Category: Aggression

No Stalking while Walking!

No Stalking while Walking!

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is standing on grass and alertly watching something off camera
Lewis watching a man in the neighborhood move his trash can

I’ve been walking two to three dogs every day since April 2021. One of my goals is to give them the most fun and freedom possible within the constraints of walking on leash in a suburban neighborhood. I have a post in the works about the ways I work on these goals. But in the meantime, I’m sharing this fun contrast in the behavior of three dogs.

I minimize the control I put on walks with the dogs. They are on leash, but I give them all the freedom I safely can. I have very few “rules.” There are many paths through the streets of my quiet neighborhood, and they get to choose. I live at the end of a T intersection, so even at the beginning, there are three directions to go. I don’t have a rule forbidding backtracking, which makes for walks that are foreign to a goal-oriented human. One of my dogs (Lewis) sometimes takes “walks” that don’t even go anywhere and seem chaotic to this human. We often spend a lot of time with him doing power sniffing in my front yard in the flowerbeds. That’s his choice, so that’s fine.

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is sitting in a street next to a driveway looking at something off camera.
We stayed here for about five minutes while Lewis watched a rabbit

A friend recently asked me what rules I do have. Keep in mind we walk in the suburbs, and the dogs are on six-foot leashes. I said 1) a dog can’t go over six feet into someone’s yard; 2) no staying out in the middle of the street for too long; 3) If there is a car parked on the street, we walk around it on the outside (the street side) together rather than walking in someone’s yard; and 4) the dog needs to follow my lead when I have to intervene, say, if a car is coming or we need to avoid something.

But I forgot one rule. The fifth rule is no stalking: no turning to follow other walkers at a close distance after they pass us. The funny thing is that all three of the dogs I walk with want to stalk, but for three different reasons.

Clara

Clara is curious. Even though she was formerly feral, and her human social circle is four persons big, she is curious about people. Just not in an affiliative or sociable way. She’s interested in the same way she might be attracted to an inanimate object with a novel smell. Plus people move, so that makes them more interesting! But not as…people.

When we were playing catch-up socialization at the shopping mall when she was young, she got comfortable enough that she wanted to follow passersby so she could get a good whiff. You can see it in the video at the above link. I let her do it sometimes in that locale, since stalking was less obvious with lots of people milling around. But if you are walking on a suburban street and someone passes you, they will notice if you instantly turn around and follow them. So I don’t let her do it immediately, although if she still wants to when they are a socially acceptable distance away, I let her follow or at least watch.

Lewis

Lewis is often aroused on his walks. He is reactive, but in an excited Tarzan manner. People and dogs thrill him. He might give off a bark or two when he sees a person, but if they beckon, he will be all over them. Literally all over them if I don’t intervene. We don’t interact with most people we see. There are three whom we stop and say hello to. But for those others who move on—nothing would make him happier than to follow them, see what they’re up to, and catch up and jump on them.

Choo Choo

Choo Choo is my friend and partner’s chihuahua mix. She had a rough start in life and has many fears. Over several years, she has learned to go for walks. She enjoys it and has become very courageous about new things and exploring on a microscale. Her behavior is an interesting mixture. When she sees people, she appears quite calm about them (except she hackles up). But as soon as they pass, she wants to follow and (possibly) catch up to them. Her philosophy is that the best defense is surveillance, and her experience is that coming up from behind is the safest. Since most people don’t enjoy being stalked by a small, intense dog, I don’t allow this! But we do stop and watch.

The Function of Following

I think it’s interesting that all three dogs want to follow the walkers who go by, but for completely different reasons:

  • Clara: non-affiliative curiosity
  • Lewis: reactive sociability
  • Choo Choo: fear

Their behaviors look different, too. Clara’s is calm and neutral; she is interested but not passionately so. You may see her sniffing the air. Lewis is excited and may strain to catch up. He might let out a yip or two. Choo Choo is hackled up and also intent on moving forward, but for the opposite reason.

If the people going by had wanted to interact, they would have stopped. So in all cases, I prevent the behavior. Unfortunately, it’s socially unacceptable. But if I were trying to modify it by training, I would need to know the function.

For Clara, there is no way to improve the situation with training at this point. Even though she will walk up to a stranger and accept a cookie, she does it as a trained behavior. She is polite and cooperative, but doesn’t want to be friends. So letting her trail people to sniff them can’t end well. Either they will be weirded out, or they may turn around to be friendly, and she’d rather not interact. In most situations, you can’t say to a stranger, “Hey, could you stand still with your hands to your sides and look at that lamppost while my dog sniffs you?” So I manage her behavior. The best I can do with passing people is let her turn around and sniff as they leave (but not follow them) and try to provide her with other interesting things to sniff and investigate.

