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?

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Review: Dogs Never Lie about Love

Dogs Never Lie about Love.

In his own good-natured way, my husband, Guion, likes to make fun of my obsession with dogs, including my ferocious appetite for dog books. He especially likes to tease me about the goofy names that dog writers often give their books. Dogs Never Lie about Love is certainly up there as far as cheesy, sappy titles go. (Guion also made a lot of fun of the title Bones Would Rain from the Sky, which is totally fair, but I actually loved that book.) I was reading this book while killing time before a wedding and I made sure to hide the spine and cover from any passersby, to save myself from any outright judgment, looks of concern, and the like.

Goofy title aside, this book reminds me of Stanley Coren’s work and the one Jon Katz book I read, as they can be categorized as “emotional quasi-science” books. Emotional quasi-science books like to sprinkle in lots of little studies and research among the body of heart-grabbing stories of canine wonder and relationships. They can tend to the gimmicky, but I admit that I like them just the same.

I am perfectly content reading a book in which Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson keeps describing the ways his three dogs interact with each other. In this way, I, the dog-less one, can live vicariously through Masson and his furry trio. (I told Guion that I would totally watch a reality TV show that just filmed dogs playing in their living rooms. No drama, no medical emergencies, no training nightmares. Just dogs being dogs. It would be the most boring and unprofitable television show ever, but *I* would watch it. Again, cue loving husband’s teasing laughter.)

That said, I don’t know if many people would actually enjoy this book–that is, people who were lucky enough to already have dogs of their own. I myself had already read about the majority of the research that Masson cites. The book is split into chapters that cover a dog’s basic emotions. And while I enjoyed this overview, I’m not sure if I learned anything new.

However, if you’re like me and you just like reading about the inner world of dogs, even if you’re not learning anything exciting or new, Dogs Never Lie about Love might be the book for you.

Review: Bones Would Rain from the Sky

Bones Would Rain from the Sky, by Suzanne Clothier

Suzanne Clothier is a dog trainer, but Bones Would Rain from the Sky is not a dog-training manual. Rather, this book is Clothier’s lovely and heartfelt guide about how to have a more intimate relationship with your dog.

The book’s title and premise of “deepening our relationships with dogs” sounds hokey, but Clothier does provide some very practical and hands-on advice about communicating and living with canines. Her stories are insightful and her calm, holistic approach to training is refreshing to read. She doesn’t get hung up on doing the exact right thing; she doesn’t seem to fret about all of the things we might be missing. Instead, the constant mantra of this book is to slow down, listen, and try to understand your dog a little bit better.

I was most struck my Clothier’s gentle and extremely humble tone. I’ve found that dog trainers, like most self-proclaimed “experts,” almost never admit to making mistakes. So many dog trainers would never share their errors with you–or even admit that they were capable of making mistakes (cough, cough, Cesar Millan). It’s easy to think that these great dog trainers don’t ever mess up. Clothier is quick to point out that this is not the case. She graciously shares the times she lost her temper with foster dogs or made a hasty decision based on incorrect information. Rather than diminishing her credibility as a trainer, these disclosures strengthened my trust in Clothier as a wise dog parent.

Overall, I really enjoyed this thorough and philosophical approach to human-canine relationships. I would recommend this book to people who were already solid in their knowledge of positive training techniques and didn’t really need a step-by-step training manual. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the more knowledgeable dog parent’s repertoire of canine reading.

Clothier is a graceful and wise trainer and caretaker and her dogs are very lucky animals. I hope that I will be able to eventually exude the same peace and confidence with my future dogs.

A few nights with Zoe

Zoe on the kitchen floor. Source: Me

This past weekend, my husband and I house/dog-sat for some friends of ours. Kendra and Ehren have a 7-year-old black lab/border collie mix named Zoe. Guion was excited that they had a piano in the house; I, naturally, was way more excited that they had a dog.

I’d met Zoe once before at a crawfish boil that Kendra and Ehren hosted. I was extremely impressed by her calmness and tolerance. She patiently submitted to having a grabby 10-month-old baby stick his hands into her mouth and ears. I was anxious about it, but Kendra was right there and assured me that Zoe would be fine. And she was. Zoe rolled her eyes up to look at Kendra, as if to say, “Look how patient I am. This baby is trying to gag me and I am letting him. Because I am a very good dog.”

And she is.

Zoe in her chair. Source: Me

Understandably, Zoe was pretty anxious about what we were doing in her house on Saturday night. She is extremely submissive and doesn’t really have much desire to protect anything. She rolled over on her back continuously until we were able to calm her down. We spoke softly to her, slipped her a treat, and soon she seemed much more at ease about our brief residence in her home.

On Sunday mid-morning, I took Zoe on a long walk around a circle of pretty residential streets. She pulled a lot at first, but once she figured out that we weren’t going to move until there was some slack in the line, she calmed down and was an excellent walking partner.

Going on daily walks is actually one of the things that I am most looking forward to about getting a dog. (I may not say this after we have the dog, especially in brutal January, but still!) I eat well, but I do not make time for much physical activity, and I am looking forward to having to care for an animal who requires a good amount of daily motion.

There is also something very soothing and meditative about walking with a dog. There is no need for conversation; you merely listen to each other, observing nature and feeling your bodies relax and refocus. I love walking dogs and I wish I could do it all day long.

The other thing that Zoe reminded me of is the calmness of touch. I’m reading Suzanne Clothier’s book Bones Would Rain from the Sky right now, and in it she talks about how she was impressed by famed horse trainer Linda Tellington-Jones’ injunction to always use “soft hands” when working with animals. Remembering this charge is a great way to prevent yourself from lashing out in anger or impatience.

While Guion was out grabbing lunch, I sat on the living room floor with Zoe. She crawled over to me and put her muzzle up against my leg. I started slowly massaging her back and neck. She seemed to like it, and so she rolled over, inviting me to do her underside. If I paused for a second, she urged me on with her nose, as if to say, “Don’t stop now!” We continued this session for a good 15 minutes and it was very peaceful. I was reminded of a scene in the documentary “Dogs Decoded” that talked about how petting a dog releases a similar burst of the “happiness/bonding” hormone oxytocin in both the dog and the human.

It made me wonder about dog massage. In April, the New York Times ran an article about dog massage that sparked my interest: Dog Massage? Isn’t Petting Enough? I saw that Modern Dog Magazine also ran a short, illustrated piece about how to massage your dog. I’d like to learn more. Has anyone ever tried this before? Do you practice it regularly with your own pooches?

Overall, the long weekend with Zoe just increased my already burgeoning desire to have a dog. It was a good exercise in canine parenting and Zoe was a wonderful and patient teacher. I look forward to getting to see her again soon.