Sunday, 4 October 2009

GRRRR - BAD DOG


I am sad to see that many many dog owners do not really understand what our furry friends are saying to us and without meaning to can make a dog become aggressive.
Pretty much everyone understands a happy dog, tail flying, relaxed happy mouth and eyes. Its when the dog is not happy that the communication problems arise.
This is made worse still if the owner is constantly putting themselves under stress to be the 'pack leader' (more about that another time)
Dogs have many many different signals to tell us they are unhappy, many are very slight and quick and us clumsy humans miss them.
What we do notice is when our dog growls. It may be the case that your dog has been trying to communicate lots and lots that it is not happy in a situation, and what dogs do is they build up the communication. They start with a little head turn or a tiny licking of the lips, mibby they will sniff the ground. But us silly humans just don't notice - or worse still we mistake this for the dog being disobedient, stubborn or just plain 'at it'
How do we respond to that?
More likely we get a little angry or more insistent that the dog does the thing it isnt happy with.
Lets imagine in this case we are taking the dog to greet a child.
It is trying its best to tell you it is not comfy being dragged over to this strange unpredictable small thing.
You keep dragging it because toddler wants to meet fluffy.
Fluffy tries and tries to tell you it is not comfy in this situation.
What is the next step? Fluffy now shows its teeth and mibby even growls at the child.

This is NOT aggression - this is a GOOD DOG telling you it really isnt happy in the situation.
But what do we do??
Now we really punish the dog, that is BAD BAD BAD, dont you EVER growl at children.

So what has Fluffy learnt here??
It was correct that the little humans make bad things happen.
Its human doesn't understand its 'errmm, I am a little unsure here' signals - so there is no point using them.
Growling gets you punished - better not growl any more.

Human is happy and thinks 'what a good dog trainer I am, look I stopped Fluffy growling at children'

But the problem is ALL you have done is taught the dog not to warn you it is not happy, you have not solved the problem of the fact that the dog is not comfy in the presence of children.
So at the least you have a dog who is not happy - but if the situation gets worse, say that unhappy dog, around a child where it is expecting bad things to happen and the child reaches out for the dog - or something else that makes the dog feel even more scared - what can the dog do?? It has no warnings it wants to use cos it will get punished - better to just attack swiftly

It makes me feel sick just to post that. Of course this dosent happen in all cases or in even many cases but you can see that

Punishing a dog for growling can make a ticking time bomb

(For those of you reading this on facebook the video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj7BWxC6iVs )

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