target can be an object, another dog or a human. Or the cat. And pet owners seem to be endlessly fascinated by it, talking about it, observing it, describing it and ascribing motives to it.

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Humping is a normal behaviour and it doesn’t matter how big or small the humper is, or the humpee!

Dominance is the term used to describe the hierarchy between two or more individuals of the same species when there is a limited resources. I have observed dogs humping in a very wide variety of contexts and I have yet to see a dog use humping to gain access over a resource. You could argue that the humper has control over the humpee, but in my experience, if the humpee doesn’t want to be humped they have very clear ways of explaining that to the humper. If the humper doesn’t listen, then other dogs will often come in to the rescue of the unwilling recipient. Not always, but often. Just this weekend, we are boarding a neutered male who spends much of his time trying to hump our intact bitch Friday. She is due to come into heat in about three months, so he isn’t trying to breed her, although neutered males will breed a bitch in heat. Furthermore, there is an intact male turned out with the neutered male and Friday, and he just doesn’t care that much. Friday will sometimes stand and allow him to hump, and the intact male will sometimes sniff the two of them if they are standing still, but most of the time, Friday uses a different tactic to keep this neutered male from bothering her. She likes to trot just fast enough to keep lover boy on his toes; just when he thinks he can get up on his hind legs, she darts out of his way. Yes, she is a flirt. Today at about three in the afternoon, she must have had enough, because she started running really fast whenever he approached, and when he tried to mount her while she was getting a drink, she turned around and pinned him to the ground. She was really clear when she was done playing the hump me game.

So consider this. The humper got nothing. Friday got a lot of exercise, but she is a very fit, young athletic dog and she wasn’t showing any signs of stress through the 36 hours or so (not continuously; she had turns in the house, and in her crate and out with her normal buddy) that the guest dog spent trying to hump her. When she had enough she explained very clearly to this dog that the game was over and interestingly, he respected that and stopped humping her. The intact male, the smallest of the three dogs didn’t care that the neutered male was humping the intact bitch, and he spent most of the time outside hunting grasshoppers and looking at the horses through the fence and sometimes playing tag with Friday and trying to get her to speed up enough to chase him. How could this be dominance, when the definition of dominance requires that there is some gain for the winner? Could it be that this interaction might possibly have simply been play? That is what I suspect it was. And often that is what I think we see; humping as a normal part of play.

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Here a spayed bitch is humping an intact bitch who is tugging with a neutered male.  This is a completely normal behaviour.  The intact bitch’s ears are pinned not because she is stressed but because she is using her jaw, head and neck muscles to tug with the neutered male.

 

Puppies may start showing this behaviour as early as 4 weeks in the litter. If mom is involved with the litter she will often teach the puppy what is an appropriate amount of humping, who and what they can hump. If the pups have been separated from their dam too early, some pups get to hump without interruption, and they can carry this behaviour further than we might like them to. If your pup is humping and in a puppy class, his classmates will help him to learn who, when and where he can hump, provided they are permitted to do so, and the humans support the humpee if he or she is asking for the humper to stop. A simple delta signal, or warning that says to change behaviour or face the music can help a lot. We say ‘that’s enough” if we feel a youngster is over doing the humping. If he stops and does something else, we allow him to continue playing. If he continues to hump in spite of the recipient asking him to stop and in spite of our warning signal, we say “too bad” and pick the pup up until he settles down and then we return him to play. In general though, the pups do a pretty good job of teaching one another when they should and should not be humping one another.

We often see this behaviour in the context of dogs who are very conflicted and aroused. When they are stressed and uncertain about what to do, we may see dogs humping one another, us or their toys. One of the easiest things to do about this is to address the underlying stresses that the dog is experiencing. This is a prime example of a situation where you really want to take care to use non confrontational training; if the dog is aroused and conflicted, then confronting the dog with an unpleasant consequence is only going to increase, not decrease the stress.

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Here is a humper who is clearly conflicted in some way; his facial expression is not relaxed and his humping is likely a response to just not being sure what to do.  Contrast his expression to that of the humpee who is fairly relaxed in his facial expression.  Photo credit:  Paul Shelbourne, Urban Dog.

