life with dogs
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
When shopping for a trainer, look behind the advertising language.
If you live in a big city like I do, you’re overwhelmed with choice for just about any service you can think of. I could get a different coffee and haircut every day of the week and never leave my local neighborhood. This is great, in theory, but how do I choose the best place for my morning latte? Who should I trust to get my hair faded just right?
Choice is also a benefit when you’re looking for a dog trainer, but you can end up facing the same kind of issues, with a lot more riding on the outcome than a bitter drink or a less-than-stellar ’do.
So how do we find the right trainer if we have only Google to go on? Online reviews are hardly fair and balanced, but we don’t always have the luxury of a personal recommendation. The answer is to learn how to interpret the language used on dog-training websites.
Think of a trainer’s website as an infomercial. Although we know it’s designed to convince us to sign up, if we’re savvy we can also pick through the language to find clues about a trainer’s methods and beliefs. Let’s start with the most common word, one that pops up on almost every trainer’s site: effective.
Of course, we all want our dog trainer to be effective. Who would sign up for Dave’s Ineffective Dog Training? We’re spending time and money trying to help our dogs become well-mannered citizens, and we don’t want to feel like our efforts have been wasted. However, there are many different ways to accomplish training goals, some more fraught with potential pitfalls than others. Efficacy is important, but ethics are important too, and are something that trainers also reflect in their word choice.
Words like compassionate, fair and humane indicate what trainers believe about themselves, but they don’t add much clarity for potential clients. All three are subjective terms; what I believe represents compassionate training might not be what you envision. Besides, what counts as humane and compassionate is determined by a trainer’s beliefs about how dogs learn and how best to teach them, so these words raise questions rather than answer them.
Trainers also use a relatively small number of more specific, objective sounding terms on their sites. Because these can provide a general idea of the kinds of things that might happen to a dog during training, it’s useful to understand what they mean. Following is a list of the most commonly used.
Trainers who describe themselves as “force free,” or some variation of “purely positive,” will never deliberately use pain or fear in their training. They will focus on finding ways to reward a good behavior that is incompatible with the behavior they don’t want to see, like sitting politely instead of jumping up on guests. Often, they’ll use a clicker and treats, paired with ignoring the dog when he’s doing something inappropriate.
The key thing to remember here is that although these trainers might see themselves as using only positive, gentle methods, what really matters is how the dog sees things. Force-free trainers who put clients’ dogs in situations where they feel uncomfortable, or who can’t teach their guardians the skills required to carry on after the session, can cause frustration and anxiety and even reinforce undesirable behavior.
Trainers who describe themselves as “balanced” may use everything from electronic collars to clickers in their approach. The balance here is between things designed to punish bad behavior and things designed to reward good behavior. However, not all balanced trainers will use every tool, or the same balance of rewards and punishments. Some will use punishment only in certain cases, others will use it most of the time. Many balanced trainers make distinctions among different breeds of dog, or different types of problems that they believe won’t respond to the kinds of reward-based approaches on which force-free trainers rely.
For example, many balanced trainers claim that although dogs can learn tricks using a clicker and treats, they can be taught to avoid rattlesnakes only by associating the snakes with something unpleasant, like a shock. Force-free trainers strongly disagree with claims like this, which has led to serious rifts within the dog-training community.
LIMA AND HUMANE HIERARCHY
These terms are less common than the previous two, but they are gaining traction in professional circles as a way to explain both an ethical stance and a practical approach to dog training. LIMA stands for “Least Invasive Minimally Aversive,” meaning that with any set of possible interventions, the trainer will always try whatever is least likely to cause pain or punishment first, only moving to more potentially unpleasant options if he or she feels the need. (This position is endorsed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.) The Humane Hierarchy was developed by Dr. Susan Friedman as one way of organizing potential interventions, from most to least punishing. A trainer who uses these terms is engaged with the latest thinking on ethics and wants to display this engagement to potential clients. It’s very unlikely that trainers who align themselves with LIMA will use punishment, especially for basic obedience issues.
