Friday, October 26, 2007

Canine Body Language - what does it mean?

While some dogs are fabulous at it right from puppy hood, others have to learn it from their puppy and adult counterparts - usually by making a mistake and not understanding the sign; and some just don't ever get it. It's something we, as humans, just can't teach them -- but you can help them out if you know what to look for, so you can guide your dog to behave in the proper manner when you see the signal. Remember to keep the leash loose and coach them through the greeting, so that your dog can probably greet and signal the other dog. Tight leashes cause frustration from your arm, all the way down the leash -- that's how "leash aggression" gets started.

I walk Harleigh off-leash in my neighborhood for a couple of reasons. 1. She is 8 years old and is under total voice control; 2. We meet oodles of puppies and obnoxious adolescent dogs on our walk -- this allows her to show them to keep their distance or calmly go around her (she isn't constricted by a leash or too close to me to interfere with any signals she is sending); 3. She is small and non-threatening to people and dogs; 4. She doesn't spook at trucks, fireworks, Blue Angels, etc. (that would be a definite safety issue requiring leashing).

A great example is the puppy in class playing who gives appropriate appeasement gestures. While it is being bullied by another puppy, the appeasing puppy simply lies on its back or side and doesn't move. Who is in control? -- it's the puppy lying down - not the bully. If the puppy lying down doesn't move, the bully usually gives up and retreats and finds someone else to tackle. The puppy lying down is controlling its environment and its interactions completely.

Another point, one day at Crissy Field, a large Husky came running from across the beach at full speed toward Harleigh, who was on the path. I was getting a little nervous, I admit but I cleared the way, so she was clearly seen by the oncoming dog. She calmly stood still and turned her head to the side. (Remember running, instigates a chase.) The Husky got to about 4 feet away, slammed on it's brakes when he realized what she was doing, and made a complete U-turn and ran the other way. That's an incredible dog that was able to read her body language and take appropriate action. I hope while you are at the park now, you will notice these kinds of interactions.

While you are working with your dog, look for signals like:
Lip Licking
These can be signs of frustration or confusion. While Turid Rugaas, noted author below, calls them calming signals -- there are many others who refer to them as displacement signals. Have you asked your dog to SIT, SIT, SIT, and when she finally does, she starts scratching behind her ear. Have you asked your dog to sit and stay at the curb, and they look at you and yawn. These are all signs that things are a bit difficult, please make it a little easier for me. Or I have done this so many times now and I am confused why are we still doing this. I don't like to put words coming out of a dog's mouth -- but those are the types of meanings behind those behaviors we see when training.

And just a reminder -- a wagging tail does not always mean happiness -- it is arousal and depending on the carriage of really high, high, medium to low, it can mean different things. Too much for me to go into -- but you get the idea. Same with hair raised on the back -- again it is arousal -- it's not necessarily a bad thing - and each dog is different as to how quickly it's hair raises and what causes it. An observant owner notices when this happens with their dog and comes to realize the causes.

Stay observant,
The Puppy Nanny

Pictures from Turid Rugaas website:

Turid Rugaas - "On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

101 Reasons to Carry Kibble in Your Pocket

There's probably more than 101 reasons to carry kibble in your pocket, but it's a good start. Somewhere I will actually write all 101 reasons, but this is a great place to start, one at a time. I'll make reason #1, the one that inspired me to write this -- it happened to me at the park today - and fortunately I had kibble in my pocket to help someone else.

1) Your dog has taken another dog's ball/toy at the park. Your dog plays keep away with its new found object of desire and the poor other dog looks very sad and confused. Your dog won't even come near you when you approach because it has always found that the keep-away game is fun and works. So, offer a treat, approach very slowly or run the other direction if necessary; request a sit - say the word "drop" as the treat is placed near their nose, and -voilĂ ! - the ball drops, you pick up the ball, your dog gets the treat, and everyone is more or less happy. (Of course, the underlying issue here, teaching your puppy dog to only touch their toys and not take anyone elses - but that's an entirely different chapter.)

2) - 101) To come . . .

Until the next inspiration,

The Puppy Nanny

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why we go to the park in the first place . . .

I wanted to share something that happened to me recently. I live on in the Richmond and visit Mt. Lake Park on a regular basis. There is an entrance from 8th Avenue that leads right up into the park where the dog run is. I have normally thought of the dog run area as pretty safe since the street is way behind it and while a dog could escape, if you were paying attention, it wouldn't be a problem.

As I was walking down Lake Street passed the 8th Avenue entrance, a little black dog was running around and it came up to me, then it checked out some people behind me -- I asked them if it was there dog since it was running around off leash, and I didn't remember seeing them with a dog earlier. It was not their dog -- and there was no other person around, no one getting out of a car, no one walking down the steps from the park.

So, I figured he was an escapee -- and I called him to follow me up to the park, he took off ahead and before I could get up there since I'm still not walking at canine speed, he was wrestling around with another pup. I recognized someone I knew and asked who the little black dog belonged to and she pointed to a gentleman sitting in the grass with a bunch of people chatting. So I told him his dog was out running around on Lake Street and I that I had ushered him back to the park. Acting very hohum, they essentially had a conversation with the dog asking him "what he as doing down there - naughty dog".

Excuse me -- Naughty Person - roll up the newspaper and hit yourself in the head. Fortunately, a happy ending for everyone. So - please don't be the person who sits around at the park, chatting away with people, drinking your coffee, while your dog runs out of the park and down the street and you have not even noticed! It was just a painful reminder for me as to how many people get so absorbed in their dog park social life - they forget why they are there in the first place.

Safety to all,

The Puppy Nanny