There are a few dogs we have met who appear to have a sign tattooed to their hind ends that say the canine equivalent of “hump me, I’m Irish”. Like the human kiss me tee shirts, these don’t seem to be worn by the more confident outgoing dogs. We used to have a dog who boarded with us several times a year and no matter who we put him out with, or walked him with, he would get humped. The only reason he wasn’t humped in our living room is that we have a strict “take it outside” rule for humping that all of our resident dogs completely understand. This dog didn’t seem to mind, and in fact, when other dogs didn’t hump him, he would often throw his hind end into their faces. One of my assistants hypothesized that this may have been his particular way of asking other dogs to play with him. Whatever the reason, he didn’t seem to mind, and we didn’t interfere. This dog never had trouble working with any of the other dogs, including those who had humped him when loose together.

Dogs don’t just hump one another; they also hump things. About ten years ago, a veterinarian I worked with asked me to visit one of her patients in his home. At 9:00pm every evening, just after the kids went to bed, the dog was suspected of having seizures. Video cameras were much less common then, so she asked if I could drop by and observe for her and tell her what I saw. The dog lived in my neighbourhood and I was happy to oblige. I arrived at about 8:30 and the couple greeted me at the door. The kids were at a neighbour’s and we had the opportunity to watch this dog in action. The dog was a two year old neutered male maltese. I asked a bunch of questions and it turned out that this dog had a very extensive ritual that he went through before the “event”.

At 8:45, he would begin to pace and pant. He would get gradually more and more excited, and then he would start jumping against the cupboard door where one particular special toy was kept. I asked what would happen if they didn’t get the toy out. He became dangerously aggressive towards whomever was nearest. Dominance? Nope, they aren’t the same species. Let’s call this what it is; dangerous, obnoxious, rude behaviour that had been put on a reinforcement schedule. In other words, the family had taught the dog that by being aggressive he could get his toy.

At about five minutes to nine, the couple opened the door, got out a stuffed bear and gave it to the dog. The dog grabbed the toy and ran to the living room couch, jumped up and began to hump away like crazy. The husband started to get quite upset; “see”, he asked? “See, he is having a seizure!” Gently I tried to explain to them that the dog was masturbating and was very good at it. The husband turned beet red and the wife began to laugh. She was nearly hysterical with her laughter. I was left trying to “normalize” the information I had to share about normal behaviour in neutered males, but the more I explained the more the woman laughed, with tears eventually rolling down her cheeks.

About seven minutes after he started, the dog was finished and he relaxed, jumped off the couch and went to lie down in his bed and we were able to talk again. The husband was still fairly tense, but the wife kept breaking into giggles. What was so funny? Well, it turns out that at Christmas the past year, her uncle had a video camera and had taken film which he was showing around his seniors home in Florida, with the residents baffled at what the fluffy little white dog was doing to his bear.

In dozens if not hundreds of species, animal behaviourists have observed masturbating in both males and females. Kagaroos? Yes. Horses? Yes. Bonobos? It is pretty much the single most common behaviour they show, both in captivity and in the wild. And yes, domestic dogs masturbate. The solution I suggested and the family chose to take up was to do some obedience training at about twenty minutes to nine in the evening each night and then give the bear to the dog in a quiet private room. As a friend of mine told her five year old daughter-“that is something special we do by ourselves with the door closed.” As a side note, discussing this with the family it turned out that they were so afraid that the bear might be lost or damaged that they had gone to the petstore and found out where the bear was made, and special ordered twenty of them. Yes, they had a dresser drawer full of maltese terrier sized masturbation pillows.

I remember going to a John Rogerson seminar several years ago where he described collecting all the male police dogs each week in a large canine program he worked with. The image baffled the mind; ten young men and their German Shepherds, every Thursday afternoon sounds implausible, but that is what he claimed they did to prevent the dogs from spending time and energy humping things they ought not, or spending time in their crates masturbating instead of resting. I am not sure how well that worked, but according to John Rogerson, this was standard practice in this particular program.