For Lewis, we are working on his excitement, but not methodically. As he makes more friends, perhaps he won’t want to stalk people so much. With his existing friends, we practice not losing his mind (four on the floor and no jumping or pawing). And when people who aren’t his buddies (yet) pass us by, he gets to watch and sniff (but not follow) like Clara.

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is standing in the street and watching two people and two dogs walking away in the distance on the
Lewis watching a group of two people and two dogs from a polite distance

For Choo Choo, we are working gradually on her fear. We do ad hoc counterconditioning when we are unavoidably close to people, and that has made her much more comfortable over time. She is also very decisive about turning away from anything she doesn’t like the looks or sound of. But I think it will always be important for her to monitor people we have passed, and she won’t want to stop tailing them. She doesn’t get to do the tailing, but as with the other dogs, we at least turn around and watch the people leave.

The Popularity of Stalking

I’ve learned that plenty of other dogs want to follow passersby!

If you walk your dogs on leash, do they want to stalk people or dogs who have passed? What do you observe as the function? Do you ever let them?

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training

My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training

I always flinch a little when people start to discuss dogs’ emotions. What’s coming? Relevant, evidence-based observations or woo? I’ve removed some words from my own vocabulary when talking about dogs because of this. Even though my relationships with my dogs are primary and important, I hesitate to talk about “bonds” or “trust” anymore.  It sounds so…I don’t know…West Coast. (I can say that because I’m from California.)

I believe that the people who are out there focusing on magical energy and bonds and leadership and trust and all those other things we can’t describe concretely are doing dogs (and competent positive reinforcement trainers) a real disservice. Because emotions—the dogs’ emotions—do have a place in training. We can’t see them, but we can often see their results. Emotions and internal states have a place in behavior science.  They drive observable behavior.

Continue reading “My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training”
Before You Share That “Cute” Dog and Baby Picture…

Before You Share That “Cute” Dog and Baby Picture…

A baby about a year old, wearing a bright floral onesie, grabs the tongue of a large black and rust dog lying on a dog bed
Source: YouTube Creative Commons

First things first. I didn’t write this with you, dear reader, in mind. Let’s not make this about your dog or your parental decisions.

But there’s a problem with sharing that “cute” dog and baby picture. Maybe it’s somebody else’s photo. Maybe not. The important thing is that the problem is bigger than your individual situation, your family.

The problem is that posting a picture such as the one above sets an example and feeds a dangerous myth. A myth so dangerous that people die because of it. Children, especially, get hurt, and sometimes die because of it.

The myth is that good dogs, family dogs, your dogs—don’t bite. That dogs who bite are in some different classification. The myth says that dogs who live with us, dogs who like our kids, dogs who have always been “tolerant”—will stay that way, no matter what we or the kids do to them. The myth also says that dogs are supposed to take whatever kids dish out.

There’s even a whole genre of YouTube videos of dogs rocking cradles—usually either faked (a human or motor is doing the rocking) or a trained behavior. But what we see are those dogs with their heads right up close to babies again. And some of those dogs are stressed.

In about 80% of dog bites, the dog belongs to the victim’s family or someone they know, like a relative, caregiver, friend, or neighbor (Centers for Disease Control, 2001). We need to let go of our fantasy, our myth that family dogs won’t ever bite. They do.

When you post a picture of anybody’s dog with a very young child draped over him—hugging him; riding him; pulling his tongue, tail, or whiskers; or just plain sitting too close to him—and you Like it or share it or include an approving comment, you feed the myth. The myth that gets some people’s kids terribly hurt or killed, and dogs euthanized.

Dogs are animals. They can move at lightning speed. If you are six feet away, taking the picture, and the dog has his face right up next to your baby, you can’t get there near fast enough. Even if you are sitting right next to your child, the dog can still move faster than you.

A dog doesn’t have to be “vicious” or “mean” to bite. Sometimes all it takes is for him to be startled. Very young children, with their erratic movements, lack of fine motor skills, and exploratory natures, can stress out the most tolerant of dogs. It’s not fair to subject dogs to that. It’s not wise, either. Having a dog’s face, with that mouthful of teeth, up close to an infant’s head is an enormous risk. It’s not something to show off on social media.

Real-Life Examples

Many people out there believed the myth until they learned otherwise. The hard way. The tragic way. Here are some actual quotes from real people—mostly parents—from news stories about dogs seriously biting children. The quotes took about 15 minutes of web searching to find. I promise—they are real.

