Scary Dogs Need Protection Too

When you have a big, scary German shepherd like Leo with a big, scary bark, you get used to other people thinking they need to keep their dogs (or their small children) safe from your dog.

Meanwhile, my job is to keep Leo safe from situations that overwhelm him.

Since last month’s “That’s a dangerous dog” debacle, I have trained Leo to wear a basket muzzle. He tolerates it, but if I go too long between cheese rewards, he wants to throw himself on the ground and rub the muzzle off on the grass. Also, I have to get down real low to get the cheese in his mouth.

It’s a tool I’m happy to have, but I do not know whether it would actually stay on were he to lunge mightily or scrap with another dog.

We haven’t yet walked past anyone while training with it, but I expect people will either:

  1. Feel safer because he can’t bite them, or
  2. Be terrified of the dangerous, muzzle-wearing dog, so they stay far, far away.

Both outcomes are equally satisfying to me.

Now that I am jogger-reactive, we’ve been spending more time at the dog park. Trust me, I would rather walk my dogs. My first choice at the park is to be the only dogs there (pictured above). But during the summer, when all the people are out, leash-reactive yet well-socialized Leo is safer in a fenced yard designated for off-leash dogs.

He proved this last week when another dog picked a fight. I had already decided it was time to leave because three kids under 12 had arrived with a medium-sized, pointy-eared black dog. I watched a flip-flop-wearing girl, maybe 8 years old, topple over onto the ground. She moved like toddler. Probably because of the flip-flops. She ran toward Mom and I said, “Careful about running at the dog park!” just as Leo grabbed the bottom of the giggling girl’s shirt. Mom said, “I told you. If you run, someone’s going to think you need chasing.”

Good job, Mom, I thought. But I also noticed her saying to her dog warningly, “Indy. Indyyyyy,” while her dog was nosing around Mia’s face. I wasn’t concerned, though I should have been, because the tone of that “Indyyyy” meant that the woman knew her dog was not trustworthy.

Mia was not ready to leave, so I followed her around until she let me catch up and leash her. During this time, Leo enjoyed a good chase with a flirtatious chocolate lab puppy, joined by Indy, who body-checked the lab. All typical dog-park shenanigans.

The chase ended near the woman and her kids. Again, I heard, “Indyyyyy.” And then Indy was all up in Leo’s grill. Not a Hey, you grabbed my girl’s shirt 10 minutes ago correction, but a legit, challenging, I want to fight you snarl, gnashing at Leo’s head.

Leo wasn’t having it. He barked back, but no fight escalated. He backed away from Indy, positioning himself right in front of me. I said, “You’re fine,” snapped his leash on, and left, without making eye contact with anyone.

Indy’s male person said, “I’ve never seen him do that before!”

Yes, you have. Or your lady has. At the very least, she knew he was capable of it.

To her credit, she knew it was time to leave. I heard a “Let’s go,” and they left right after I did. I feel for her. I’ve been that person, and she has it harder than I do. She has to entertain that dog plus three kids. The dog park is the wrong outlet, and I’m hoping she realizes that now.

So there, irate track coach who knows nothing about Leo. He is not a dangerous dog. He didn’t maul the running child, and he didn’t fight the dog that wanted to fight him. Even if he had done either of those things, I was right there to step in and minimize the damage. That’s in my job description of keeping him safe. And is why I never let my guard down.

He did bark at a floofy dog coming into the park as we left, and probably that dog’s person was like, “Good thing that dangerous dog left before we got here.”

On the ride home, Leo didn’t bark at a thing. Not even bicycles, and we passed a few. I kept catching his eye in the rearview mirror. He must have been pretty charged up from the near-fight, but he looked so cute and happy, the wind from the open window blowing through his fur.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Summer Safety, but all posts are welcome.

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Little-known fact about senior shepherds

Recently, while admiring my pups, a woman asked if Mia was mixed with another breed. We don’t know for sure, but we’ve assumed she was a purebred German shepherd.

I asked the woman why she asked, and she thought Mia looked part Husky!

She wasn’t always this gray. Who knew that as they get older, senior German shepherds turn into Huskies!

Join the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop, hosted by Blog Paws!

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Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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Top 5 Positive Pet Training Tools for Reactive Dogs

harnesses

This month’s theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is training tools. I thought I’d give you the rundown of five things that have made a huge difference in my life with my dogs.

5. Food puzzles

In the wild, animals spend most of their time looking for and eating their food. When we feed our dogs a cup of kibble in a bowl at 7 a.m., and they’re done by 7:05, what are they supposed to do with the rest of their day? Stuffed Kongs are popular. We’ve been feeding our dogs dinner from puzzles for a few years now, and as I mentioned in last month’s post, I got them Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramids for Christmas.