I have also worked with bitches, both intact and spayed who have humped items as diverse as their owners, the arm of the living room couch, pillows, laundry and on one interesting case, a specific log in the yard. I have had clients who have put the behaviour on cue and brought it out as a party trick, not realizing what they have trained the dog to do. This behaviour is normal, and in my opinion the best thing to do when it happens is to redirect the dog onto an appropriate item in an appropriate place. It is important to understand that this behaviour is inherently self rewarding, and if you spend a lot of time trying to stop the dog from doing it, the dog is going to become difficult to handle. In the words of the Beatles…Let it be.

My exception to interrupting this behaviour is when the target of the dog’s affection is a non canine animal. When the target is the family cat or a child, then I intervene, immediately, with “that’s enough/too bad”. When the target is an able bodied adult, I teach them how to do this effectively. Combining this tactic with controlling arousal and opportunities to hump more appropriate opportunities usually resolves this problem very quickly.

There is some evidence that neutering before sexual maturity may decrease humping and I have seen this happen, but it doesn’t happen without behaviour modification support. Without boundaries and rules, whether imposed by people or by other dogs, the neutered dog is going to continue, for the same reason that masturbating occurs in every other species; because it feels good.

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101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

 

When people ask me what the most important thing they can do to get started on the right paw with their puppy I tell them to come to puppy class. The sad thing is that I hear 101 reasons why people don’t think they need puppy class.

Housetraining is going pretty well…he only makes mistakes once or twice a day!

He comes when he is called already-I don’t need to take a puppy class!

I have another dog at home-he doesn’t need more friends than that!

None of my other dogs went to puppy class and they were fine!

 

If you have thought it, I have probably heard it in answer to why you aren’t coming to puppy class. Why is it then that I am so insistent that your puppy, and my puppy and every puppy deserves puppy class? I have 101 reasons for you to come to puppy class and here are a few of them.

At one conference I attended, we heard that 80% of the dogs who die before the age of two die of preventable behaviour problems, and hundreds of thousands of dogs die before the age of two each year. You can do some simple things to ensure that your puppy won’t be one of those puppies who die of a preventable behaviour problem by coming to puppy class. Do we prevent 100% of the behaviour problems in puppy class? Of course not, but we have a pretty darned good track record, and puppy class is one of the things that has been shown to prevent a lot of behaviour problems.

Puppies are learning sponges and they are almost preprogrammed to absorb the important lessons that they will need to succeed in your home before they are about twenty weeks of age. Before a puppy is 20 weeks of age, he will learn what surfaces are legal to toilet upon, who he is permitted to greet, how to greet other dogs and people politely, what is legal to chew upon and who is the best bet in the house for fun and games. After twenty weeks, puppies are well prepared to learn to apply what they have learned in their first twenty weeks but they are not as proficient at learning the rules of your home. In puppy class you will get help and support you need to be successful. Could you teach this yourself without the support of a class? Sure, but in class you are going to learn what is new in the world of dog training and a lot of the new stuff will not have trickled down to me if I had not been taking continuing education credits all the way along-take advantage of the work your instructor does to keep current on dog training methods.

I often hear that puppies are going to the dog park to learn to interact with other dogs or that there is an adult dog in the home to teach the puppy what to do when meeting other dogs. There are a few problems with this logic. To start with, the dog park is a free for all where any dog can show up and go off leash. If you don’t have control over who your puppy meets, you have no idea if your pup is meeting the sweet older dog who is calm and confident or the bruiser who is looking to roll your puppy and take the stuffing out of him.

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These dogs look like they are having a good time, but they are all large active breed dogs. If you insert your puppy into this play group, your pup could get hurt or become the target of a larger dog. Young puppies learn great play skills and acquire bite inhibition by playing with dogs who are their own age. Copyright: maratr / 123RF Stock Photo

Adult dogs have a lot to teach puppies, but one of the things they cannot do is be a puppy themselves. Normal puppy behaviour develops best when puppies have other puppies to play with. Pups have tiny needle sharp teeth and they use these on one another during play. If one pup bites another puppy too had, the second puppy will let out a big yelp and will stop playing with the first puppy. This process of rough and tumble is an important step in teaching young dogs to modulate their bites and acquire bite inhibition. Good bite inhibition is what allows dogs to grab things with their mouths and not do damage, and that skill is fine tuned between puppies, not between puppies and adults.