“Fido” was super cuddly, the nicest dog you would ever imagine, and never once snapped … never growled, nothing. He never, never, never went after a person. I’m just in disbelief. —2015

In an apparently unprovoked attack, a 3-year-old child was bitten by a pet dog on Saturday…. The girl was playing with the 2-year-old dog just before noon when she was bitten on the top and back of the head. —2015

She said the bite was out of the blue. “Mary” has known and played with the dog for years. —2014

I stood in the kitchen with my friend and her dog and my little girl. It was completely out of the blue, he jumped at my girl and tried to headbutt her to put her to the floor. —2015

I don’t really know what happened. It was right behind me. My dog just went for her. They are like best buddies. I don’t know what happened. —2014

He said the dog had no previous biting incidents, which is why he didn’t think anything of turning his back while his daughter went to play with the dog. —2014

The dogs had given no prior indication of behaving in this way, it was an attack out of the blue. —2015

The dogs had been observed many times in their home environment prior to and following the baby’s birth, and that “during these times they were very friendly.” —2022

He’d been absolutely fine for almost a year. Until that point he had been perfect with the kids. He was well trained and we’d never had any issues with him.—2022

What I didn’t include in the above quotes are the clues that were often just a few sentences away in the news story. The bites rarely come without warning, if one only knows how to read the signs. Perhaps the dog just got back from the vet after getting some shots. Maybe there’s a brand new dog in the household. Perhaps it is mentioned in passing that the dog doesn’t really like his tail pulled (but the child did it anyway). Maybe the dog has growled in the past, and the owners punished him for it. (That’s a bad idea, by the way.)

Shooting Down the Myth

Maybe I can’t persuade you that your dog has the potential to do animal things. Perhaps you really do have the single most tolerant dog in the world. Can I persuade you not to share those pictures, anyway? Your own or anybody else’s? Sharing them feeds the myth. If you share, you are implicitly condoning dangerous practices. You are encouraging others to let their kids get too close to their dogs and let them do uncomfortable things to the dogs for the sake of the myth, the romantic noble dog meme, that 15 minutes of Facebook fame.

A young boy has his arms around a large black dog. The boy is smiling; the dog looks uncomfortable.
This dog looks uncomfortable. Could anyone intervene fast enough if he was startled and snapped at the boy? (Source: CanStock photo)

There’s nothing new about what I’ve written here. (For instance, check out the second and third articles listed below.) Trainers and behaviorists cringe whenever they see photos like the two above because probably this very week they have seen several very nice family dogs who bit a child “out of the blue.” The parents were loving and well intentioned, but they grew up with the myth, and they still see social media saturated with it.

Let’s stop it now. Please don’t post or repost that picture. Please don’t take that picture. Please don’t let your child and dog interact that way.

Do learn about dog body language. Do keep your children and dog safe. Do check out the resources below on how to do that. Most of them have multiple, excellent articles on the subject.

Help educate people about safe practices with dogs and children. You can share the materials below instead of sharing that photo. Thank you!

Resources

Addendum: Some people have been concerned about sharing **this** post because of the photo. Great point! I debated whether to include any, but finally did because I felt I needed examples of what I’m talking about. I hope my narrative sheds a different light on these kinds of photos. Please do share the blog post if you are moved to do so.

© Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015

What is Summer Saying? Observing a Bark

What is Summer Saying? Observing a Bark

Summer mid bark keepWhen I filmed Summer barking using the slow motion function of my video camera, I was mostly curious in an analytical sort of way. What could I see when I slowed everything down?

I didn’t realize that I would find the footage so touching.

Slow motion filming is helpful because dog body language is so very fast. A dozen things can happen while we are just trying to process one. Much of it is so fleeting that we never see it at all.

Summer has a very expressive face, and she’s a worrywart. When you see her two little barks in slow motion, the extent of her anxiety is clear.

In day-to-day life with dogs, this is the kind of behavior that can be annoying. You are trying to read, watch TV, or go to bed, and the dog starts fussing because, for instance, the neighbor dropped a board on his back porch. You almost feel like the dog is doing it to annoy you.

But seeing something like this makes things very clear. No, she’s not a princess. No, she isn’t attention mongering. She’s just worried.

I’m glad I have been able to start working with Summer again. I’m afraid her anxiety took a back seat during Clara’s first couple of years in the household, since Summer could function in the world and had people and dog friends, and Clara had only me. Now that Clara is doing so well, the pendulum can swing back. I have been working on some of Summer’s triggers at home and already seeing progress. I’ll be writing about that some more soon.

In the meantime, you can check out how expressive two little barks can be.

 

Link to the video for email subscribers.

What do you see when your dog barks? Does it vary?

Related page

Dog body language posts and videos

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

© Eileen Anderson 2015                                                                                                                               eileenanddogs.com

Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police

Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police

Sweet little Summer
Sweet little Summer

I have mentioned before that my dog Summer is reactive. Reactive has come to refer to a dog who reacts strongly (and inappropriately in the human’s view), usually with an aggressive display, to some specific triggers. Some of Summer’s triggers are strange dogs (in some settings), strange men (in even more settings), delivery trucks, certain noises other dogs make, and rowdy play on the part of her housemates. The latter earns her the moniker of a “Fun Police” dog. She tries to stop the other dogs when they do things that bother her, and she is not very nice about it.