BOOT CAMP (and other military terms)
This kind of language usually suggests that the trainer believes in punishment as the best way to manage behavior. Trainers who sell themselves as providing this type of intervention often also subscribe to ideas about dominance and “being the alpha.” They appeal to frustrated owners who are faced with dogs who seem rude and out-of-control, but their approaches can be harsh and lead to suppression, not modification. Trainers who describe themselves or their approach in this controlling, militaristic language are probably best avoided altogether.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR SUBSTANCE
Although being able to parse these terms and understand them gives us more of a picture of how a trainer operates than the words “humane and effective,” it’s clear that each label still represents a spectrum of beliefs and approaches.
The only way to get the clearest possible information is to ask trainers directly. That means you’ve got to shop around, get in front of trainers, and ask unambiguous and substantial questions about what is going to happen to your dog, and why. Dog behavior consultant John McGuigan proposes the following questions, which every trainer ought to easily be able to answer: What will happen to my dog if she gets it right? What will happen to my dog if she gets it wrong? Are there less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
These questions don’t cover everything, and they can’t inoculate you against a marketing spiel, but they’re a good place to start. If you’re not comfortable with the answers you get; if the trainer becomes evasive and starts using concepts like “energy,” talking around the question or invoking his or her years of experience; or if the answer involves anything that is designed to cause pain, to startle or to do anything else unpleasant, think twice. It’s your responsibility to exercise due diligence when choosing a dog trainer, and it’s always better to risk being seen as a busybody than it is to put your dog in a situation you didn’t want or expect.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
These working dogs calm harried travelers.
Traffic on the way to the airport makes you late. Rushing, fearing you’ll miss your flight, you anxiously stand in endless check-in and security lines, annoyed at the delay. Your stress level increases with every passing minute. Finally clearing security, sitting to put your shoes back on, you notice something unusual across the room: an enormous harlequin Great Dane wearing a vest that says, “Pet me!” A smile breaks across your face and your blood pressure immediately drops. You say a quick hello to the dog and rub his soft ears, and the tension of the past hours melts away.
We’re used to seeing security dogs at airports, but those dogs are working— no petting allowed. The “pet me” dogs are a different story altogether, reflecting the industry’s growing understanding that helping passengers destress, especially during busy holiday flying seasons, has value. These dogs are all about being touched!
So far, some 30 airports across the country have therapy dogs on duty, and luckily for travelers, the number is steadily growing. The idea started at California’s Mineta San Jose International Airport shortly after 9/11 as a way to ease traveler jitters. Videos of those dogs at work convinced other airports give it a go.
The distinctively outfitted dogs and their handlers position themselves throughout the airport, from checkin to boarding—wherever passengers can use some calming canine love. Recognizing that not everyone loves dogs, the teams typically remain stationary in an open area so those who wish to greet the dogs can do so while anyone not so fond of dogs can easily avoid them.
One of the most recent converts to the service, North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport, began deploying professionally certified therapy dogs in March 2015. Currently, there are 15 dog/handler teams providing coverage daily between 10 am and 4 pm. Lauri Golden, the airport’s manager of customer engagement, supervises the all-volunteer CLT Canine Crew. “We wanted a way to create a sense of place,” she says. “Our airport is a hub for American Airlines; 70 percent of traffic is connections, so the passengers just see the facility, not the city.”
Initially, Golden worried about finding enough volunteer teams. However, the pilot program created to iron out the logistics was an instant success. “We expected that kids would like the dogs, but even more, it’s the adults benefiting from them,” she says. “They pull out photos of their own dogs; talk about ones recently lost; take selfies; ask the name, age and breed of the dog … lots of questions. The dogs create a gathering, an audience, which creates its own community as people talk to each other, sharing dog stories. They are our superstars.” The demand for teams is high, and Golden is constantly recruiting.
