I saw this post recently on Dogster and it got me thinking, do I do this? The answer was, without hesitation, yes.
The topic was “Are you overly protective when your dog plays rough?” Umm…well…yes. Reggie is a bit of “mama’s boy” as they say and a couple of other factors play into my over-protectiveness: 1) he has been attacked before; 2) he’s still a dog and you never know what works and what doesn’t between dogs. Sometimes he’s cool as a cucumber and sometimes he’s peckish and doesn’t want to be bothered.
With my research of dog emotions and depletion of emotional energy stores (see this blog post), I can see this in Reggie and I understand on certain days, certain walks, that it will not be appropriate to meet other dogs. In other words, he is not in the mood. But what about in a play situation, not a walk?
He gets together with several dogs for play every once in a while. He knows these dogs well; there is a certain comfort level there. However, when Reggie has tired out and the younger, larger dog still play bites and pokes Reggie to play because he still has energy, Reggie will growl and snap to let him know that he’s had enough and he needs to back off. I know this is normal dog conversation but yet it sends ripples of fear through me. I have been known to jump in and correct Reggie for growling and snapping. I try really hard not to do that and give him (and the situation) mixed signals. It is appropriate for Reggie to given warning growls to the other dog, just as it is appropriate for the young dog to learn when to back off.
Taking some tips from Dogster and other training sources, here’s the best approach for learning dog conversation and lessening the fear.
Study your dog’s ears, tail, eyes and mouth. Different breeds inherently have different genetic communication styles (curly tails versus low curled down tails), so it’s not always appropriate to say that a high tail means a high energy, edge-of-your-seat kind of dog, or a low tail means anxiety. Ear position can mean anything from scent tracking, to listening, to anxiety. A cold dog stare means trouble- from any dog regardless of breed. That sounds anthropomorphic, and it kind of is, but before a dog is actually going to bite or lunge there will be a kind of dead cold stare before an attack. Of course, if you find yourself in this situation you don’t EVER want to look this type of dog in the eye because that is seen as aggressive on your part and actually an affront, i.e. an invitation for an attack. It is kind of a vicious circle, no? Baring teeth does not mean a bite. The lip curl, slightly more than a snarl, I start to pay attention.
These things are usually happening so fast that the average person can’t see them. I am not a dog trainer- I know what I’m supposed to look for and I can recognize them only in my dog. However, in a game of play you need to recognize them not as they are happening but in that split second before they happen.
Dogster had a great tip- go to a dog park without your dog. This affords you the opportunity to view dog-dog interaction without the fear or stress of watching your dog. You can use the skills you are honing to see what is good dog conversation (and owner interaction) and bad dog conversation (and owner interaction).
While you are watching other dogs, get good at learning the above dog signals in other dogs too. Why? That split second can prevent a fight with your dog.
Do a body check on yourself. How is your heart rate, your breathing? Your energy radiates and transfers to your dog. This is one of my hardest obstacles. I have to constantly check myself, take a deep breath and remember that Reggie knows more than I do.
Being an over protective pet parent is hard. It’s probably even harder for your pet! Learn to loosen up a little, take a deep breath and trust that your pet knows how to have conversations. If your pet truly doesn’t know how, get some training and rehabilitate your dog. Happy playing for you and your dog!