Continue reading “Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police”
Dog/Dog Resource Guarding in Slow Motion

Dog/Dog Resource Guarding in Slow Motion

Clara guarding the sprinkler

Before completing it, I showed the  movie featured in this post to two different training buddies and both responded with questions. Is it really resource guarding if the dogs don’t escalate to violence or obvious threats? How come the “winner” in the interaction is throwing stress signals right along with the other dog? I thought we were talking about aggression; how do we know this particular interaction is resource guarding? Isn’t Clara just giving play invitations sometimes? I don’t know the answers.  I think these are great questions and also inevitable when we are trying to discuss dog communication and body language in real life.

What the interactions in the movie have in common is that they all show two dogs who appear to want the same thing. The dogs communicate rapidly with body language, and one dog keeps control of the thing. There is usually a definite assertion of ownership by the guarding dog, but both dogs may also exhibit other types of body language.

Defining Resource Guarding

Jean Donaldson defines resource guarding in her excellent book, “Mine!”, as

Dogs behaving aggressively when in possession of (and sometimes to gain possession of) food, toys, bones, their owners, their resting spots and crates.

— “Mine!” p. 6

She goes on to describe ritualized aggression, where an animal behaves in truncated versions of more serious or violent behaviors. The truncated versions allow animals including humans to indicate intent but avoid bloodshed. Some of the behaviors that Donaldson categorizes under that include:

…hard stares, growling, snarling, snapping and biting without maiming force…

— “Mine!” p. 3

She describes these ritualized aggressive behaviors as:

 …the “legal” conflict resolution behaviors in dog society.

— “Mine!” p. 3

Donaldson’s book is a how-to manual on dealing with dogs who resource guard items from humans. She uses protocols of desensitization and counter conditioning to change the dog’s emotional response to a human approaching when the dog has a valued item. She makes the point that guarding is a natural behavior tied to survival, and common among dogs in a group.

There is plenty of online information on resource guarding. Here’s a good scholarly article that includes a definiton of resource guarding.

Also, I highly recommend the FaceBook Group: Observation skills for training dogs. This group is great for anyone who wants to hone their observation skills. Members post videos, their own or others found online, and the behaviors in the videos are described and discussed. The group has a very smart guideline: the participants are asked to practice using descriptive words to describe observed behaviors and THEN (emphasis mine) attempt to interpret the behaviors they see. We humans tend to skip right to what we think the motivations of the behavior are, rather than first observing and describing what is happening. This is a great place to learn about both. I got some nice comments and encouragement there for an early draft of my movie.

Guarding against Humans

I am fortunate that none of my dogs currently resource guards items from me. This is a combination of luck with Summer and Zani, and deliberate training with Clara. Because of her feral history, Clara has abundant, strong survival behaviors. (Translation: she is very pushy.) So I made a special effort to head off potential resource guarding against me when she was a baby. This is a good idea with any puppy or new dog.

Notice I said my dogs don’t currently resource guard against me. Here’s a photo from many years ago of Cricket with a rawhide chewy. Enough said.

Small tri color terrier holding a rawhide chewy between her paws and showing "whale eye"
Cricket is ready to defend her rawhide chewy

Is it Resource Guarding or a “Discussion”?

My movie shows my dogs having “discussions” about objects and places they want to have control of. The resource guarding behaviors are mostly on the very low end of ritualized aggression, which to me is a very good thing. They are working things out without coming very close to harming each other.

In addition to the hard stares, growling, and snapping that Donaldson mentions, my dogs perform several other more subtle behaviors that I would also classify as resource guarding and these are shown in the movie. They include moving forward into the other dog’s space, standing with a stiff, straight stance, muzzle feint (my name for a mouth closed muzzle punch without contact), and even intrusive sniffing and licking.

I agree with my friends that there is a lot of different stuff going on in the movie. Clara rarely looks very stressed. At times her guarding behaviors resemble (and could be) invitations to play. In Summer’s “successful” guarding of her toy in the last interaction, she darts a furtive glance and a lip lick towards Clara, who seems to be considering stealing her toy. This does not seem to be very assertive behavior. Perhaps Summer lucked out that time, but still, the outcome of the interaction was that she got to keep her toy.

What else do you see?

Final Note

I am fortunate at the low level of aggression my dogs show. I don’t mean to minimize the real dangers that resource guarding behaviors can pose, and of course I don’t encourage them. These clips were taken over several years. I take habitual precautions: supervising heavily when valued toys are available, intervening when someone (ahem Clara) is being a jerk, and separating all four of my dogs completely when I am not home.

Resource guarding can be a very serious problem. I hope if any of you have a dog who has started guarding things from you, you can get access to an experienced trainer or behaviorist.

Discussions coming soon:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2012

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