Max the Great Dane and his handler Fred McCraven make up one of the Charlotte teams. “When I asked Fred why he wanted to join, he was so honest: ‘I just want to show off my dog.’ Max is a complete sweetheart!” says Golden.
Fred thoroughly enjoys taking Max to the airport. “Some tourists just light up when they see Max, and take photos,” he says. “Some look at him funny, like, ‘Please don’t bring that big dog near me.’ I try to gauge peoples’ reactions. Even those who don’t come up to touch Max are smiling. I once met a woman who was traveling to her brother’s funeral. Her brother had a Great Dane as well and she took it as a sign her brother was okay.”
Los Angeles World Airports (LAX) was the third to create a therapy dog program, after San Jose and Miami. Heidi Heubner is director of Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) and volunteer programs for LAX. PUP, which launched in April 2013 with 30 teams, now has 52, allowing them to have dogs in most terminals every day of the week. Each PUP dog has his or her own baseball card–style ID, which is given to passengers as a keepsake.
Heubner enjoys observing the interactions between volunteer teams and passengers. “The dogs bring strangers together,” she says. “We’re often afraid to talk, or are on our devices, but with the dogs, people are sharing stories and photos of their own dogs, talking about where they’re going. I never get tired of watching them. Sometimes my face hurts from smiling so much, watching them in action and listening to what the passengers are saying.”
Therapy teams are also called upon to calm passengers when things don’t go as planned, Heubner notes. “One day, a f light was cancelled. A f light attendant asked if one of the dogs could visit with the passengers. The passengers loved it, were saying, ‘Who cares that we’re delayed! It was worth it to see the dogs.’”
Airport therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds but the thing they have in common is that they’re all certified by one of the country’s therapy-dog organizations; for example, Charlotte and LAX use teams certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. New teams do an initial walk-through at the facility to make sure the dog is comfortable with the noises, smells and crowds of strangers. If that goes well, they’ll go through a more thorough vetting, with the human half of the team undergoing background and security checks. Once approved, teams typically work one day a week.
Dog-loving passengers rave about the programs. A letter sent to the Charlotte program expresses an often-repeated sentiment: It was like having my pups with me though they are miles away. The stress that is lifted when you see and touch a dog, it’s indescribable and it was the best part of my trip today. I cannot thank you, the staff that implemented the program, the handlers and the dogs enough for this remarkable program.
Clearly, these programs are positive for passengers and airport staff, but they’re also proving beneficial for the handlers. “Max has made me a better person,” says Fred. “I’m not a very social person, sort of a lone wolf, but taking Max to the airport has gotten me out and around people, improved my social skills. And it puts me in a good mood. Last week I had a bad day at work. I took Max to the airport and came home in a totally different mood.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When people don’t recognize evasive actions.
Out on a walk today with a sweet dog who is a bit fearful, I saw a man with two rambunctious, though also sweet, dogs headed our way. Knowing that the dog with me would be stressed by (and possibly react to) those dogs, I crossed the street. No big deal. Crossing the street while walking dogs to avoid any number of possible triggers—runners, bikers, skateboarders, scary lawn art, plastic window coverings flapping in the wind, children riding in red wagons, other dogs—is second nature to me after two decades of working with dogs with behavioral issues. Most people with dogs realize what I am doing, we pass by one another in peace, and that’s the end of it.
Today, we did not pass by one another in peace, and that was not the end of it. The man crossed the street, as I had, so we were now on the same side. That’s happened before, because occasionally when I am trying to get out of someone’s path, I end up going right where that person was headed. So, I did the obvious thing and crossed back over the side where I had come from, but then he did that, too. At this point, I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed (Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize I’m trying to avoid his dogs?) or scared (I clearly want to get away, so why doesn’t he want me to get away?)
Here’s how our conversation went, starting with me.
“My dog won’t act well if our dogs greet. I’m trying to give her some space.”
