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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Is Your Newly Adopted Dog A Bully?

Unsocial Dogs and Bullies: What do they have in common?

1. They usually pick out the one that they view as having slight mental weakness, meaning normally the resident dog does not want to fight and is on a pretty even keel with others, but if backed into a corner it will fight back. One that submits to a bully right away is neither fun nor a challenge to the incoming rescue.       

2. They will pick on one that is old and has only a little fight left in them (physical weakness).

3. They will seek out one that currently has an illness, one that once was able to fight back, but now the body is run down and a full fledged fight to protect itself is not a viable option.         

4) They are loud and boisterous making themselves known. (Possibly barking at, growling at, or lunging at one of the three types above.)

I get customers daily who complain about their newly adopted dog constantly fighting with a resident dog. That complaint is usually followed by these words “I know they have to establish themselves in the pack, but it is driving me crazy. I have already gotten bitten when trying to pull them apart and I am afraid my kids will get caught up in the fight.”

To the comment about dogs establishing themselves in the pack I say, bullshit!  When one adopts a dog with no known history why would you let it have the chance to establish itself as the ruler of your already peaceful kingdom? Let’s face it, whoever surrendered the dog is not going to be forthright about bad behaviors for fear the animal may be put down.

We have to remember that many people are buying and rescuing puppy mill dogs that have never had the chance to properly establish social skills with either humans or dogs. This type of dog has learned over time usually only one way to behave among other dogs and humans because it has worked for them. This is known as learned behavior and the reward is instant because usually this type of dog gets what it wants.

Let’s think about it in relation to humans because for some it is easier to understand a dog’s behavior that way. You’re walking down the street and up ahead you see a dude acting kind of crazy, way out of any social realm you were brought up in, do you go up and confront this dude or do you cross the street?   Exactly!     You may get involved with this dude if you see him acting crazy and picking on a weaker person, but for the most part you are going to cross the street!

 This same social ineptness can also be seen in our dogs.

 Strictly going by the questions I receive weekly, people are taking in dogs without knowing their full history and letting them have at their resident dogs which have never had any problems prior to this rescue dog appearing.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about bashing rescues,  rescuing a dog is a great thing and much needed in this country, but know what you are bringing into your home and do not allow this rescue dog to overpower your home or bully your resident dogs with intimidations of snarling, growling, teeth showing, and fighting.  If needed, the very first time it happens keep the dogs separate for a few weeks and work on the rescue dog in manners by praising and rewarding all good behavior and keeping all time with both the adopted dog and resident dogs in the same area very brief.  It may be only seconds of being together before you have to remove the adopted dog from the scene so that the rescue dog does not have a chance to ‘fail’ in its new home. 

I remember hearing from a fellow trainer in passing  how she disagreed with people who make the statement that, ‘they are the pack leader’ because she said, a dog knows the human is not a dog  therefore the person will not be seen as part of the pack or the pack leader.  I often wonder about this statement.  Have we not seen other untamed animals welcoming a newcomer that is not like them into their pack/ community?  Have we not seen a mother dog take on a litter of kittens to nurse?   There are so many instances and film clips that we see everyday of one species playing, nurturing, and welcoming another species into its home.  So to that trainers blanket statement I have to say bullshit!   

A pack, like a home or community, is what you make of it, not what species is in it.

 The majority of rescues come into the home with no problems at all, but given the amount of rescues there are many dogs who don’t fit into the home right away, and if you leave it up to that one in a million rescued dog to try settling in by allowing them to seek a spot in your home through intimidation, then your home can become chaotic and nerve-wracking.  Hey I have been there, I made that mistake of thinking the dog would fit right in, and so I know how bad it can get.

So how do you handle this?

Introduction to resident dogs can be crucial, so if you have not read my post on how to Integrate with success you can do so by clicking here.   

I don’t mean to lay blame on the owner’s part but I must be honest. If you live in a chaotic home to begin with and things are not manageable by you chances are the dog you pick will come into the home and act just as outrageous as the people and animals in the home. Try always to be calm, catch and praise all good behavior as often as you can so you are apt to see more of it. Sure this may mean you need to keep treats in your pocket for a while but it’s worth that extra effort.

Train the dog daily in basic commands using a positive training method and train several times a day in short sessions. By doing it this way you will seem consistent to the dog in how you expect it to behave in your home.

Get a firm leave it command in place so you can stop an attack before it happens and redirect the dog to something else. Very important: Know the dog’s body language so you know when to use the ‘leave it’ command. If you wait until the dog’s mind has moved into attack mode the leave it will not work! 

Get a firm recall (come) on the dog and use it often in all situations. If the dog has a firm reliable recall you should be able to call the dog and the dog return to you immediately should you see a possible situation about to happen.

Set the new dog up for success! If there seems to be a problem then keep all interactions very brief and remove the new dog at a time it is succeeding. This may mean that the dogs can only be near each other for a few seconds and you have to build up time from there but if you try to move too fast the dogs may come to hate each other and only learn one way how to react to each other and that is a no win situation. 

 Always assume that a rescue has had no social training among other dogs or humans. Take the time to work on socializing the dog properly,  keep your patience, and make sure that everyone in the household treats this dog in  the same manner so all seem consistent to the dog. Dogs depend on consistency in their life just as humans do. The unknown can be scary.

If you feel you cannot handle this on your own then do enlist the help of a trainer or training classes such as the SPCA’s Reactive Rover class.

Remember that every dog has its right to space and peace and if you are taking in another dog, protect your resident dogs first. However sometimes we are so settled into a routine that we would not think that the resident dog can actually cause the problem and if that happens then the above still applies and it’s time to get to work on your resident dog.

Also when there are young children in the home reconsider your choice of keeping the dog because children do not have the capacity to be consistent in their own lives so they will not be able to be consistent with the dog around and that leads to a dangerous road.

It makes no difference how large or small the problem dog is because the bite feels the same and the tension is always there! 

Until next time happy training!