Waiting to go to puppy class until after the puppy has started showing problems is a common mistake people make all the time. Before a puppy is 16 weeks of age, he will follow you around almost all the time, and if you call him he will come. This is a normal developmental stage for pups. Sometime between 14 and 20 weeks though, your puppy is going to suddenly become quite a bit more independent and the cute little guy who followed you around will suddenly become a whole lot more active and a whole lot less interested in placidly following your lead. One of the things that you get out of puppy class is a chance to teach your pup to come when called not just when he is doing that because he doesn’t have a lot of confidence to explore yet, but to come when called all the time. The more work you put into that right off the bat, in a more formal setting, the more likely it is that your pup will know what to do when he is approaching puberty and beginning to become more independent.

In puppy class we can help you to trouble shoot too; we can help you to head problems off as they develop. From house soiling to inappropriate chewing to jumping up and manners, we are the ones who can help you to develop the best in your puppy before the problems start or as soon as you see them. If your pup has been doing really well with house training and suddenly starts to have trouble, we can usually tell if this is due to how you are approaching house training or if you should go to the vet, and we are really happy to talk to you about how to tell the difference. The same is true when a puppy suddenly develops a dietary issue or if they suddenly stop sleeping through the night. Often, when a pup comes to class with a sudden change we can figure out if the problem is training, developmental or if the pup needs to see the vet.

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If your puppy’s behaviour suddenly changes, tell us. If we think it is a training issue, we can tell you what to do and if we think there is a medical issue we will send you to your vet! This is something we can help you with in puppy class! Copyright: photodeti / 123RF Stock Photo

We can also help you to see when your puppy’s behaviour is typical of his breeding or if it is something else. When families tell us that their retriever puppy is carrying shoes all over the house or that their terrier puppy is digging in the yard, we can tell you that this is pretty normal behaviour for those dogs. When a family comes in and tells us that the puppy is spinning endlessly until he falls over and then repeating that behaviour we can tell you that this is not normal and that there might be a problem. Puppy class is the chance for you to check in with a professional who can help you to understand more about your individual dog because we see so many puppies.

You may not ever have trouble with your puppy and you may in fact already know how to socialize and train a puppy, and I would still suggest puppy class. Heck, I go to puppy class with my own pups. Why? Because it is fun. Because I will get to meet the puppies who will become my dog’s friends when he is an adult. Because I will meet the people I will walk with when my pup is older. Because for 90 minutes each week, I can turn off my cell phone and just focus on everything puppy and watch my pup learn and change and grow. Because it is the first thing that my puppy and I will do as partners. For the rest of his life, what I do with my puppy before 16 weeks will impact the nature of the relationship we will have together, and it all starts in puppy class.

 

101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

Lately we have had a pile of puppy owners asking us how to prevent their pups from misbehaving. In exasperation, one day John replied “Don’t let him do that!” and the client looked at him completely baffled. One important part of our way of puppy raising is to let the puppies learn through experience what happens if they do certain things. In our house that means that puppies who pick up shoes get put in their crates. Puppies who jump up on me get put in their crates. Puppies who sit nicely get let out of their crates. Puppies who sit and stay get their dinner. Puppies who bark in their crates get to stay right where they are. Puppies who cry in the night get taken outside to pee. The list goes on and on and on as our puppies learn what happens when they do various things. There are some things however that our puppies don’t get the chance to do.

 

When clients ask us how to stop their pups from toileting in the house, we tell them, don’t let him do that! We don’t allow our puppies out of our sight in the house until they have shown us that they won’t toilet indoors over a long period of time. To start with, our puppies don’t get to explore the house unattended. We don’t let them toilet indoors by making sure that they have lots of chances to toilet outdoors, and we control when they eat so that we know when they will need to go. When they are outside of their crates, they are supervised, 100% of the time and if it looks like they need to go, we gently pick them up and take them out to toilet where we want them to go. We just don’t let them toilet indoors.