“Oh, don’t worry! My dogs are friendly and love every dog!”
“I’m not worried about your dog. I’m concerned about mine, She’s shy!”
“Oh, they’ll be find! She probably just needs to socialize.”
“No, she needs more distance. I’m going to keep moving away. Please stop following me.”
And then we ran.
Thankfully, the guy with the dogs did not follow us, and we were happy to run for several blocks until he was no longer in sight.
The entire exchange was irritating. I’m trying to increase the distance between the dog with me and other dogs, and I even said so in very direct terms. Why must people insist on trying to close the space? I realize that some people have had the luxury of never knowing a dog who needs some space or tends to react to many aspects of the world, but that is no excuse for ignoring a clear request. I could not have stated my intentions or the needs of the dog any more plainly.
Have you had an issue with someone who refused to give you and your dog the space you wanted and needed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
1. He needs a job. Dogs love to work. Well, some breeds do, and my Louis is a mix of many of them. He’s a rescue, some sort of Australian Shepherd/Border Collie/Terrier/lunatic cross. He’s tested our patience with his energy and psychological issues. But we love him and have always forgiven his youthful exuberance, assuming it would pass as he aged. It did not. A few months back, I dug out an old canine backpack and tried it on Louis. “You have a job now, son,” I told him. “Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to wear this pack. Time to leave that crazy behavior behind and set an example for the others.” He stood there for a minute wondering how he got hired, decided the pack felt okay and agreed to my terms. As we walked, he seemed more focused, stayed closer to my side, stopped tugging and pretty much changed how I feel about dog walking forever.
2. It calms him down. Something happened to this dog before we got him. Something bad enough to make him afraid of many, many things. Cars are number one on the list. Fight or flight? How about both? A car comes along, Lou tenses, trembles, starts lunging and barking, then—when he fails to pull off my arm—bites at my leg. A trainer helped me get him over the worst with a combination of Cheese Whiz, clicker training and sweet talk. But the pack is what really did the trick. Like a Thundershirt, a pack can make a dog feel more secure. I still talk Louis though every vehicle, but he’s 95 percent better.
3. He carries my stuff. I never have enough pockets on a walk. Gloves, hat, phone, extra baggies, rain jacket: they get zipped into the right pocket (right for “right side to put my things”) of the pack or tucked under the elastic webbing on top. My smallest dog runs leash-free on the trail and his leash now has a place to go besides around my waist (irritating) or neck (dangerous). On the way home, we pick up the mail. This is something I could never do before. Handling three dogs plus full poop bags plus mail would be doable, but throw in a squirrel and game over. The mail is in the road, the poop bag has busted open and I’m screaming in the street like a mad woman.
4. He carries his “stuff.” There is no better way to carry poop. Anyone who has ever felt the fat, warm slap of a full bag swinging against their leg knows that carrying it yourself is just totally unappealing. Tying the bag to a leash risks tangling or tearing (eww) and fastening it to the dog’s collar just seems humiliating. Colorful bags only do so much to disguise the disgusting, and forget about reusing those see-through produce bags. Even on an unusually productive day, Louis can carry all three dogs’ offerings, and he does it without complaining. Full bags go in the left side. (Left for “best left alone, there’s poop in there.”)
