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Lost in the Translation

Before I write about Rio, I must describe how I used him to sort out the problem of another dog with person possessiveness. This also relates to the previous articles and with Rios problem.

Some weeks ago, an owner asked if I could look after her dog that I will call Jill. Lovely dog except for a few problems that I found whilst she was here. First, she followed me around everywhere. Second, she wanted to sleep in my bedroom. Finally, she was very jealous of me with other dogs. She would try to lie under my feet when I sat down to watch television. Because of my coffee table, she had to lay to the right of my legs, but this was useful. Any dog that came up to me she would lunge at them with loads of aggression chasing them away. Because of the position of the table, this meant she could not actually reach them.

The following me around the house problem I corrected by my ignoring her. Eventually she gave this up and played with the other dogs. Getting her to stay out of the bedroom took about ten minutes and she then would lay on the landing at night, which was far enough for me.

For the jealous aggression, I tested her using compressed air that I fired behind my back and she responded well. This meant I could place a citronella anti bark collar on her. Wearing this, after two barking lunges at other dogs, she quit. After that, I could fuss all the dogs including her without any sign of her aggression.

Fine, but the owners did not tell me there was a problem because, they were not aware of it. To the owner it just looked like a very loving and protective dog so if you have never seen the consequences, how can you know that there is a problem. In addition, if you even recognise there is something wrong, most owners think it is simply the dog, not thinking that they are any way responsible.

When the owners came to collect her, I explained the problems and that this jealousy was a worry because what would happen if this continues into actual bites. What might be the consequences if a child tried to hug the owner? The owner explained that she loved her dog very much, which we can all understand, but at this point, I had not actually seen the interaction between the owner and her dog.

A couple of weeks later, I got two other dogs in to stay with me that visited the home of Jill and both she chased away from going up to her owner. Jill would not even allow one dog to drink from her water bowl.

These two dogs were not a problem except for one who could clear my high front gates with ease. He had me worried when he chased after his owners as they drove off. To stop this I fastened a long rope to him and attached it to a plastic plant pot. As he ran for the gate, he did not like a plant pot chasing him so this was enough to distract him from jumping.

I watched him for an hour or so just in case he tangled himself up. I then took the rope off him after he settled down. He must like it here because as he jumped the gate to go to see a dog in the road, he was then barking to come back in again.

A week later, I got Jill back along with one of the other dogs that she lunged at in her home. Again, she started the lunging, so on went the collar, and it all stopped. She actually got on ok with this dog and both slept on my landing together, so what was creating the renewed lunging.

When the owner came to pick up Jill, they stayed a while whilst all the dogs played together. This gave me the opportunity to make a few inquires as to the behavioural problems. The owner sat down, Jill came and lay under her legs, and she began to fuss her dog as if she was a baby.

Rio seeing all this fussing going on went over for some too, but Jill started growling again. The owner seeing this began to fuss Jill more and began to hold her down, telling her to stay under her legs. The growling only became worse. I said not to worry she will not try to bite Rio. This was not quite true because Rio has amazing agility and is a big baby. Any aggression towards him he can spring away easily. He is really a big softy like a big Womble and everyone who meets him loves him but cannot believe he bites.

Jill’s owner kept on fussing and restraining her but she was becoming more and more aggressive. Eventually she took off like a jet plane from an aircraft carrier. As I said, Rio was long gone and I stopped her lunge with a firm No.

Having seen the problem I explained that what she was saying to her dog to keep calm and to stay still were irrelevant to her, as she does not understand English. All the fussing was telling her that her owner was anxious and holding Jill back was only making it worse because she read this as praise for the aggression.

For criminal work to make a dog chase a criminal, we would challenge the dog whilst the handler held his dog back. When the dog was really pulling hard then he would release him, thereby obtaining a good chase. This was what was happening here. Rio was the challenge and the owner was holding Jill back.

What the owner thought she was saying to her dog was not what the dog was reading in her body language. The owner’s commands of stay still under her legs translated as anxiety. This was not calming her dog at all but telling her Rio was indeed a threat. The longer she did this, the worse it became. This it seems is what happens in her home and so when she comes back here she starts the lunging again. Fortunately, with me it rapidly disappears. In order to cure this problem permanently, the owner must also do the correction work at home by saying no and stop fussing her.

It is so important to understand dogs are not humans. They do not think like us. To humanise some dogs only creates problems. Not every dog will act like this and not necessarily dominant dogs, because Jill is very submissive.

Dogs do not understand language. Yes, they can understand a number of commands to actions, but a sentence goes clean over their heads. Many people think their dogs do understand them but when you analyse what they say, the dogs are actually reading other senses. Body language, tone of voice, (which in this case was anxiety), a dogs own body clock, the environment they are in, all dictate to the dog what it thinks it has to do. Sometimes it gets it right and other times it is wrong.

This is why we must learn to understand that what we say verbally can so often be lost in translation by the dog and why it does not do what was expected or intended.

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