Dinnertime now lasts, like, 20-30 minutes as my guys fling these guys around the house, grain-free kibble spewing every which way. Reminscent of Isis and her Squirrel Dude.

Last week we could not find the red one anywhere. And it’s not a small thing! Usually we can find them under a chair or something, but it was nowhere! Until I walked into the bedroom after dropping Rob off at work and found it wedged under a dresser drawer in the bedroom. Last time I saw Mia with it, she was in the kitchen.

4. Freedom Harness

Neither of our dogs right now are pullers, but even if you “just” have a Barker and Lunger, it’s really great to have a leash that fastens on the front and back of their harness. Freedom Harnesses fit my dogs better than that other brand of front-fastening harness that was bought by a company that sells shock collars, so I no longer endorse it.

3. Halti

civic field

Not for every dog, but I thought I’d tried everything to get Isis to stop pulling. A head halter collar, in combination with a back-fastening harness, accompanied by a reinforcing clicker, changed the game for us. Some argue that Haltis are aversive, but I think it depends on the dog, and Dr. Sophia Yin says it depends on how you use it. Certainly it’s less aversive than the other stuff recommended to us.

2. Calming Cap

Another game-changer. We use it primarily in the car to reduce the stimulation for Leo. Thanks to the Calming Cap, he’s no longer in the habit of looking for things to bark at out the window. Funny story, some “trainer” found my earlier post about the Calming Cap and posted it to her FB page, saying something like “Seriously? This is a thing? How about you try training your dog instead of blindfolding it.” I wrote a very helpful comment explaining how we use it, and that it’s handy in situations when you are not able to focus on training (like when you’re driving a car), and she deleted the comment. Troll.

1. Cheese.

You knew it was going to be cheese, right?

Positive TrainingThis is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag n’ Woof Pets and Travels with Barley. Join the fun! Our theme for this month is Training Tools, but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long.

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Running out of Cheese

baker-dogs-2017

In my last post, I wrote about a de-facto off-leash area. If everyone else’s dogs are off leash, why can’t ours be?

For me, it’s an issue of manners. People who don’t have reactive dogs (or people who don’t KNOW their dogs are reactive, especially those whose dogs are small) think it’s perfectly fine for their dog to run up to a person or another dog. When other dogs are off leash and my dogs are off leash, there is no problem. In that situation, Leo doesn’t have much interest in the humans. Unless they’re moving particularly fast. Or on wheels.

Even so. Leo probably would not run up to a jogger or cyclist (or cross-country skier) and bite them if he were off leash. Probably not. But that’s not a risk I can take with a 98-pound German shepherd. Unfortunately, when he is confined to a leash, he is extremely likely to bark and lunge and act very scary as one of these fast-moving humans passes by. See my problem? Everything would go better for everyone if Leo were off leash (probably). But since I can’t assume that everyone we meet will be okay with my dog running up to them, I keep him on a leash.

Last year, we took the dogs to play in the snow on Mount Baker and didn’t see another soul on the trail. This year, the little parking area was full, so we knew we wouldn’t be alone. I was not overly concerned, because the trail is fairly wide, with good visibility, and I had cheese. When I saw people approaching, I called Leo back to me, leashed him, and cheesed him until they passed. It worked brilliantly. Our counter-conditioning has been a terrific success.

It became clear that this was a de-facto off-leash area, so I stopped calling Leo to me when the people approaching had a dog. Except this one couple who took one look at Leo from afar and shouted at their own dog. Their doodle retreated behind their legs, and Leo stayed frozen, staring. Several hundred feet away from the dog. (Mia was close enough, and we leashed her). I called Leo, and omigod, he came right back to me! As I cheesed him, the couple passed, and the man said, “We just had a bad experience with a German shepherd,” explaining their panic.

bakerdogs2-2017

I felt that we and our dogs were behaving very appropriately and responsibly. It’s so rewarding to take them on outings that are more exciting than a walk around the sports complex or half an hour at the dog park. Everything was going just splendidly.

Until we ran out of cheese.

Not a problem at first. When a pair of slow-moving snow-shoers (actually, one was carrying her snow shoes) passed us, I moved Leo off to the side, plopped down in the snow and scratched his chest and told him what a good dog he was. He stayed calm, saw them, unconcerned. I was as proud as I could be.

After that, there were two or three incidents that did not go so well. The kind involving my holding onto his harness while he barked real scary-like. It’s not his fault. We ran out of cheese.

You know the spoon theory? It’s kind of like that. Also known, in the parlance of dog training, as trigger stacking.