5. He looks great. Oh yes. His looks have always been number one on Lou’s short list of redeeming qualities. Now that Hollywood face has red-carpet style to match. He may still be a bad boy on the inside, but he’s a supermodel on the outside.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Think your daily commute is extreme? Then you may not have heard about two trips made by chemist, engineer and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin in 2008 and 2009: from Earth to the International Space Station and back. When it was time for his official portrait to be taken at Houston’s Johnson Space Center in 2009, Melvin was determined to have two of his biggest fans in the picture with him: his rescue dogs, Jake and Scout. Since NASA’s a dog-free workplace, getting them into the building required some fancy footwork. Once inside and dressed for the occasion in his orange spacesuit, Melvin was joyfully mobbed by his dogs, the photographer started shooting and the rest is viral history. Later, when asked about the photograph, Melvin said, “They were my boys. … It changed my life having those two dogs.” Read about Melvin’s inspirational career in his new memoir, Chasing Space, available in adult and young readers’ editions.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Whistle (and bark) while you work
This Friday marks the annual Take Your Dog to Work Day—created by Pet Sitters International to celebrate the great companionship dogs offer and promote their adoption. Since its inception in 1999, TYDTWDay® has brought awareness to dogs in the workplace and help encouraged the practice. Today, being able to bring one’s dog to work is a bonafide perk—right up there with great health benefits and a gourmet lunchroom. In speaking to companies who welcome dogs, some best practices jump out. If your company is considering instituting a dog-friendly policy or looking to tweak their existing program, take note …
Best practices employed by dog-friendly companies
It is common practice to require a 2-week or 1-month trial or probationary period to see if the dog (and people) work well together. It is only after the trial period that the dog is officially granted “office visits” status. This lets people know that nothing should be taken for granted and that people and dogs have to be on their best behavior. This is a practice recommended to offices rolling out a dog-friendly policy.
Some companies required dogs to wear work ID badges, photo and all—including dog’s name, office location, owner’s name and telephone … it comes in handy more than you’d think.
The main points of responsibility to get across to people is that dogs should never be left by themselves or permitted to wander. Any issues of aggression or even high alertness (ie. barking when somebody enters a room) should be addressed. A dog doesn’t need to growl and bare his teeth to be disruptive.
Over time, there will probably be dogs who are so well adjusted and mellow, that they may be able to wander the office or hang out at various (sunny) spots on the premises. Most dog-friendly offices have these kinds of “roaming” dogs. But you don’t start out that way. Abiding by rules and agreed upon structure are essential when rolling out a program.
Like any other new program that requires employees to have ownership, it might help to put together a small group of workers, dog owners, management and non-dog owners to work out the rules and regulations. Trupanion, the Seattle-based pet insurance company has a great program that is led by a committee who meet quarterly (or when needed) to review policies, mitigate issues and develop dog-related programs.
Dog owners need to understand that having a dog-friendly office is a privilege and not a right— so everybody needs to be committed to making it work.
Autodesk (San Rafael, CA) is one of the first software companies to allow employees to bring their dogs to work back in the early 1980s. According to company lore, programmers worked such long hours that they began bringing their canine companions to the office so they didn’t have to run home to feed and walk them. Recognition of a dog-friendly workplace is so key to the company culture, that it is even written into Autodesk’s corporate bylaws. About 5 percent of the company’s 9,000+ employees take advantage of this benefit. Other perks include offering a dog insurance group plan and dog training classes scheduled during lunchtime.
Autodesk shared their ten-point rules for a successful dog-friendly work environment:
1. Dogs are to be kept on a leash when inside company facilities.
2. Dogs should stay with their owner or designated watcher at all times and should be in the employee’s office when the employee is there (in cubicles baby gates are often employed or dogs are tethered).
3. Dogs with fleas are not to be brought to the office.
4. Dogs are not allowed into bathrooms or into the café serving and seating areas.
5. Dogs are not to brought into meetings.
6. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs should the dog have an accident inside the facilities.
7. Employees are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs outside the buildings. All receptionists have “doggy bags” for this purpose.
8. If a dog has three accidents inside the building the dog will need to stay at home at least until the owner can demonstrate that the dog has been through some kind of training program to mitigate the issue.
9. Any incident of aggressive behavior by a dog is unacceptable and the dog may not be brought back to work. Loud, repetitive barking or eating another employee’s food is also not acceptable.