 

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This puppy is doing a few things I would prefer he didn’t. If this was my puppy, and he was meeting this lady for the first time, I would not let him hold his leash or climb the lady and the lady wouldn’t be allowed to get this close until my pup was calmer and ready to behave the way I want him to when meeting a new person. In short I wouldn’t let him grab his leash or climb the lady! Copyright: dusanzidar / 123RF Stock Photo

When we are asked how to stop puppies from jumping up on guests, we don’t let them do that either; when guests come to the house, we prepare by having our pups in their crates as the guests arrive, and then we bring them to the guests on leash. We know that pups need to learn what to do when meeting a guest, so we don’t just let our pups meet guests and hope for the best; we don’t let them do that. For clarity, what we usually do is to allow the guest in, and then get them seated. Then we bring the puppy in on leash and we work with the puppy, clicking and treating behaviours that he already knows. When he is calm and engaged with someone he knows then we introduce him to the guest, again using the clicker to mark behaviours we like, such as sitting for attention. And we don’t let the guest do our training for us either! We don’t ask our guests to treat the puppy for good behaviour; we know what we want the pup to learn and we don’t leave that to chance.

 

Often people will ask what to do about pulling on leash and again, we point out that we don’t let puppies pull on leash. Sometimes in training we have to do what is called a work around. In the case of pulling on leash, the work around we use is called the magic collar system; we have one collar that is magic; we only use it for training loose leash behaviour. The rest of the time we use a different collar, harness or head halter to differentiate what we are working on and we teach the pup that the rules are looser in that situation. We work around puppies pulling by teaching that one collar is magic and allows pulling and the other collar is a different kind of magic and doesn’t allow pulling!

 

How about getting into the garbage? Again, we just don’t let puppies do that! We keep garbage behind gates and doors so that pups cannot get into things. The same is true for almost everything that we do. Getting in the front seat of a moving vehicle? Don’t let your puppy do that by putting him in a crate in the vehicle when travelling. Harassing the older dog in the home? Keep them separate except for training time. Chewing up personal items? Put things away pre-emptively. The key is to think ahead about what behaviours you want your puppy to engage in and what behaviours you don’t want your puppy to engage in, and then preventing your pup from having the chance to do things you don’t want him to do.

 

The thing to remember about young dogs is that they come without experience. If you are going to expect a young dog to interact with something new in his life, and you don’t structure that interaction to begin with, you are training him to guess and often, being a young animal with an exuberant temperament, he is going to make the wrong choice. When your pup makes the wrong choice, you can do one of any number of things. You can be harsh and punitive and unpleasant and hope he doesn’t repeat the error. Not a good idea but something to think about. You can be gentle but interrupt the puppy; a better alternative, but still not ideal. You can remove the pup and allow him to try again; still better than the last alternative, but still not the best kind of training you can do for a puppy. The gold standard in training is to set your pup up to succeed in the first place by preventing the undesired behaviour from happening.

 

Perhaps the most confusing to students but common situation is what to do on the street when the puppy meets new people. Our clients usually don’t want their young puppies to learn to jump up to greet, but they also don’t want to not introduce their new addition to the neighbourhood. In this case, we can prevent our dogs from doing things we don’t want by controlling distance. When you are approaching a friend, regardless of if they have another dog or not, there is going to be a point at which your dog begins to get excited. That point, or threshold, is where you need to stop approaching and take a break. Doing this teaches young dogs that they cannot bounce around and be silly when they are meeting and greeting people. By only moving forward when your pup is calm, he learns that self control gets him what he wants.

 

The biggest error we see at puppy school is the puppy owner who gets a young dog and then allows her to roam free through the house from the first day on. Often things go well at first; for the first few days, while the puppy is novel, family members attend to the puppy and notice when he is getting into things and they intervene. Over time however, the puppy begins to become familiar with the home, and wanders away from supervision. When this happens, you cannot prevent problems and then you have to solve them; not an ideal situation. Next, the family wants to take the puppy out in the neighbourhood, and they start to run into even bigger problems because they don’t have any plans to avoid problems. The puppy learns to pull on leash, jump on people and grab trash and dropped items to play with or eat. In medicine, it is common to say that prevention is the best cure, and this is true of training as well. We need to prevent these problems from starting and start by teaching our pups what we want them to do. The best way to do that involves planning and supervision. It really isn’t difficult but it does mean being aware of what you are doing.

