Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dogs Will Be Dogs

Yesterday I had a conversation with a trainer about dog behavior.  The topic of dog corrections came up, and she said that she does not allow her dog to correct another dog because she does not want her dog to think that the behavior involved in a correction is appropriate.  This is something I've heard a lot from trainers over the years.  Here are some of the arguments:

- Never wrestle with your dog.  This will teach him to play rough and to fight.

- Never tug with your dog.  This will teach him to not return things to you.

- Never allow your dog to correct another dog.  This will teach him that inappropriate behavior such as growling, barking, or showing teeth is OK at any time.

The first question I must ask you is this: Would you ever tell a young boy or girl that it is never appropriate to wrestle, play tug of war, or acknowledge his/her displeasure with something?  I certainly hope not, or else I would have missed out on a world of fun as a child.

As a young girl, I learned that when I was in my play clothes, I could wrestle with other kids, I could climb trees, I could play tug, and I most certainly could say when I wasn't happy with something.  However, I was also taught that there were times when playing was inappropriate.  There were times when I was at school or church and I had to sit still.  There were times when I could display my displeasure and Mom and Dad would tell me I was acting inappropriately (and occasionally punish me if I continued to display my displeasure).  I learned what was appropriate and when it was appropriate, and I believe it is important to teach our dogs the same.

As a puppy, Cody had very bad manners.  He nipped, he chewed, he growled, he stole toys.  He was a puppy, though, so I knew he'd grow out of it.  In the mean time, I worked on teaching him manners.  I taught him to play, but when things got too rough for me I taught him how to stop.  I taught him that chewing on his toys or on bones was fine, but that chewing on furniture was bad.  I taught him that growling at one thing or another was fine, but there would be trouble if he ever laid teeth on or growled at me (when he was not playing).  I worked hard to let him know what was appropriate and what was not, and I was rewarded with a dog who can play rough but who knows when to quit too.

The next argument I usually hear in this is, "Well, he's fine with you, but what if he was with a young child or an elderly person?  How would he do then?"  I used to wonder about that myself.  I've always played rough with my dogs, but not all children like that.  Would Cody be OK? 

Cody was only 9 months old the first time I saw him around young children.  We were at the local children's theatre (where Hans works), and there was a semi-large group of children ranging in age from 3 years old to 10 years old.  I watched carefully as the children started to play with Cody.  They made all the same movements that I would make when playing rough with Cody, but Cody was different with them.  He was obviously happy, and he was playing "rough," but it wasn't his usual level of rough.  He very much held back for the kids.  He ran around them instead of jumping on them.  He gave them kisses instead of grabbing at their sleeves.  I knew then that Cody was smarter than what most people would give him credit for.

Similar things like that have happened over the years, both with elderly and young, and it's made me realize just how smart dogs are.  They are capable of discerning between situations.  They are capable of making choices and making the right one.  Yes, there are some dogs that take a little longer to learn than others.  There are some dogs that you wouldn't want to rile up as much because they just haven't learned how to calm down.  However, with a little love and attention and a lot of time, any dog can learn how to play rough, or tug, or even correct another dog without taking things too far.  I think it's important to teach them how to make the right choices rather than not allowing them to make decisions at all.  It helps their minds grow, and it helps our bonds with them flourish.

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