Tag Archives: dog behavior

Another rant about off leash dogs and I ponder why the leash lawbreakers get to run the show

The dog owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That's as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming loose in the cemetery.

The dog has finally left us alone and gone to sniff the wreaths. The dog’s owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That’s as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming around off leash.

Disclaimer: I am about to rant. And rant in a way that you may think is petty. If you think I’m petty then this post is probably meant for you. 

So I’m at White Haven today, in the “Little Lambs” section, pondering the graves of the three infant children of a couple named Michael and Molly Nier, whose  infant daughter and two infant sons died within a three year period, when I hear a woman’s voice behind me say something that sounds like, “Uh oh”.

I love walking in this particular cemetery, because it’s safe and quiet and solemn. I like the tranquility. I think, I pray, I write in my head. I read the headstones and talk to the cemetery workers. I listen to the birds and take pictures of the foliage. It’s a little sanctuary. And the best part is that I can walk Bailey there with relative assurance that we’re not going to be surprised by other dog walkers. It’s not the case with the other places where I can walk Bandit.

Bailey, in case you don’t know, has some reactivity issues with other dogs. As in, if approached by a strange dog she may react in a way that causes harm to the other dog or anyone trying to separate them. It’s a behavior problem we’ve worked with in training, and we have learned to manage the situations as well as help her learn how to manage her impulses. She’s made incredible progress. I mean, really incredible. And now she even does really well in organized situations with other dogs. She can go to classes with other dogs. She can meet another dog nicely and then we do a  quick “break!” and she comes back nicely. We always work on this with another behavior-savvy dog owner whose dog is on leash.

Notice that I say “organized” situations. Surprises, like a strange dog bounding at us from out the blue? Not such a happy scenerio.  Bailey can start out happy and wiggling her butt with joy, but in an instant things can go very, very wrong, and if the other dog is off leash, there’s no way to call it off Bailey.

Translation: when my dog is on leash, I have control over her. When your dog is off leash, you not only can’t control your dog but you cause major problems for me.  Because at no time do I ever have any control over your dog.

Which is why walking at White Haven is so great for both dogs. It’s really close to home, so I can take one dog for a walk, then go home and switch. (Yes, Bailey’s issues extend to her brother Bandit. They are always separated by gates in our house. They can walk perfectly fine together as long as one person walks one dog and they don’t have to ride together in the car.) There are very few places in this cemetery where we can’t see into the distance, giving me a chance to avoid funerals, other walkers, and one maintenance golf cart that for some reason Bailey really doesn’t like. Bandit? No problems walking anywhere. You just have to make sure he doesn’t pee on everything in sight.

So there’s some background. Now, back to this afternoon.

I’d already walked Bailey, gone home to switch dogs, had walked with Bandit and am now on my way back to my car.  And again, I’m standing in the infant section for several minutes, really taking time to read the headstones and wonder about this couple and their loss, when I hear someone behind me.

I turn around and find a big, slobbering (literally, slobber just falling from its mouth) Golden Retriever headed towards me and Bandit. I tell Bandit, “No, no, no, no,” pull his leash tight to me and call to the woman to get her dog. She kind of lollygags where she is, about 20 feet away, calling to the dog, who blatantly ignores her. I call, “Get your dog!” Nothing. I yell louder, “Get your dog! This is very dangerous!” She ignores me while her dog ignores her.

OK, I know that you’re thinking, “I get how this would be a problem with Bailey, since you just told me about her issues. But Bandit is the good dog. And this is just a big, stupid Golden. What’s the problem?”

As nice as Bandit is, he’s not always a fan of other dogs. But at least he’s predictable, in the way most dogs are predictable. At this moment, Bandit is sniffing the slobbering dog but I can see his ears going back and his eyes narrowing and I know that some snapping may ensue if the Golden comes any closer to me. Bandit likes a buffer zone between me and anyone else, two- or four-legged. He’ll send out serious warning signals if he thinks someone is going to violate that zone or otherwise just pisses him off. But I don’t know what this other dog is going to do if Bandit reacts that way. I mean, my dog looks all nice and friendly at this point, too. And Bailey can’t read other dogs’ signals so I know from experience that it can be all happy tail wagging one minute and blood the next. This dog’s owner is clearly clueless; I can only assume her dog is, too.

Translation: a smart dog owner knows their own dog but is always be prepared for the worst from someone else’s dog.

I call again to the woman, “This is really dangerous!! Get your dog!!!” The woman puts her hand to her ear to imply she can’t hear me. I yell louder. She ignores me, her dog ignores her, and I’m getting more and more pissed off by the second. I’m walking away with Bandit but the Golden is following along.

I yell to the woman that she needs to keep her dog ON THE LEASH so I stop walking, and, to make a point, hold her dog’s collar for a second and tell her to come and get her dog. She tells me to leave her dog alone. I let go and basically scream (yup, at the top of my lungs), “PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH”. She tells me I don’t have to talk to her like that.