 

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When you teach your dog what to do and how to behave when he is a youngster, then when he grows up he will be the kind of dog you can trust to be kind to a child. This is what a mannerly dog looks like! Copyright: yuliang11 / 123RF Stock Photo

Good planning and supervision means that you know what you want your pup to learn and you set up situations where he can learn what we want him to learn, and then you supervise what is happening to make that happen. One of the best things you can do to make planning and supervision work for you is to join a good puppy class. In class you will likely get a list of behaviours to work on and that can serve as a good guideline to help you to determine what your pup should be doing and at what age. It also provides you with a support group to help you to make your plan work. We even take our own pups to puppy class!

 

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

WHEN NOT TO SOCIALIZE!

Originally posted May of 2013

I own horses.  I also own an electric fence.  The idea is that the horses won’t leave and people and animals won’t come in and harass them.  Sounds like a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t always work out.  People come to the fence to “visit” the horses.  And sometimes, they bring their dogs.  Recently I lamented this fact on my Facebook page and a long discussion ensued.  One of the posters talked about how she would use animals behind fences to socialize her puppy when she had the opportunity.  Well meaning, this person just didn’t understand the whole issue.

When you have a puppy, you can say with fair certainty that he is going to be unpredictable.  He is going to do things you wish he would not.  He barks at the most inopportune moments.  He pulls on his leash and sometimes he dashes forward only to backpedal vigorously.  In short, the reaction a puppy gives is not always going to be constant or predictable.  Ideally, you would set up multiple socialization opportunities for your dog to learn about the world around him in a safe way.  And that is where my electric fence comes in.

Horses and other livestock are very different from dogs.  First off, they are herd animals.  They don’t like to be separated from their herd members.  We have three horses so I will use them as examples.  We use a highly visible, white rope that contains stainless steel wires to conduct electrical current to keep them in our pasture.  We don’t have a lot of pasture so at this time of year, we rig up temporary paddocks around the house.  The house is about 20 metres from the road and across the road is a hill.  At the top of the hill is a public park.  There is a tree line between us and the park and over the years we have had occasional visitors from the park to our property.  Most folks recognize that this is private property and don’t come into our farm, but once in a while, we see people coming over to our land.

We had one very aggressive dog off leash on our land and his person said to us that they were taking as much care as they could because they were walking their dog where they didn’t expect to meet other dogs.  I pointed out that I live here with a large van that says that I am a dog trainer and that meant that there would likely be dogs here.  It is endlessly frustrating to have other people’s dogs on your property and worse still when owners feel entitled to run their dogs at large on your property.

Now that we have the fences up and the horses are out, it seems like we have created a magnet for every person who passes by to come up to our fence.  People have been approaching my fence all week to look at the horses, and by and large the people who approach the horses know little or nothing about the horses or what they are doing.  I feel a little bit like I have become a public museum for the travelling public; come, see the horses behind the fence.  Put your arms through the electric fence ropes and touch them.

I have very friendly horses.  They are very tolerant of poor handling, mistakes by people and my dogs.  The thing is, they are still horses.  They are still herd animals.  And they don’t like strange dogs.  When you are socializing your puppy, and you see horses behind a fence, do not use them as an opportunity to socialize your dog to horses.  First and foremost, you don’t know my horses.  You don’t know if my horses are friendly.  And if you don’t know horses you don’t have the skills to recognize when they are nervous or stressed.

As herd animals, groups of horses behave in ways that may appear friendly to the uninitiated.  In the case of my three mares, if there is a stranger at the fence, two of them will graze and one of them will approach the fence and stand there with her head up.  Many people interpret this as friendly behaviour.  It is not!  It is the horse guarding the herd.  If the stranger becomes dangerous, the guarding mare will bolt and the other horses will cease grazing and follow her lead.  Often the guarding horse will go right up to the fence and she may even extend her nose to sniff the people.  She is attempting to find out if she knows you; horses have a terrific sense of smell and often they will identify people by smell if they are not sure.