10. Employees with allergies to animals may ask a dog owner not to bring a dog to the office if that dog makes it difficult for the allergic employee to work.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Canine amenities include pet beds, crates, bowls, washing stations, doors and even a designated pet water bowl filler
As our lives revolve around our beloved critters more, we need to make space for them. If you have at least a medium-size laundry room, or a combined laundry room-mudroom, it’s prime real estate for dog needs. Pet-washing stations can also double as a place to rinse off muddy boots and rinse out laundry. And if well-planned, these rooms can also provide space for pet beds and crates, food and treats, toys and leashes. See how some people are outfitting their laundry rooms to work for their dogs too.
Grooming. Pet washing stations can be quite handy, and the laundry is an ideal place for them. A dirty dog doesn’t make it past the mudroom before cleaning up, and they are also a good place to clean off muddy cleats and let snowy boots drip dry.Photo by mdt design - Look for laundry room pictures
An elevated dog bath is a good option for those with bad backs and knees who have small to medium-sized dogs. It can also double as a utility sink. But the main reason I absolutely had to include this photo is because the dogs in the photo match the dogs on the wallpaper.
Wallpaper: ThibautPhoto by Harrison Design - Look for laundry room design inspiration
Beds and crates. Rather than lower cabinets, these built-ins incorporate a dog bed. Yellow and white stripes and beadboard make it a cheerful design asset as well.
The designers did a great job of maximizing this laundry room wall to fit in a pet washing station and bed.Photo by Woodshapers - Discover laundry room design ideas
These clever Murphy dog beds fit right in with the rest of the cabinetry, then flip down for nap time. Though narrowness doesn’t appear to be a problem in this laundry room, this is a clever solution for a tighter space. You can flip the dog bed up if you need the room to access a front-loading washer or dryer.
Built-in dog crates are another good option. Cabinetmakers can trick out cabinets to serve as dog crates for a seamless look.Photo by Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry - Search laundry room design ideas
Pet food. Keeping pet food close to where the pets eat makes mealtime easy. Laundry-mudrooms are often a convenient place to set this up.
The space under a utility sink is prime for a domesticated version of a trough. Pet bowls slip right into custom holes for easy filling. They stay in place rather than sliding all over the floor when a hungry dog is going to town on them.Photo by Jenkins Custom Homes - Look for laundry room pictures
Easy entering and exiting. This laundry room has a motorized pet door. The door opens when the pets wearing their power door collars want to go in and out, thanks to directional ultrasonic detection circuitry.
Electronic pet door: High Tech Pet
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Enhancing the neighborhood one house at a time
I love my neighborhood because it is unpretentious, the wide streets have sidewalks and it’s full of dog lovers. Besides the large number of dogs out on walks, the most obvious sign of that is the popularity of dog-themed welcome mats. My favorite is the one that says, “We’re so excited to see you we don’t know whether to pee on the floor or tear up the couch,” though the classic “Wipe Your Paws” is a close second.
My next door neighbors recently purchased the fashionable, “Ask not for whom the dog barks, it barks for thee.” Around the corner I just saw a doormat that reads, “Please remove your shoes. The dog needs something to chew on.” I got a chuckle when I visited a neighbor who was just putting out a new mat that reflects the state of things in her house: “Our dog flunked out of obedience school. He’s back, living here at home.” I laughed a little harder when she told me that she almost bought the one that said, “Ring the doorbell and let me sing you the song of my people. –The Dog”.
We’ve come a long way since the only dog-related expression one saw outside of someone’s door was “Beware of Dog”. Today, you are far more likely to see a welcome mat that says, “We like big mutts and we cannot lie” or “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.” It’s quite common to welcome people into a house with a mat that says, “Welcome Diversity” and features a graphic with dogs of different shapes and sizes. Another option I’ve seen multiple times is the one that lets people know the inhabitants value “Peace, Love & Muddy Paws”.
Does your welcome mat pay homage to the canine members of your family?
[What We Are Reading]
There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:
“… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”
And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”
And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.
Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.
And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”
She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:
“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"
Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.
What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?