While Leo was regressing, so was I. I had a flashback to the emotional, desperate, discouraging times when I felt like I couldn’t take Isis anywhere. To running up ahead of Rob on the trail to warn people that we had a dog with us that was freaking out. That nervous, awkward “ha ha ha, sorry about that” exchange, when really what I’m feeling is mortified and guilty. Why did I think we could bring our dog with us to a public trail?

That feeling faded once the cross-country skiers were out of sight, and we were back in the car. I reassured myself that we are allowed to take our dogs for a walk in the snow. Other people had off-leash dogs. Leo didn’t hurt anyone. We were responsible. And I tucked that little seed of a question away in the back of my mind: What if we just let him off-leash the whole time? Wouldn’t everything go better for everyone? Because no. I’d be less embarrassed, but I’d still be rude.

 

The Off-Leash Gray Area

Snowy Crime Scene Field

There’s this field near our house. We call it the Crime Scene Field. I consider it a de facto off-leash area because other people play with their dogs off leash there, and there’s no sign saying not to. Basically, if there’s no one around, we play off leash. If we see someone, we leash them.

On a recent snow day, I unleashed the dogs as soon as we arrived, but then I saw a man in the distance with an off-leash golden retriever. I called the dogs back and leashed them because I didn’t know if this guy wanted his dog to play with mine. It’s called manners. We kept walking, allowing him to see us and decide for himself. He called his dog and left. Asked and answered.

We alternated between walking on leash and off, and every time the dogs ran back to me, I rewarded them with cheese. As we were heading out, a big black dog barreled toward my leashed dogs. This was what I wanted to keep my dogs from doing to the golden retriever. Made worse because my dogs were on leash, and Leo is leash-reactive. This may be controversial, but when an unleashed dog comes up to us, my feeling is that it’s only fair for my dogs to be off leash as well. If Leo is unencumbered, the situation is less likely to escalate.

I unclipped Leo, which was uneventful. Mia barked at the other dog, and after I unclipped her, they got a little snarly. Leo stood his ground and barked at the other dog. Not a big scary bark, in my opinion. He does this at the park sometimes when he gets impatient with another dog. It’s a “hey hey hey hey” nuisance, but I don’t think it could lead anywhere good, so I always remove him from those situations.

The other guy called the black dog, who started to obey, but then came back at my dogs. After a few fruitless “heys” of my own, I chirped my dogs’ names and the magic word “Cheesy.”

And holy shit, they came to me. I leashed them and walked away, but the black dog barreled toward us again.

I said, “Can you call your dog? My dogs will fight back!”

He did and again the dog was torn between obeying and charging my dogs again, but we were leaving anyway.

Honestly, it could have turned really ugly, and this is the main reason I don’t muzzle Leo on walks. If that dog had been aggressive and an actual fight escalated, I’d want Leo to be able to protect himself. Despite his leash-reactivity, he is a really nice dog, and well socialized to other dogs.

Also, really really really proud of the way my dogs handled themselves!

An Inspiring New Dog Food Pyramid

Leo decorated his Pyramid with some scrimshaw (to borrow Theodore's term of art) before he figured out how to get the food out.

Leo decorated his Pyramid with some scrimshaw (to borrow a term of art) before he figured out how to get the food out.

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme is mentors and inspiration. If you’ve read Bark and Lunge (and I recommend you do!), you know I have a complicated history with trainers. The first few gave very bad advice. Then we met a positive reinforcement trainer who changed our lives by helping save Isis from our earlier mistakes, but in the end, the experience was mixed.

We’ve met lots of positive trainers since then, but have been become complacent in our own little world where we don’t train our dogs to do anything except not misbehave (too much). A trainer I wish I’d met back in the day is Annie Phenix, whose book The Midnight Dog Walkers is practically a companion piece to mine.

More and more, I find inspiration from dog people I only know online. These include the hosts of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days, both of whom have become Facebook friends, too. Other dog bloggers I consider internet friends and inspirations are Groovy Goldendoodles, Wag ‘n Woof, My GBGV Life, and ZoePhee.

Then there’s my weird obsession with dogs I’ve never met whose people I don’t know either. I’m often heard to say something like, “So there’s this dog I follow on Instagram…”

My absolute hero is Pibbling with Theodore, and I can’t remember how I first found him, except that it was on Facebook. He’s a fight bust rescue, and his mom is a trainer, and he is so handsome I just can’t stand it.

Shortly before Christmas, he posted a picture of a Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramid. Inspired, I ordered two immediately. (I’ve written before about how the benefits of food puzzles.)

And now, I hope to inspire you with this video of Mia and Leo enjoying their new food dispensers, which we call “Eggs.” See how much fun Leo has even when nothing’s coming out?


 

Positive TrainingJoin the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! Hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days, the hop begins on the first Monday of every month and runs all week long. This month’s theme is My Training Mentor or Inspiration, but all posts about positive training are welcome.

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