It’s still not physically possible to visit each and every one of you, but technology does make something else possible, which is what I’ll be doing in this week’s message.
Thanks to the internet, smart phones, and my web team, I’m taking this opportunity to look at some of the many questions you’ve asked me through Facebook, Twitter, other social media, and email, and answer a few that I hear all the time. Again, I can’t answer all of them because I get thousands of comments, tweets, and emails every day, but I can answer some of them, and I’ll be doing so throughout the coming weeks.
The first question is from Scott R. Heath, via Google+. Scott writes, “I have two male Chihuahuas, father and son, that hate each other and have tried to fight before so we keep them separated. Are we wrong to separate them?”
Hi, Scott. Ideally, you should never have to separate the dogs in your pack, although this is generally people’s first response in the case of fighting. What you really need to do is get to the root cause of the fighting and deal with that.
My first question is, are both dogs neutered? If they aren’t, they should be. Putting two unneutered males together, whether they’re related or not, is just asking for trouble.
My second question is the more important one. You say they “have tried to fight before,” but what does this mean? Was it a single incident or did they fight any time you tried to put them together? I’m guessing it may have been a single or a few incidents, because I see this happen a lot: The family has two dogs, and one day those dogs get into a fight. There’s a lot of panic and yelling and pulling the dogs apart, then the humans freak out about it.
This leads to a mindset of worry on the part of the human pack members. You may not notice it, but your dogs do, and if you’re concerned every moment that they’re going to get into another fight, they will pick up on that energy, which will make them anxious and unstable, making them more likely to fight, which makes you worry more, and so on.
Now, beyond the unneutered males issue, the reason dogs will fight is over status or resources. You don’t really have control over how they regard each other when it comes to status, but you do have control over the resources — food, treats, territory, attention — and you can use that to your advantage.
For example, when giving your dogs treats, use them to get the dogs to focus completely on you and not each other. Wait until both of them are sitting calmly, then give them the treats. If necessary, have them sit far apart, on either side of you, but it should be one person working with both dogs, and every member of the human pack using this same exercise at various times.
The other important thing to do is observe your dogs and learn what signals they give before they start a fight so that you prevent them from happening, as well as know what stimuli to watch out for or remove from the environment. For example, if they get into fights over a particular toy, it’s time for that toy to go away. And, if they do get into fights, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm.
The worst thing you can do during a dog fight is to get over-excited and start yelling or screaming, because that just escalates the energy of the fighting dogs and makes things worse. If you must use your voice, it should be loud, assertive, but calm. You can find more tips in my article, “How to Break Up a Dog Fight.”
The next question is from Yadira Villarreal via Facebook. She writes, “We own a female Jack Russell dog named Tattoo. We love her like (she’s) our daughter. She is four years old. The problem we have is that she has been disliking babies and children since two years ago or so. We just found out two weeks ago that I’m pregnant and we are expecting a baby for February. We urgently need to find a way to make her behave properly with kids and babies.”
First of all, congratulations on the baby. Second, you have six months to prepare your dog. The very short version is that you have to teach your dog, starting now, that this new addition to the family is also a pack leader, and that she or he belongs to you. Luckily, this is a very common concern, and you can find more details in this article about introducing your dog to your baby.
Regarding children, it’s not unusual for dogs to develop mistrust for them. After all, children smell different than adults, they can be very energetic, and move in erratic ways. Often, they also do not respect a dog’s space when they want to give affection.
Now, when you say Tattoo is “disliking” children, what do you mean? Does she ignore them, actively try to run away, or show aggression?
If she ignores them, then you really don’t have a problem; this has nothing to do with her disliking children. It just means that she isn’t interested. If she tries to run away or hide when children are around, then this would be a good time to enlist the help of friends with kids. You need to desensitize Tattoo so that she can be in the same space with children while calmly ignoring them.
What you do is arrange for you and Tattoo (after a long walk) to meet with your friends and their kids somewhere neutral, and it’s very important that the children understand that they need to completely ignore the dog. No talk, no touch, no eye contact. They can run around and play and do whatever they would normally do; they’re just not allowed to engage with the dog. Meanwhile, you and Tattoo hang out together and you ignore the children. The idea is to get her to that calm, disinterested state, without trying to run or hide.
This is very important: if Tattoo has shown aggression toward children, such as growling or barking, then you will need to bring in a professional behaviorist or trainer, and you will need to do it now, before the baby arrives. For terrier breeds, it can be easy to misinterpret excitement and instinct for aggression. For example, if she jumps on children or tries to mouth their heels, she could just be trying to control their excited energy. Remember, terriers were bred to hunt small, fast moving prey. Excited children running around can trigger those instincts. Your dog needs to learn by association that children are not prey.
The final question is from Gayle S. Hoots, who wrote, “Please help me with an issue I have with my two German shepherds. They like to follow me from room to room and are constantly getting in my way when I am trying to work. Why are they so glued to me? They both want their noses connected to me. How can I get them to back off a bit?”
Well, Gayle, although I tell people that we should consider our dogs in the order animal, species, breed, and then name, sometimes the breed part comes out, which is what’s happening with your German shepherds. They are indulging in their instinct for herding. Unfortunately, they’ve decided that you’re the sheep.
To get them to back off, you’re going to need to claim your space. If your dog gets in front of you, just keep walking, right into the dog (gently) if necessary. This will give your dog the hint to move. Don’t worry about them taking it personally — this is how dogs ordinarily tell each other, “Get out of my way.”
Also work on not allowing them to go into a room or through a doorway before you. Letting them do this teaches them that they’re leading you. Make them sit and wait before you go into another room, and don’t call them until you’re in that room. If you have a problem getting them to sit, then the trick is to change course and go to a different room if they run into another room before you.
The goal is to not allow them to herd you, which will make them lose interest in trying. Additionally, you should only give them affection on your terms, not theirs. If they touch you with their noses, ignore them, and focus on giving them affection only when they’re ignoring you, and are in a calm, submissive state.
Finally, don’t forget to give them plenty of exercise, and consider adding herding or Treibball training to your regular routine, to help them satisfy their natural instincts and reduce this behavior at home.
Good luck, everyone, and remember to stay calm and assertive!