Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Dogs Behaving Badly

This sweetheart from last week's Intake is the picture of innocence, and his need for a new home has nothing to do with bad behavior. However, a number of the dogs brought to our rescue this month were there because the owner couldn't manage the dog's behavior. This is an unfortunate but common refrain heard at shelters and rescue organizations everywhere. 

My role as Intake photographer keeps me busy, and I generally talk with each dog's person only long enough to get a brief description for the website. Last week I spent a little more time with one woman. Her dog was big, strong, and difficult to manage, at one point dragging us both across the floor as it tried to greet another dog. But I was struck at how when instructed to "sit!" he immediately did so, looking eagerly and expectantly into her eyes for direction. That dog was an excellent candidate for training. After a brief internal debate, I shared my observation, along with a personal story about Lady and the benefits that both she and I got from training. I'm always cautious about offering advice at Intake. If the person is relinquishing a beloved pet due to some complicated, painful circumstance, I don't want to make him or her feel worse. This woman listened but did not respond, and I quickly moved on to the next client. Over the weekend, however, I was surprised to receive an email from her asking for the name and number of the trainer I'd used. Yaaay!   

Behavior management with a challenging dog is hard work. Even basic obedience training takes a commitment of time and effort. You have to carve out time for the classes, and practice at home. But no training at all is even harder. I've never understood when people choose to deal with a lifetime of irritating dog behavior rather than invest a little time in training during the early years. 

I got a kick out of reading all the comments on my last post. As I read your blogs week after week, it never occurs to me that any of your adorable dogs ever misbehave! I particularly loved the image of the little girl happily declaring "Oh look, Mr. B and Miss M from Two Pitties In the City!" and then - BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! That's too funny. I can totally see Lady doing something like that. 

One of our readers mentioned the Gentle Leader. Much to Lady's chagrin, that is the collar I use with her. She's a serious Drama Queen about the indignity of having to wear it, but it works. We tried the Easy Walk Harness and the New Trix collar, but the Gentle Leader worked best. Another tool in our bag of tricks is DAP spray, which contains a pheromone that mimics the mother dog's scent. It presumably reminds your dog of being a puppy, all cozy and safe with mom. Hard to know for sure whether it makes a difference, but I like spraying some on a bandanna for Lady if we're likely to encounter a high stress situation. I'm pretty sure it helps me, if not her. I walk along feeling cozy and content despite any unfortunate barking outbursts. Hey, whatever works, right? ;)


  1. A little training really does go a long way. That's really great that that woman followed up with you about a trainer - I hope it helps her!

  2. Glad the Gentle Leader is working! Works great on Halle & we can all walk together well- Halle has figured out how to pull with it on but there is much less tugging & it is definitely easier to walk her with it in than when I don't put it on her!

    I marvel at some of the excuses why perfectly good dogs are surrendered :(

  3. Glad the gentle leader works. My Lilys face is to flat for that thing
    Benny & Lily

  4. That's great that the woman is looking into training. She didn't relinquish the dog, then? YAY!!!!!

    BTW, that is a gorgeous picture of Lady. She's really a stunning dog!

  5. That is a good outcome. It still baffles me how people think their dogs should just understand and know how to do stuff. I know people might find Ceaser Milan controversial, but I think he really showed people that you don't have to live with bad behavior. Yeah for training!

  6. Thanks Tucker, Lady is indeed a beautiful girl (inside AND out!). I love it when she crosses her paws all dainty like that. It always makes me smile.

    And Two Pitties, I am a huge Cesar fan - but I know some are not. I think we each have to go with what feels right to us, and what works, and many of Cesar's methods have really worked for me. If Lady didn't feel I was the pack leader, oh heaven help us. She'd control every aspect of this house, the schedule, the dynamics of people and pets alike. If ever there was a dog that needed to be reassured that there's a pack leader, it's her!

    Ina, does Halle try to "wipe" the collar off? That's been the main issue with Lady and the Gentle Leader. She seems extraordinarily sensitive to the feeling of it on her face. Lucky is fine with it, but Lady will try to wipe it off on my leg, a wall, a bush, whenever we pause along our walk. And then at the end of the walk when I take it off, she does this major drama queen thing of scrubbing her face on the rug for 5 minutes to get the sensation off. It is not too tight, I have checked and rechecked it, worrying that maybe that was the problem. We've been using it for over a year, but she does NOT like it.

  7. Ah, yes -- Willa, our recent addition, has a mind of her own. I'm trying to get her to respond to COME but she's far more interested in all the new smells. Willful Willa..