Dog fights: do this, don’t do that

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By Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA

In my last post where I discussed what to do when an off-leash dog comes barreling at you and your on-leash dog, I teased you with the question “What do you do if your worst thought comes to be reality: a dog fight?”

Fights can be scary, human or otherwise. However, much of the time, there is more bluster and posturing than anything else. Even those will often end before you have a chance to take action. They can be over a toy, a bowl, or just a dog drawing boundaries. (If only humans had a good way to do this without offense!)

I’ll tell you a little secret – dogs don’t go around looking for fights.

 All that canine body language that we talk about is actually a thing! It’s the way dogs talk to one another to avoid conflict. Most conflicts have been negotiated one way or the other while the dogs are still many feet apart, before we even thought they noticed one another.

However, when the right set of communication happens, or if one dog is saying one thing and the other just doesn’t have the social graces to listen to the other dog (we know people like that, right?), that is when they will bolster themselves up to fight status.

So, how do we get them apart when they aren’t doing it themselves?

Do this:

  • Grab the aggressor by the hind legs (like they are a wheelbarrow). When you get them apart, get them as far from each other as possible.
  • Get water (a hose is best, but a bucket or cup might suffice) and dump it on their heads.
  • If there’s a broom handle, long board, baby gate, or stick, use it to get in between them and get them disengaged.
  • Got an air horn? Try it.

Don’t do this:

  • Don’t get in between the sharp ends (aka, the teeth).
  • Don’t grab one of the dog’s collars (redirection happens).
  • Don’t yell like a banshee on the loose (though it’s hard not to, and I would be remiss not to admit that I’ve found myself having a horrifying out-of-body experience, looking down on myself ineffectively screaming).

Dogfights are dangerous and getting involved can be as well. Use caution. Even your own dog can redirect a bite on to you in the heat of the moment.

The best tactic is to prevent dogfights by learning about dog body language and pay attention when you are out in public with your dog (not on your cell phone).

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Nicole Stewart 250x300Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA, is the Director of Training at AnimalSense / Paradise4Paws.  She strongly believes that dog training is as much about the people as it is about the dogs. Her favorite place to be is at home with her human family and her steady Clumber Spaniel, Finlay.

This post was originally published in the AnimalSense blog.

Pet sitter stories: that night I slept on the bathroom floor with an Angel guarding the door

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The year was 1996. I owned a pet sitting and dog walking company and loved doing visits. Even though I had several dozen dog walkers and pet sitters on my staff, there were a few pets for whom only I was able to provide care.

Enter Angel, the 6 year old chow chow. She wasn’t a dog who took to strangers readily, but over the years I took care of her, she became, well, okay with me. Never thrilled., but always willing to allow me to do things like let her in the yard and give her food.

I mostly took care of her on occasions where her owners went out of town, with an overnight here and there. I never loved the assignment but it was my duty and no chow was gonna keep a good petsitter down.

Although, I did learn that a chow could keep a good petsitter in the bathroom all night.

Yes, you read that right. I locked myself in the bathroom all night as a means of protecting myself.

So let’s get the conditions straight. The family just had a baby, and to make things really juicy…they had just moved into a new home.

Let’s remember that this is before I became a dog trainer and I was still a wide-eyed and super-optimistic dog lover. That’s not to say that I wasn’t realistic; I always took precautions, but I certainly never thought I’d find myself in position in which I truly feared for my safety. Had I known then what I so clearly know now, I can’t imagine I would’ve taken on that job with such gusto.

Angel let me in the house with no problem and I went about my business. I let her in the backyard, I refreshed her water, and I gave her food. It was as I made my move to leave the house that she became ferocious – barking, growling, and lunging. It was as though she was a possessed chow. And if you know anything about chows, well…I’ll leave it at that.

I made a move for the bathroom and shut the door as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this was pre-cell phones and pre-dog training career, so I had no handy-dandy treats in my pocket and no way to call for help. Basically, I was screwed.

I slept on the bathroom floor that night, and all the while Angel prowled outside, growling and scratching at the door. I would characterize it as a slightly unpleasant experience.

Her owners came home midmorning to find my Jeep in the driveway and their petsitter hiding in the bathroom. I wouldn’t say they were upset so much as confused. I, however, was not confused at all. Angel wanted to eat me.

What is the moral of the story, you ask? There really isn’t one, unless you take this as a cautionary tale that working with animals requires more than love, it requires education and quick thinking (and, sometimes, a willingness to sleep on a bathroom floor).

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Learn how to speak dog with Behavior Fundamentals Online! It might just keep YOU from spending the night on the bathroom floor. 🙂

How I learned to live with my dog’s aggression

By Lynda Lobo, CPDT-KA

lynda and ryanRyan is an 11(ish)-year-old Akita, German shepherd, Sheltie, etc. mix. I first met her in 2010 before my partner adopted her. She was the kind of dog that would steal pizza right out of your hand and pee on the carpet multiple times in one night.

How we all came to live together and Ryan’s history… those are stories for another day.

Here’s the thing: Ryan bites. The level of aggressive behavior is directly related to her level of fear. So when I first met Ryan, it took a lot of patience (and treats) just to get her used to my presence. Walking into a room caused a flurry of barking, and walking quickly out of a room might result in a bruised calf. All of this was much worse if she had a prized toy or bone.

Needless to say, Ryan really tested my patience. And honestly, I just didn’t like her. And that was a problem. For the sake of my relationship with my partner and my own sanity, I had to work with this dog.

I happened to start FetchFind Academy after about a year of living with Ryan. I gained some tools for managing but also modifying her behavior. Really understanding what aggression is and where it comes from makes her response to me feel far less personal.

As my knowledge grew, my love and appreciation for Ryan grew too. Compassion replaced frustration. I committed to putting in the time and hard work to make a positive change. I tossed her a treat every time I walked into the room, worked on my own body language, hand-fed her every meal, and made sure I was the source of all things good in her life. When my partner went out of town, my relationship with Ryan flourished because I truly was “her” person during that time.

It’s been a long road, and we still struggle sometimes, but I am so grateful for this dog. I’m a better dog trainer, educator, and person because of what Ryan has taught me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

More and more people are dealing with aggression in their dogs to varying degrees. My goal here is to let you know that there is hope. If you are seeing aggressive behavior in your dog, please enlist the help of a good trainer or behaviorist to help you come up with a plan specific to your own situation.

P.S. We can eat our pizza in peace now, in case you’re wondering!