While on vacation I started thinking about how I see a lot of owners handling their dogs in a way that is very confusing to me. I watch them react to their dogs behavior in a way that is completely baffling. I think, "why are they doing that, that is causing that problem but not making it stop" Then, I realized, they just don't know, so they do what they think is best.
So, here is the scenario; Paul and I were walking Wiley (old dog) past the campground of people. Coming from the other direction was a woman with three yorkies headed our way. I said to Paul before they were close enough, "watch these dogs are gonna go crazy when they get closer". Sure enough, even though we were on opposite sides of the street, they went nuts! They were barking, growling, jumping in their little harnesses, and spinning around. That poor woman! I would feel sorry for her but she created this problem and it will only get worse. This is what started my thought process of 'maybe she just doesn't know'.
I am under the assumption that if a person has three dogs, then they must have a good amount of behavior knowledge to keep their house from being crazy. But, sadly, no, they don't and I can't imagine the noise and frenzy that happens when her doorbell rings. (of course, these might even not be her dogs but I will assume they are for this post)
This is what she did to 'stop' the situation. She stopped walking, bent down, pulled on the leashes trying to reel them all in; all on flexi leashes, pinched one dog's mouth shut and held fast, said, "it's ok, no!, it's ok, Stop!" to the others in between yelling names randomly. Meanwhile, Paul and I smiled, said, "hi" and never skipped a beat walking. Wiley, never even showed an ounce of interest. Now, you say, Wiley is deaf! Yes, he is but he isn't oblivious and hasn't lost his sight or sense of smell. He simply didn't care. We kept walking and we began discussing with each other how everything she did was giving the opposite information to the dogs and she was actually causing all those problems. I was inclined to think negatively about her and those dogs (I'm just being honest) but stopped and felt sympathy for her instead. She has no idea what to do in that situation and was probably very embarrassed and encounters this behavior with all those little dogs often. This will lead me to blogging about behavior and how to 'help' in these situations.
I am a dog trainer and teacher to other dog owners that believes understanding your dog's behavior is necessary for all training to be successful. So, here goes...
How she could have handled the situation without getting into a huge training session. What does the owner do when she has little behavior knowledge and practice?
First thing, get through it; don't stop, don't acknowledge (the dogs), just pass through quickly and deliberately with no emotion (happy or angry). Shorten your leashes as you walk with purpose, pulling the dogs behind you if needed. Most importantly, be confident, do this like you know what your doing. I think of it like dragging a garden hose across your yard. It's heavy and the easiest way to pull is face forward, not even looking at the hose, walking a steady pace. You don't yank, stop and start, or get angry. Think of this when your dragging your dogs away from something they are barking at or pulling toward. (this is skipping 'marking' all the good behaviors which I feel is too much for an inexperienced owner) Just walk past the thing that makes them go crazy and keep going. YOUR COLLAR/HARNESS NEEDS TO FIT! If you pull your dog through this, make sure you can't pull them out of their restraint. Snug that collar down....nothing worse than pulling them through only to have the collar slip over the head and now you're screwed.
Second, do not under any circumstance, tell your dog, "it's ok" You know how people jokingly add at the end of fortune cookies...."in bed" LOL! Then, always think of finishing your "it's ok" sentence to fit the situation. This will help you remember why it's not good to 'soothe' your dog.
"it's ok to bark at those people/dogs"
"it's ok to bark at the mailman"
"it's ok to growl at the neighbors dog"
"it's ok to want to chase that little kid on the skateboard"
Do you see where I'm going with this? Every time you say, "it's ok" and try to soothe your savage beast, you are actually encouraging that current behavior. This also works for scary situations. Once again, tighten your collar down and walk confidently with purpose through and past the scary object or environment and don't acknowledge. Remember to finish your sentence if you want to soothe your dog.
"it's ok to be afraid of the thunder"
"it's ok to shake and tremble at the fireworks"
"it's ok to whine and howl at the lawnmower"
Now, I understand and I'm aware of many other techniques to desensitize, build a positive relationship, operant conditioning, etc. but I am talking about the typical dog owner with only love in their hearts and no former training and knowledge. What is the easiest and quickest way to get through that specific scenario I encountered while on vacation without harming the dog and without the watchful eye of a qualified trainer.