I pull out my cell phone and contemplate calling 9-1-1. My heart is pounding, because I know that this scenerio could go completely awry in an instant if Bandit snaps at this dog and it freaks in return. If that happens, the owner has no way to pull her dog back, mostly owing to the fact that it’s not only off leash but she’s still about 20 feet away. Do I keep walking and have her dog follow? Do I stand there and wait until her dog decides to leave, hoping that Bandit loses interest?

And running through my mind? “God, if I had Bailey with me, this would be really, really bad.” Continue reading

We are family, puppy-style

Flopping over onto her back to wiggle and show her belly is part of the way Bailey tells Scout she loves him.

One thing that’s been fun about having three dogs (in addition to three times the poop and barking) is watching how Bailey interacts with Scout and Bandit.

Two dogs was a learning experience itself. I’d never seen dogs wrestle and play the way Scout and Bandit did, or experienced two dogs figure out what roles each played in the little canine heirarchy in which they live.

But adding Bailey completely adds a new dimension. Continue reading

Why I couldn’t go back to school

I’ve said many times over the last year that if I was younger and richer, I’d go back to school and study animal behavior. Since I am … err … past middle age … and I have vet bills I’ll be paying off for years, I embarked on a course of independent study that includes books on dog behavior, training, communication, etc and builds on what I’ve been reading over the last year just for fun. I’ve also talked to a dog trainer about apprenticing (although I need to get settled into this new part time job and get Scout comfortable first).

But I’ve added another reason why I couldn’t get a graduate degree in animal behavior: I’m not smart enough. No, I’m smart, and literate, and curious. But I know my limits. There’s a reason why in college, when I tried to double major in Communications/Journalism and Psychology, I had to, in the end, graduate with just a Communications/Journalism degree. I couldn’t pass Statistics.

Couldn’t pass, couldn’t understand anything about the class. I don’t even know if I understood what days the class met. (I signed up and dropped the class twice. The second time the teacher asked me why I was never in class. As far as I knew, I’d been there every class. Either I was invisible, or truly stupid.)

And I’m reminded of all of this while reading “Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog”, the classic study by Scott and Fuller on how genetics and heredity affect dog behavior. It’s very interesting. But I’m at the part of the book where they’re talking about their statistical findings.

This kind of stuff, I understand: Continue reading

Which dog breeds are more likely to bite & what can you do to prevent a dog bite?

When it comes to dogs, one of the questions I most often hear is “Which breed of dog is most likely to bite?”

On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer that dogs like Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and other large breed guarding dogs would be at the top of the list.

But are those breeds more likely to bite than, say, a Chihuahua?

The Humane Society of The United States says:

To simply pull numbers of attacks does not give an accurate representation of a breed necessarily. For example, by reviewing a study that states there have been five attacks by golden retrievers in a community and 10 attacks by pit bulls in that same community it would appear that pit bulls are more dangerous. However, if you look at the dog populations in that community and learn that there are 50 golden retrievers present and 500 pit bulls, then the pit bulls are actually the safer breed statistically.

The truth is that any dog is likely to bite when provoked. And while some breeds may be more excitable or temperamental than others, it’s questionable whether we can condemn an entire breed as being more dangerous.

We can, however, get a sense of what might provoke a dog to bite and why some breeds get labeled dangerous.

Continue reading

Weighing the pros and cons of getting another dog

Scout and Bandit have a busy day at The Funny Farm

A friend recently got a new puppy, a cute little pup that’s energetic but so far very well behaved. And now they’re considering getting another puppy and becoming a two dog family.

As the occasional pack leader of a two dog, one cat, eight chicken household (to the public, David’s the leader but we all know who really runs the show … Bandit …) my advice would be … DON’T DO IT!!!

OK, I’m just kidding. A little.

A year and a half into our two dog adventure, I can say that with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t give up either dog for all the money in the world. But the truth is that we went into the second dog decision pretty blind.

Continue reading

Dogs replay their day’s activities in dreams

My dog Bandit dreams about his day. (Photo copyright 2009 Joanne Brokaw)

Every dog lover has witnessed it: that moment when your sleeping dog begins to yip or move his legs as if running or even growls at imaginary foes. 

Turns out that researchers think that, like humans, when a dog dreams he’s replaying the day’s activities. 

Pets go through the same multiple stages of sleep that humans do, from periods of slow wave sleep to REM (rapid eye movement), where most dreaming occurs. What differs is the frequency of the dreams. People cycle through REM sleep every 90 minutes, cats every 25. In dogs, that cycle depends on the size of the dog. Smaller dogs enter REM sleep more frequently than larger dogs, but each episode is much shorter. 

So the next time my dogs Bandit and Scout start yipping in their sleep, I’ll assume they’re enjoying another rousing round of water dog or fetch! 

What do you think your dog dreams about? And what’s the funniest thing he’s done while sleeping? 

You can read more about dog’s dreams in an article on the HealthDay website

And if you’re looking for good books about dogs and dog behavior, written in easy to read language for the non-scientist, check out these books:

Continue reading