Dogs with bad manners

Dogs in flight. Click for source.

(So, I couldn’t find a photo illustrating dogs with bad manners. These two are just REALLY excited to go outside…)

On Tuesday, I read the article “He Just Wants to Say ‘Hi’!” by Suzanne Clothier, who wrote one of my favorite books about human-dog relationships. Clothier’s basic premise is that we, as dog guardians, often misinterpret canine behavior and are frequently slow to recognize dogs with bad manners–especially if it’s our dog who is the rude one.

As Clothier says:

It never fails to amaze me how willing humans are to excuse and rationalize a dog’s rude behavior instead of teaching them good manners. Part of developing appropriate social behavior is learning that no matter how excited you may be, there are other folks in the world and certain basic rules of politeness still apply no matter how excited you may be.

I realized I had totally seen this in action when I was walking Bo at the park some months ago–and I was definitely the one at fault. While we were walking in the park, we passed a big cluster of dogs on leashes with their people. Bo happily bounded up to the group and was wagging all over the place. A woman with a pair of greyhounds walked over to let her dogs join the circle. Bo went over to greet the pair, and the senior male greyhound growled and snapped at him. His woman instantly jerked the dog’s collar and reprimanded him, saying to me, apologetically, “Sorry, he’s just a grumpy old man.”

But after reading Clothier’s article, I realized that I was the one who should have been apologizing. The old grey was just trying to teach the over-exuberant Bo some manners. Instead, we humans interpreted the greyhound as reacting “aggressively,” where it was Bo who was at fault. Bo listened closely to the greyhound’s reprimand, however, and immediately backed off. It was just us humans who didn’t understand what was going on. I wish I could see that woman again and tell her that her genteel old boy wasn’t the one to be scolded.

Clothier suggests that we need to pay more careful attention to the ways that our dogs interact with other dogs. We should be able to recognize when our own dogs are being rude AND when other dogs are approaching our own with impoliteness. While we can’t control other people’s dogs, we can be advocates for our own–and that sometimes involves physical action. Clothier writes:

I encourage handlers to be quite active in protecting their dog – whether that means quietly walking away to a safer area, or, when that’s not possible, literally stepping in physically to present the first line of defense. Stepping in between two dogs is a classic act of leadership. Dogs do it with other dogs all the time, so this same gesture coming from a human leader is understood and appreciated.

This simple act of stepping between an approaching rude dog can do a lot to defuse the situation, if you know your dog isn’t one to tolerate impoliteness. Finally, as she says, we have to remember that we are responsible for our dogs and we cannot expect perfection:

We cannot expect our dogs to be saints – at least not until we can rise to that level of tolerance ourselves. And that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. We can expect our dogs to be tolerant to the degree that we educate them, socialize them and protect them – with respect to their individual needs and boundaries.

I’m glad I read Clothier’s article and glad to have had my eyes opened to a particular aspect of canine behavior that I had previously misinterpreted.

How about you? How does your dog handle rudeness? Do you feel like you’re able to detect when your dog is being the impolite one? How do you defuse building tension between dogs?


4 thoughts on “Dogs with bad manners

  1. Elka mostly deals with rude dogs by avoidance. She’ll back or move away if she doesn’t want to deal with the situation at hand, hand, and that’s when I interpose myself between her and that dog, and take us elsewhere.

  2. I also love this article by Suzanne Clothier. It did such a great job getting the point across.

    Honey started out as a rude greeter. She was just being exuberant but it doesn’t mean every dog wants to have a jumpy Golden Retriever in his face. I’ve definitely learned a lot about teaching good puppy manners from trying to see things from the other dog’s point of view.

  3. YAY; love dog communication posts! 🙂 I couldn’t agree more with Clothier’s article.

    Elli is exceptionally easy for me to read – she’s the one I turn to for education about canine communication most of the time. She definitely stresses up: you can see her gradually reaching her threshold. It’s taken a few snarks here and there for me to see the progression she takes before correcting a violating dog, but I can typically call her out of the situation before it occurs now. Either way, I am always very vigilant nowadays — it all happens so quickly in dogland.

    I think it’s hard, too, for us to see our dogs correcting one another and not want to correct our dogs for their mistakes, as well. It might be one of the biggest reasons why corrective training is so popular. Even behaviorally (both humans and dogs), it’s super reinforcing for snarkiness/correctiveness to work instead of the alternative.

  4. I am not a fan of “they’re dogs let them work it out themselves” approach. Yes, they should be allowed to interact under supervision but like with children we should step in well before things escalate. For example I would remove Ted the moment he looked like he was going to jump up into a dog’s face, some dogs will tolerate it from a pup, some won’t, he learnt from me that that sort of behaviour meant the fun stopped. When I compare him to other pups of his age (11 months) that were just allowed to do what they want they are still throwing themselves in other dogs faces and being told off, Ted doesn’t do it anymore.

    I also don’t expect him to sort things out if another dog gets too much for him, I step in and remove him. Equally if a dog come barreling in our direction then I step in front of Ted and the dog has to deal with me first before being sent packing. I know a polite approach and I know an impolite approach and if they can’t get the approach right then I’m not gambling on their overall manners being good!

    Unfortunately I think most people don’t know how to read dog body language at all (not that I am an expert) and I’ve seen Ted with other dogs and both have had very stiff body language whilst the other owner is saying “oh they like each other”. I find if in doubt a swift greeting and move on works best or if you see a trouble maker in the distance just go another way.

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