Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Protect Your Dog

In recent months my Aussie Marco has had a hard time being at the dog park. His herding drive seems to have increased dramatically and he assumes new dogs are his for the chasing. Marco’s style of chase includes lunging over the top of a dog and also nipping at their back paws and legs. While he is not overtly aggressive and causing visible injuries it is inappropriate behavior and scares the other dog. I’ve been working diligently with him so that he can learn to play again. Strangely enough this behavior for Marco is linked only to the dog park and usually large breed dogs. If I introduce him at home he is appropriate. He also use to have some of the best dog social skills I had ever seen so I was fairly certain with time, patience and lots of training he would overcome this.

 (Marco at a Rally Obedience trial which helps fine tune obedience skills)

Luckily Marco’s play skills have come back but I take some preventative measures. Marco needs to keep focused on me in a sit or down or moving heel when a dog is approaching. He is not allowed to charge them. If the dog seems like a “target” he would usually try to herd then he cannot go play until he has truly calmed down and preformed a nice curving greeting.
A few weeks ago we were practicing at Southland when a large retriever approached. Marco has a hard time with retrievers so he was waiting in his down stay while my other dogs went over to say hi. The dog hung out with them and we had no issues. When the couple who owned the retriever came over the lady asked why Marco couldn’t play. I said because he tries to herd larger dogs and we’re working on this behavior issue. She promptly said I don’t mind if they play rough. This took me back in all honesty. My response was that I did mind and that her dog could get hurt. She didn’t seem to think anything bad could happen from my slightly smaller dog tackling hers.

Needless to say Marco didn’t get to play with that dog. He was an older guy who had interactively positively with everyone else and didn’t need a maniac Aussie hanging off his back. He also never approached Marco on his own for a sniff greeting so I took that to mean that he didn’t want to meet Marco.

What I learned from this is that most people don’t understand what appropriate play is. And this isn’t the first time this has happened with Marco. A gentleman with an Airedale had the same response. I find this disconcerting. Marco looks pretty innocent by nature. He is a mostly white dog with startling blue eyes. He is around 45lbs and fluffy. He can get away with murder except I’m not fooled. I’m attempting to do two things by working with him at the park. The first is restoring appropriate social skills and the second is keeping everyone else’s dog safe. I don’t understand why the owner of the dog at risk would be alright with Marco hurting them.

You need to protect your dog. This means if you see a dog coming that looks like trouble then go the other way. By trouble I mean: out of control, distance increasing barking (those barks that make you want to back up), snapping, crazy chasing or roughhousing, mounting and other undesirable behavior. This has nothing to do with breed for the record but the individual dog. I also check out the owners… are they paying attention, interacting with their dog, pausing to reward at times, etc. If they aren’t then I am out of there or my dogs are in stays with me. I’m responsible for their wellbeing because they can’t be. Just like if you have your kids at the playground you need to pay attention and would stop another child from hurting them. Dog parks are unruly places that really need a bylaw officer presence but don’t seem to have it. So take some responsibility and do right by your dog. Rough play with a stranger dog is never okay. Two dogs that know each other well can have a slightly more aggressive style and still be able to calm themselves down (within reason) but a strange dog will not have that relationship with your dog.

Pay attention to your dog and keep him/her safe. It’s your job as your dog’s guardian.

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