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This is Kayak guarding the herd.  Ten minutes before I took this picture, I watched as the whole herd spooked when a truck rumbled by.  They came back and Kayak stood guard between the source of danger and the other horses.  Without the information that I just gave you, she might appear to be a friendly horse, standing close to the fence.

If you bring a puppy to my fence and my mare approaches your pup and sniffs him, and if he does something unpleasant to her, there is a pretty good chance that she will behave defensively; it looks like a good greeting, but there are some big problems.  The first is that the horses are unknown to the dog handler.  This means that the dog’s handler has no idea if the horses are friendly or not, or if they have had exposure to dogs or not, or if they are dangerous or not.  The second is that there is no one handling the horse.  This means that you are depending on an animal you don’t know to be friendly.  And then there is the whole issue of the electric fence between you and the horse.  You are hoping your puppy will learn to tolerate horses.  If he ducks his head under the fence, and then raises it, he is going to get hit by that fence, and that fence really, really hurts.  He will scream and bolt and your effort at teaching him about horses will result in a dog who is afraid not comfortable around horses.

Furthermore, if you spook the horses you contribute to the horses being more difficult to handle.  Let’s just suppose for a moment that the horse you are attempting to meet is a spooky timid horse.  She looks friendly, but she is in fact guarding the herd.  Your dog gets hit by the fence and squeals and bolts.  Twenty minutes later, the rider, unsuspecting that the horse had a bad experience comes out to the field to catch her horse.  The horse is difficult to handle and the rider is thrown.  Cause and effect can be a tricky thing.  You would likely never choose to cause a horse to throw its rider, but if you spook a horse then that is the effect you may have put into play, and it is an effect that really is not fair to the horse or rider.

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This is exactly the sort of interaction that can go badly wrong for the horse, and sometimes for the dog too.  This dog is not relaxed about the horse and if he suddenly lunges (notice the prong collar?  This tells me that the handler knows that something might go wrong!) the horse might spook or he could even strike or bite the dog.  Image credit: kyolshin / 123RF Stock Photo

Too often I hear people talking about farms and farming and farm animals in a way that is very different from the reality I experience.  Just last week a client of mine asked me if I thought there might be a farmer who would take her very reactive, aggressive, under socialized dog who grew up in the city.  I wonder what she thinks farmers DO all day.  Let me clue you in.  A farm is a business.  Its business is to grow crops and animals for the use of people.  I have yet to hear anyone hope that some machine shop owner would be willing to take their problem dog, but there is a perception that a farmer will.  As a farmer, I don’t have time to rehab your dog.  I am not here to provide your dog with socialization opportunities.  I have two horses of my own and a horse who lives here and contributes to some of the costs of maintaining the farm.  If that third horse is spooked by your puppy and gets hurt bolting away, then I will have to take time out of my busy day to nurse that horse back to health.  That will mean less time for me to ride my own horse and less time to do chores around my farm.  My farm, small as it is, is a business and I don’t have time to add fixing the problems that the public creates and still make a viable living off it.

If you really want to socialize your dog to the sight of horses I have no problem with you standing at a significant distance and classically conditioning your dog to my horses.  That is fine.  But don’t approach the fence.  If it is really important to you that your dog meets a horse, you need to arrange that with a horse owner who can control the horse so that you and your puppy are safe and that the horse is safe too.  The same goes for other livestock.  By all means teach your dog to not bark at horses, sheep, cattle and goats from a distance, but don’t enter a herd or a flock that is not yours. When you do this, you interfere with those animals’ ability to graze peacefully and safely, and you interfere with the farmer’s ability to make a living.

Socialization of puppies is crucial for their success.  We know that if a puppy hasn’t seen something by the time it is 20 weeks old, there is a risk that they won’t tolerate that something terribly well as an adult.  What isn’t fair is socializing them to animals or children that are unattended and who don’t have a guardian to ensure their safety during the activity.  Doing this is unfair to the animal you are trying to socialize but also the target of your socialization, and that defeats the purpose.

WHEN NOT TO SOCIALIZE!