Friday, October 23, 2009

Trix and Treats

Dogs are a constant surprise. Just when I think I have Gypsy, my female chihuahua/rat terrier mix, all figured out, she tricks me. I brought home Scrappy, an energetic "in your face, bub" kind of pup. He has been in a couple of other foster homes and I have always admired him. Being a solid black kid, he was more difficult to adopt out, so I took him in to give it a whirl. As it happened, I only had him a couple of weeks before he was adopted. However, when I brought him home I figured that he and my Gypsy would go a few rounds. I thought it would be good for Scrappy to be put in his place by a bossy alpha female. He needed to be taught a few manners.
So I waited and watched. Naturally, Gypsy proved to me that I don't know nuttin'.
Gypsy ignored Scrappy at first...hardly even giving him her usual welcome of charging at him and screeching in his face in an attempt to make his eardrums bleed. For two or three days, she barely gave him a glance.
Then she did start watching him and I thought, uh-oh, here we go. Gypsy is going to teach him what's what in the dog-dominance world.
The next thing I knew Gypsy was doing the play-bow in front of Scrappy, inviting him to frolic with her! Huh? Then they were racing around the yard together. Gypsy was deliriously happy, almost smiling as she ran in large circles with Scrap-Happy on her heels.
This behavior continued. Gypsy even began cutting him from the dog herd, singling him out, getting him away from the others to have him to herself. Then they would do the chasing thing, both of them grinning like drunks on New Year's Eve. It was downright weird. And very unGypsylike.
Scrappy went to his new home this week and Gypsy seems sort of droopy. She misses the little guy.
Darn it, so do I. I enjoyed the show.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fear and Aggression

Probably the most distressing problem -- aside from dogs that actually attack people -- is a dog that is aggressive because of fear. I have seen my share of them and I have never found a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. Every dog is different and you have to approach them that way. If you expect one training method to work every time, you will be disappointed and the dog will be a basket case.
You can usually tell a fearfully aggressive dog by behavior such as sneaking up behind and trying to nip someone, lurching at bigger dogs and growling, barking at bigger dogs, barking incessently at any strangers (two-legged or four-legged). A mean dog doesn't try a hit-and-run method and doesn't bark first. Mean dogs go for the kill with no warning.
Fearful dogs are trying to get the bluff in on others so they won't be hurt. They need to be convinced that they are in no danger and that you aren't in any danger either. When you have fearful dogs on the leash or in a crate they will usually show out more. They feel vulnerable in a crate. On a leash, they are also restricted and they can feel that they need to protect you or they can feel your anxiety or fear that something bad is going to happen. Dogs are incredibly sensitive to our feelings and emotions.
I always begin by creating a bond between me and the dog by walking it, feeding it, and loving on it. Then I try a number of things to see what works:
Spray the dog with water or water and lemon juice to stop it from barking.
Give it treats to get its attention off whatever it thinks is a threat and rewarding it further when it calms down.
Telling it, "No barking!" and standing before it with a stern look on my face.
Snapping my fingers or blowing a whistle to get its attention and then moving into its space to make it back away.
If I'm out in the yard and it starts fence-fighting and barking I pick it up and say "No!" and take it inside. I leave the dog inside and go back outside, knowing that the dog wants to be with me. I let it back out after a minute. Every time it starts barking and not minding me, I take it back inside and leave it there. This usually works, but you might have to do it numerous times before it sinks in.
That's the key here as it is with all training -- making it clear to your dog what you want out of it. Often, we send inconsistent and muddled messages so it's no wonder our dogs keep misbehaving.
Mind you, I have two dogs of my own who show fear aggression and I have used all of these methods. Nothing has completely worked, although I have seen improvement.
Training takes an enormous amount of patience and that is something that is often in short supply. I know I don't have any to loan out!
So if you are struggling with this problem, join the crowd. Just don't give up.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Degrees of Affection

I have several dogs and they all have their levels of affection. Like people, some dogs are extremely affectionate and demonstrative and others are reserved and even aloof.
My female chihuahua/rat terrier loves me. No doubt. We have a deep, abiding affection and respect for each other. She looks me right in the eyes and there is understanding there. It's a gift to have a dog who knows you so well and loves you so completely.
My female chihuahua is 9 and has always been a bit stand-offish. She will come to me once or twice a day and want affection, but never for very long. After a few minutes, she gets antsy, growls, snarls, and jumps down, ready to snap at any dog in her path. Her bark is worse than her bite and everyone here knows it. But we tolerate her showing out.
My male chihuahua is all baby. He wants to be in my chair with me every evening and he enjoys being kissed and snuggled. The more, the better for him.
My other male chihuahua is a whole 'nother story. He is a lump of quirks. When I catch his eye and tell him I love him, he turns away quickly and hotfoots it out of the room. Never fails. When he is in his doggy bed and I utter sweet somethings across the room to him, he folds back his ears and turns away from me. Can't bear to even look at me! He will allow me to pick him up and love on him. (He usually pees a little when I pick him up. So charming!)I can tell that he actually enjoys being petted, but he never allows himself to really let go and wag his tail or anything so overt. He acts as if he is annoyed and could care less if I continue to snuggle, pet, rub, and tell him he is one handsome hunk of burnin' love. He will never, ever show me that he really digs me. But I know he does.
Do you have a dog with attachment issues? Do you think the dog will someday turn over a new leaf and show you the love?
Do you also believe that fleas can run off and join the flea circus?
Just wondering.