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From Spain to France with Rio, Part 8.

Our big, fluffy Basque sheepdog aged 18 months.
(©) Sue Dayman, Mauroux, France

Recently in the news, the grandmother of a five-year-old girl who was fatally mauled by her dog pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. My three very small grandchildren are here for a long holiday with their parents and all my sociability training of Rio has really been geared up for this. We wanted a canine friend we would be proud to take anywhere as well as being a lot of fun and, most of all, would be safe around children. I have sat on him, pulled his tail, taken his food away; even put my head in his food bowl - all to see how he would react to this being done to him. When he was younger, Rio growled, bared his teeth, and nipped me when I removed a bone from him or went near his food, which made me feel submissive to him as I wasn‘t used to dogs. It wasn‘t actually a bite, only the human equivalent of clipping me round the ear, but it‘s not nice when this happens. I was taught how to use long leather gauntlets to approach him, which gave me the confidence to go straight in there and take from Rio whatever I wanted. This changed my body language so he now interprets us as being the Alphas and he is totally submissive to us. Many dogs can be possessive of their toys or food and this is often how so-called ‘accidents’ happen - when children get bitten - for touching the dog or going near his toys or food. I have also sat in his bed and on his rug, and when we lived in Spain local children used to come into our garden to entertain him, play with his toys and even curl up inside his kennel, under my supervision. None of this behaviour made him jealous or guard anything. What I didn’t bargain for was that Rio would find my adult son, Sean, a challenge!

Upon meeting Rio, Sean, who has never owned a dog or knows anything about dog training but thinks he does because he loves animals, decided he would growl at him. I stopped him immediately, as it’s never a good idea to show aggressive behaviour to a dog, especially as dogs have better weapons than you do: very large teeth. Well, that was it and Rio immediately took a dislike to Sean, growling and curling his lip at him. One evening, Sean was helpfully clearing the plates away after dinner, Rio snarled, showing him his nasty alien face, as if to say ‘where do you think you’re going with my scraps? That’s my mum’s job and my mum’s kitchen, not yours! ‘ Another time Sean, a superb cook, began to prepare a scrumptious meal and wanted Rio out of the kitchen, likely thinking it’s unhygienic to prepare food with a dog present. Rio wouldn’t leave and growled at him again as he took him by the collar. I must admit, I do let Rio lay on the kitchen floor while I’m cooking, have done since he was tiny, so he probably felt he had a right to do so and that he didn‘t have to obey Sean. One beautiful sunny day, Rio was sitting in the garden with the two small girls when Sean walked by. Now, Sean had been working especially hard before this much-deserved-and-needed holiday, and he was waiting for his new home to complete. Therefore, he was feeling very tense, which our intelligent and clever dog could detect. You could hear a low rumbling sound coming from Rio as Sean approached, so he thought he was going to attack his children, as any protective parents would feel if they didn‘t know Rio, who really is all mouth and trousers. ‘There’s something wrong with that dog! He shouted. But I could see by Rio‘s body language that he thought Sean was the threat; luckily his wife Sarah agreed so the scene dissipated. I had to get Sean to relax or he’d never make friends with Rio. However, Rio soon won Sean over. He’d borrowed my bicycle to pop into the village to fetch some forgotten cooking ingredients for me, and Rio went along too, trotting elegantly alongside the bike, no matter how many times he was told to go home. He sat basking in early evening sunshine outside the store waiting for Sean while he did the shopping… then when Sean appeared, Rio went AWOL. He’d spotted a cat on her evening stroll across the village green, then went sprinting after her, chasing her across the cornfields. Sean waited a while for him to return and, knowing dinner was soon to be ready, went off in pursuit of him. He spent a worried time searching and calling to no avail, not wanting to return to the house without him, realising I have protective feelings for Rio like he does for his children and I wouldn‘t be very happy. (Yes, I’ve had children of my own but I’m still as nutty as a fruitcake about my Rio). He returned to the house to tell me the bad news… only to find Rio sitting and waiting expectantly for him outside our front door. Now Sean says: ‘he’s a good dog, he is’. If you knew Sean, you’d know how much this means to me.

And what is Rio like with the children? He acts like he has great respect for our 15 month old grand daughter. She’s only tiny, so when she first arrived she was extremely afraid of such a big shaggy dog puffing and panting in front of her face, so she screamed as his big, black, quivering nose came towards her, which Rio found most amusing as he went ecstatically into play-bow. Over the days and weeks of their holiday here in France she has grown to be fond of him, and has taken to patting him on the head and telling him to sit. She raises her index finger to him as we do, like sign language, for the command to sit and he has obeyed her every time. She then says her baby-speech equivalent of ‘good boy‘. The 3 year old grand daughter started off well by being confident and playful with the dog, but something has changed to make her think she’s not more important than him after all, so he now does a horrid face at her while he‘s eating, to show her to keep away. I tell him off if he does this so he backs down, then give her something to eat in front of him to elevate her position, but she runs away refusing to do it. I’ve asked her repeatedly to eat in front of Rio but she just won‘t. There seems to be a hierarchy going on, similar to that in the wolf pack. As with many children of this age, she doesn’t eat very much, so perhaps to a dog like Rio, it gives him the notion that she’s only a junior in the pack. The younger child absolutely adores her food, so feasts delightfully well while Rio lies quietly on the floor next to her high chair, waiting for edible debris to fall down to him. Rio’s obviously received the message from her that she’s higher in the pack to him. One day she was crawling across the floor and Rio cantered over, towering enormously above her but he still sat when commanded to by her. My youngest grandchild is a little boy aged only 10 months, and right from the start they got on famously. Remember, never leave any child under the age of five unsupervised with a dog….ANY DOG!!! Actually, even older children may not have the correct skills to keep a dog totally under their control or to know what to do if a dog becomes aggressive towards them. If your dog has any problems, then please do contact Alan Newman-Moore for excellent advice and guidance, as we did. It may save having to put your dog to sleep.

More next week.
© Sue Dayman, Mauroux, Lot.


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