It’s no secret, but Chester and Gretel aren’t trained very well. Although the aim of this blog, and our public identity, is to break the sterotypes of small dogs I know that we perpetuate at least one big one. Every time Chester and Gretel bark, lunge or snap at another dog when out walking or hiking they are being “little aggressive, barky dogs”.
Chester yips at other dogs when out walking to get their attention – I thought so he could say hi – but has this habit of breaking into fits of barking and lunging if they get to close. Gretel was very anxious around other dogs when I adopted her. She still is somewhat but we have fewer barking and snapping incidents if we keep a good distance between us and other dogs. Avoidance is our M.O.
One place that avoidance doesn’t work is when we are out hiking. We can’t “give space” or cross the street because trails are about 3 feet wide. When we hike, a forced encounter with a dog is inevitable. Sometimes I can manage Chester and Gretel’s reaction by stepping aside on a wider part of the trail and distracting them with treats but I know I am not fixing the underlying issue.
These encounters stress me out and are kind of embarrassing so I decided that I needed to learn more about WHY they were reacting that way and what I could do to make them “normal, nice dogs”. I’ve been looking more into dog behavior and training techniques the last couple of months.
When I was offered a copy of the new book Decoding Your Dog to review, I jumped at the chance. This book was written American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Debra Horwitz, John Ciribassi, and Steve Dale. In the book, these experts analyze problem behaviors and correct common misconceptions we have about why our dogs do what they do. It challenges the way we think about our dogs and shows us how we can prevent or solve common canine behavior problems.
The first chapter on “learning to speak dog” explained dog body language in detail and pointed out some ways that dogs and humans can misunderstand each other (who knew that Gretel staring at me with dilated pupils might mean deference rather than anxiety or over-excitement). After reading it, I felt like I had a good understanding of how to communicate with Chester and Gretel so I could try out some training exercises and, hopefully, be successful.
The most applicable chapter in the book to our little trail outburst problem was the chapter on aggression. As the book points out, aggression such as lunging and snapping can appear to be offensive when it can actually be defensive and rooted in fear. Fear-related aggression may be a last resort for dogs who otherwise cannot escape or flee – like when dogs are cramped together on a 3-foot wide trail. I am pretty sure Chester and Gretel are reacting like they do on the trail because they feel trapped and uncomfortable with the closeness of the other dogs.
While the chapter does not address passing a dog on a hiking trail, it does talk about these same fear-aggression behaviors when walking on a leash around the neighborhood. I want to concentrate on teaching Chester and Gretel to be relaxed and happy when encountering other dogs, instead of anxious and afraid, through behavior modification. I need to start training on our walks around the neighborhood before I can translate them to the trail.
Because of Decoding Your Dog, I can pay even closer attention to what Chester and Gretel “are saying” on our regular walks and notice when they start to react to other dogs. I’ll need to work on commands such as “look at me” and decrease the “comfort zone” distance between us and other dogs until we can reduce the distance to “trail width”.
I haven’t read the whole book yet but I plan to. The book is broken down in sections that are easily read out of order. Because Chester is a senior, the next chapter I am looking forward to is Dogs with an AARF Card: Growing Old With Grace. I am also interested in the chapter on separation anxiety because, although she has come along way since being adopted, Gretel still gets anxious when I am not around.
What is one thing your dog does that bothers you and you would like to work on? Have you ever learned about dog body language and how to “speak dog”?
This post is sponsored by Decoding Your Dog on behalf of the BlogPaws Pet Blogger Network. I am being compensated for my time spent helping spread the word about this book and received a book free in exchange for my honest review. Here at YouDidWhatWithYourWiener, free does not equal good though. Everything said here is really how I feel.