My German Shepherd, Milly – now eight years old – sometimes redirects sudden arousal that she may feel onto my younger Labrador, Milly.
It is a sudden pop in her direction whereupon Zara will immediately sink down onto her side.
It may sometimes be a build up with no discernible trigger that Zara herself will read. I can tell when Milly may be ‘getting funny’ by Zara’s body language, not her own.
Zara will sidle away licking her lips, curving her body away from Milly, ready to drop down.
She has Milly sussed, but over the years, despite the dogs getting on great most of the time, I feel it has subtly affected Zara’s confidence.
A short while ago the person I live with was away for three months and it all completely stopped. I just carried on doing what I always have done. Zara’s general confidence grew tremendously.
In the three months since he’s been back things are back to how they used to be before he left.
I told him this today and he said, is it my fault then?
It got me thinking.
It’s simple really.
Milly is releasing something she feels inside when she pops at Zara. It’s not premeditated. It’s not because she sets out to be mean.
She is feeling excited/scared/annoyed/aroused – whatever, and in her own way she is helping herself to change this feeling.
I always believed that how I deal with the situation is just managing it rather than changing it – until today when it dawned on me (it’s odd how something under ones own very nose is harder to see).
Having had the dogs to myself for three months at the end of which all this had stopped, I now have proof that the way I deal with it actually does change Milly’s behaviour.
This is what I have always done: As soon as I predict any cause for excitement, like my own walking in the door having been out, I call Milly’s name, she looks at me and I say ‘Good Girl’.
If anybody else comes in or the dogs all get excited about something, I call Milly’s name, she looks at me and I reward her in some way.
If I see her eyeballing Zara at any other time or if I see Zara acting strangely around her, I call her name, she looks at me and I tell her ‘Good Girl’. I may reward her or I may get her thinking about something else.
It takes a certain amount of anticipation. I find it second nature to be observant.
So, alone with me, Milly was no longer filled with the feelings that she needed to vent.
My friend who had been away for three months, on the other hand, and who spends more time with my dogs than I do on account of my being out working with other dogs a lot of the time, like so many people shouts ‘Pack It In’!
Of course Milly, who is naturally obedient, stops immediately. She takes herself off.
She, however, is left feeling just as bad as she did previously, or worse.
She will carry these unresolved feelings around with her, making her much more likely to ‘have a go’ at Zara with far less provocation.
‘Pack It In’ is reinforcing for the human (he looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell him it’s punishment to the dog). It works in the moment. He feels in control.
I frequently go to people with female dogs that don’t get on.
What if, at the very first show of one bossing, bullying or redirecting onto the other, a positive approach had been used, would problems have developed?
‘Pack It In’ or ‘Leave It’ which is no better, is the common human reaction.
In my own home life, under my own nose, there is something I wasn’t seeing. Here at home I have such a good example of how we need to get all people involved with the dog we are working with ‘drinking from the same water bowl’. Some are more challenging to convert than others!