News: Guest Posts
The importance of evaluating the responses
Kids are taught to ask permission before petting a dog with some variation of “May I please meet your dog?” This simple question has the potential to avoid unpleasant interactions, but only if kids are taught how to interpret the possible answers, especially those that are nuanced. The answer might be a simple, “Yes.” It could also be a straightforward “No” for any number of reasons: it’s not safe to pet the dog, the dog will feel uncomfortable if the child attempts to interact, or even that someone is on a tight schedule and doesn’t have time for a meet-and-greet. The person may also seem hesitant but not actually say no, or give an answer that conveys serious concern.
The clear “Yes” answers are easy to figure out. It’s common for people to reply to a request to meet a dog with some variant of “Sure, she loves people!” “He would love that!” or “Absolutely, thanks for asking!” In that case, there is a good chance that the person expects a positive interaction between a child and a dog. They might be wrong, but there’s no sense of worry or concern being expressed, which is encouraging, and it makes sense for kids to approach the dog.
Similarly, a definite “No” from the person is also clear. If a person declines the request, kids should respect that and not approach the dog. Common ways that people prevent an interaction are by saying, “I’m sorry, but she doesn’t like kids,” “She’s too shy, it will upset her,” or “I think not because everything scares her.” They might even say, “No, because she’ll try to bite you.” People who answer in this general way know that the dog can’t handle it and that it would be a mistake to let a child meet the dog.
Unfortunately, there are two general categories of answers that can be ambiguous, and too few children have been taught to understand them. The first set of such answers is generally positive with mild reservations. These usually indicate that the people are not concerned about their dog being aggressive, but they feel embarrassed about some aspect of their dog. These replies are along the lines of, “Okay, but she’s very excitable,” or “Yes, but she may jump on you.” Sometimes people just offer a warning that is not behavioral, such as “If you don’t mind getting a lot of fur on you!” In most cases, these responses are not deal breakers for a meeting, but it does depend on the size of the child as well as the size and enthusiasm level of the dog. If the person expresses that their dog is unruly or shedding, it’s okay to answer, “I don’t mind dog hair,” or “I don’t think jumping up will put a dark blot on her character!” as long as the dog is not so powerful or out of control that someone could get knocked over. This requires a judgment call, and the most conservative approach is for kids not to meet dogs after such replies. At the very least, kids should proceed with caution.
Another set of answers can be more worrisome, and kids need to learn that they should not pet a dog if the people say things along the lines of, “That would probably be okay,” or “Well, she’s shy, but we can see how she does,” or “If she’ll let you. I’m not sure because sometimes she can’t handle it.” All of these replies show that a person is in the hope-and-fear zone. (“I hope it will be okay, but I fear that it will not be.”) There is a great risk that the interaction could be troubling for the child or the dog. Kids should be taught that the correct action upon hearing such remarks is not to approach the dog. A simple, “Oh, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to upset her, but thanks anyway,” is a good phrase to teach kids for such situations.
There are endless possible answers when a child asks, “May I please meet your dog?” The “Yes” and the “No” replies are easy to understand. The former tells you it’s likely to be a positive interaction and the latter lets you know that the person knows the dog can’t handle it and has clearly said so. It’s those intermediate answers that require more careful interpretation. I’m always in favor of avoiding risks and erring on the side of caution when it comes to meeting dogs whose people seem hesitant about having anyone—especially a child—approach. If the answer gives any hint that it might not go well or might distress the dog, it’s best to decline.
Of course, all of this general advice assumes that people have the right read on their dog, and that is not always the case. They may think the dog loves all people, even when the dog’s body language reveals that the dog is terrified and wants a child to go away. That’s why it’s still important for kids to learn how to tell that a dog is behaving in a fearful and/or threatening way. The people’s responses to a request to meet a dog are only one stream of information we can use to decide whether to approach a dog. Still, there’s often a lot of truth in what they say, which is why children should be taught to evaluate those responses and act accordingly.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc