Posts tagged ‘etiquette’

Excuse me

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He’s right. A good pet dog would have.

Whether you walk on two legs or four, honoring someone else’s personal space is a universal sign of respect among social creatures.

I like demonstrate this the first week of my beginning obedience classes by standing uncomfortably close to one of my human students. Once I’ve crowded the person to a visibly irritating extent I ask them how they feel. Replies typically run to some combination of: “Uncomfortable.” “Irritated.” “Like I want to move away.” “That you’re a very rude person.”

While most humans have an innate understanding of the rules of personal space within our own species, we tend to fall miserably short when it comes to applying this important idea into the way we live with our dogs.

There are strict cultural rules about how we interact with strangers, friends, relatives and loved ones in space,  but puppies and babies are exempt from those rules. If a strange toddler jumps into my lap and kisses me, I’m probably going to react more in delight than disgust. A random teenage boy who takes the same liberties will not get the same kind of reaction.

Because it takes more than a decade for an innocent baby who doesn’t understand social rules to morph into a  teenager who flouts them, it makes perfect sense to us that the two creatures should be held to different standards. The problem is that a dog makes this transition almost overnight.

And so we forget to teach our dogs to respect our personal space.

We keep dogs partly because they have a charming tendency to reward our attention with lavish affection. Touch is a vital part of the human – canine relationship. Problems arise, however, when we blindly accept physical contact from our dogs in all situations.

Like the rude teenager who crowds you into a clothes rack at the mall and laughs as he clears the sidewalk with his skateboard, a pinball dog has no respect for the rules of shared space. Pinball dogs are the rude, pushy beasts who knock over furniture and small humans, jump on visitors, trample flowerbeds and otherwise wreak physical havoc on nearly everything they come into contact with. Some of these dogs are good-hearted but socially inept while others understand the rules and choose to exploit them for their own evil purposes.

Barbarian or boor, a dog that crashes through life like a four-legged demo derby champion isn’t much fun to live with. And like a pushy teenager searching for boundaries, he’s not really comfortable with the situation he finds himself in.

Dogs are social creatures.  They have an innate sense of the importance of courtesy.  As I’ve written here before, Peggy Post’s “Emily Post’s Etiquette“ includes several pearls of wisdom applicable to modern life with dogs. I especially like this bit from the introduction:

Etiquette must be active. It isn’t enough to know what to do. Courtesy matters only when it is translated into everyday behavior – not just put on for show when it’s convenient. The rewards of an active commitment to everyday courtesy are myriad, though not often tangible. There are also important personal rewards that some people may not even be aware of, including the self-confidence that comes from knowing what to do in new or difficult situations; a positive reputation with others; and personal relationships that are more congenial, even in times of stress, because the people involved treat one another with respect.

Teaching and maintaining a formalized set of behaviors (i.e. rules of etiquette) to your dog gives him a roadmap that helps him navigate an often alien human world. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give him.

Yielding” is a fair and gentle way to teach your dog to respect your personal space using methods he understands naturally. Teaching your dog to “yield” is incredibly simple. All you need to do is use the side (not toe) of your foot or outside edge of your leg (not the point of your knee) to nudge him out of your way. This must be accomplished with gentle but insistent nudging, never a kick or poke.

As you nudge your dog say “Excuse me”. Repeat the phrase with each nudge and keep nudging him with an even, insistent cadence until he moves. Once your dog moves, praise him and step through the space he was occupying when you started the exercise. Only make him move once. If you pester a dog with incessant nudging and make him move repeatedly you’ll either convince him that you’re a clueless dolt or incite him to the kind of rousing body slam games you were trying to cure in the first place.

Practice the exercise several times a day in a calm, matter-of-fact way. And once you start doing Yielding exercises with your dog stop stepping over or around him when he’s in the way. Considerate people will move out of your way when space requires it, you should expect the same kind of courtesy from your dog.

If you have a very large dog or one who is skilled in manipulating the law of inertia in his favor, begin by practicing yielding when the dog is sitting or standing. If you’ve got a small dog or one who’s naturally more polite and conscious about space you may want to start by practicing the exercise when the dog is lying down. (And if you have an aggressive dog – get professional help before you embark on any kind of training program.)

Your goal is to teach the dog to calmly and agreeably move out of the way without being nudged.

It may seem like a silly and somewhat pointless exercise, but Yielding is an important part of my training program. Once your dog understands that he needs to move out of the way when you say “Excuse me” you’ve got a way to stop him from jumping up on you because a dog cannot possibly move politely out of your way and jump up on you at the same time. Yielding is a convenient way to teach the dog not to cut in front of you when he’s on a leash. You can also use it to move a dog off the furniture and to stop him from jumping up on counters. And asserting your space is a great way to reinforce the “Leave it” command and teach a dog to wait at doors.

Yielding teaches a dog to think about what he’s doing with his body and how it affects those around him. It’s an important part of proper human-canine etiquette. And it’s an incredibly easy thing to teach your dog to do. So – what are you waiting for?

August 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm 11 comments

Proper Restraint

Restraint – noun

  1. A device or means for restraining, such as a harness for the body; “please fasten your restraints and put your seat in the upright and locked position”.
  2. The state of being physically constrained; “the prisoner must be kept under restraint at all times”.
  3. Discipline in personal and social activities; “he was a model of polite restraint”.

One word, three definitions and two very different meanings.

Two kinds of restraint are important in dog training. To differentiate between them, I’ll refer to the kind of restraint defined in the first two examples above as “restraint” with a small r. This kind of restraint includes behaviors consciously controlled by outside forces. It is a reactive force and it includes management of problem behavior. I’ll refer to the type of restraint defined in the third example as “Restraint” with a capital R. This form of Restraint is an intrinsic value, a way of being and the goal of effective dog training.

We need to use restraint as we raise and train our dogs. Sometimes a young and/or untrained dog has to be kept away from things and situations he’s not yet prepared to deal with. But – mistakenly thinking that they don’t have the time to use everyday situations as training opportunities, many dog owners never move past restraining their dogs to avert misbehavior. This is unfortunate because restraining a dog simply forces him to comply, it doesn’t teach him any real manners.

When we train a dog we need to offer him guidance and information. If your dog is going to learn Proper Restraint, he needs to know what you want him to do. A bit of restraint combined with a healthy dose of patient guidance (involving Restraint on your part) will teach your dog how to make better decisions on his own. Manhandling him won’t.

When you rely too heavily on restraining your dog, it puts you in a reactive instead of proactive situation and makes your dog think that he’s in control of the situation. And if you repeatedly restrain a dog without giving him guidance or release, he’ll become frustrated. This frustration can produce hyperactive or even aggressive behavior – and even if it doesn’t, it certainly isn’t conducive to learning.

doinitrong

So how do we move from restraining our dogs into teaching them Restraint? You probably won’t be surprised to find that the first step is to learn to exhibit it yourself.

When people sign up for my obedience classes they typically show up with a vague idea that the class will be a sort of doggy social hour. They expect to let their dogs play together and seem to have almost uncontrollable urges to pet and fuss over each other’s dogs. Because they haven’t learned Proper Restraint, their focus is on the other dogs and people in the room, not on their relationship with their own dog. Some of them are offended when I explain that I enforce strict rules that prohibit them from letting their dogs so much as sniff at each other and forbid them from touching or talking to any dog but their own without my permission.

Despite much human whining, I maintain these rules because I’ve found that when I restrain the owners from engaging in these kinds of distracting behaviors they learn to focus on their own dogs and begin acquire a sense of Restraint. This not only sets them up to be more successful handlers, it sends their dogs the first steps down the road to acquiring a sense of Restraint as well.

Moving from being reined in by restraint to earning the liberties that come with a well-developed sense of Restraint is a vital part of growing up. As dog owners we start out with a puppy or newly adopted dog that is, in many ways, a blank slate. At this point in our relationship much restraint is necessary to keep the dog and his surroundings safe. It’s also a time when we need to exhibit a lot of Restraint because our dogs are more likely to frustrate us since they don’t yet know the rules. As we move forward in the relationship, our dogs should begin to exhibit more Restraint and need less restraint. In a healthy training relationship our dogs earn liberties – and those liberties are far more satisfying to them than any treats ever made.

Effective training teaches your dog to use his mind to solve problems. Effective training doesn’t shackle or browbeat a dog; it frees him by providing him with a moral compass to navigate this strange human world — and it’s the most wonderful gift you can give him.

February 26, 2009 at 3:55 am 2 comments

Canine Chivalry

From today’s edition of Discovery News:

It may not be such a dog-eat-dog world after all, at least among our canine friends. A new study has found that young male dogs playing with female pups will often let the females win, even if the males have a physical advantage.

Male dogs sometimes place themselves in potentially disadvantageous positions that could make them more vulnerable to attack, and researchers suspect the opportunity to play may be more important to them than winning.

Such self-handicapping has been documented before in red-necked wallabies, squirrel monkeys, hamadryas baboons and even humans, all of which frequently take on defensive positions when playing with youngsters, in particular.

Chivalry may have largely disappeared from our human world, but it seems our dogs still adhere to a system of virtue and courtly love.  I’ve seen it here.  When Zip was a tiny (less than 10-pound) puppy Zorro liked to let her win at tug of war games.  Zorro was an enormous (120-pound), strong-willed beast.  Before we fixed the problem, he loved to fight with other male dogs.  But he was a complete and utter pushover for little Zippy.  He and Loki (who out-weighed Zorro by 20 pounds) would lie down to entice her to play with them.  They’d let her jump on them, nip at them, and tug on their ears.  They always let her win.

Now it’s Audie’s turn.  Audie’s an intact, teenage goon and he’s twice Zip’s size.  It took him a while to figure it out, but he’s learned that if he lies on his back and stays generally horizontal, Zip will wrestle and play tug with him.  If he gets rough with her or takes the toy away, she ends the play and stomps off in a snit.

There’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific community about the functions of play.  Obvious benefits include skills practice and the development of affiliative bonds.  An interesting question regarding the bond-forming functions of play are the extent to which it is “fair.” Some researchers argue that for play to continue over time, winning and losing roles must be generally equal.  Others argue that both animals will “play to win,” especially during play-fighting.  This new research indicates that, as is the case for most interesting questions, the real answer to the question of how fair play needs to be, is “it depends.”

Dynamic systems theory views social relationships as complex, emergent systems that change over time. Behavior can sometimes be more clearly understood through bidirectional causation, feedback loops and emergent patterns instead of simple reaction chains.  What are emergent patterns?  According to Wikipedia: “Emergent phenomena occur due to the pattern of interactions between the elements of a system over time. Emergent phenomena are often unexpected, nontrivial results of relatively simple interactions of relatively simple components.”  In other words, emergence arises when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. 

Complex behavior tends to have emergent properties.  This is why it is, to a large degree, so unpredictable.  So, while playing to win may be a smart strategy when one is play-fighting with someone who may be a competitor, it can be a bad idea when one is playing with a potential mate or ally.  According to Discovery News young male dogs will let females win in play because:

They might lose the game in the short run, but they could win at love in the future.

“We know that in feral dog populations, female mate choice plays a role in male mating success,” said Ward. “Perhaps males use self-handicapping with females in order to learn more about them and to form close relationships with them — relationships that might later help males to secure future mating opportunities.”

And it’s not just romance that matters.  It appears that many types of social conventions are involved during the role reversals that occur in play.  Role reversals occurred frequently during chasing and tackling games, but very rarely during mounting or muzzle biting.  This may indicate that mounting and muzzle biting are more important indicators of established dominance roles. The use of signals, like play bows, was linked strongly to self-handicapping behavior (i.e. letting the weaker dog win) but not to chase behavior, possibly indicating that chasing is a very basic form of play behavior that needs no formal introduction.

Rowan - a young, dane mix boy - entices Zip to play. He employs a deep play bow because he wants to wrestle.

October 11, 2008 at 1:02 am 6 comments

Remembering Prunella

Prunella was a goat.  I don’t know how old she was or where she was born.  I only met her once and know of her mostly through the stories my friend Audrey told me about her.

Prunella spent the first two years of her life living and working in a research laboratory at the University of Minnesota.  We don’t know what kind of research she participated in.  We just know that after the study was over, Pru was scheduled for euthanasia.

One of the students who worked on the study – and knew Prunella – was a friend of Audrey’s.  When Pru was scheduled to be ‘released’ from the program she contacted Audrey, who she knew had a farm with pastures and a barn, and begged her to take the goat in.  Audrey’s not a goat person, but she can be a sucker for a sad story – especially when it involves an innocent furry creature, so she agreed to take Prunella.

That was almost ten years ago.  Audrey and I joked about Prunella a lot – we agreed that we wanted to volunteer for whatever study it was that she had participated in…  You see, that darned goat was the absolute picture of health.  She never got sick.  She never had problems with infections or parasite infestations.  She was a super goat.

Mostly, Prunella was a pet.  She was an Alpine doe and I suppose Audrey could have bred her and used her as a milk goat, but she didn’t.  She just tamed her and fed her and cared for her.  They were friends.

An Alpine goat.  Not Prunella.

An Alpine goat. Not Prunella.

Until Sunday.

Sunday afternoon Audrey was doing chores around her place when she heard the hens in her barn raise up a great and terrified ruckus.  They were obviously panicked.  Really panicked.  So she sped out to the barn to see what the problem was. 

Clustered in a tight flock in the corner of their coop, the hens appeared to be terrified, but unhurt.  As she checked on them she heard odd, raspy sounds coming from Prunella’s stall.  She assumed that what she heard was the sound of a terrified goat, and went into the stall to visit Pru and calm her down.

As she entered the stall, she was horrified to see that two dogs were in the stall and Prunella was lying on her side in a corner, obvoiusly in distress.  The dogs, a border collie and a rottweiler mix, were snarling and their faces were bloodied.  Audrey – who can be incredibly intimidating when she wants to be – chased them out of the stall – with nothing more than her voice and presence.

Once they were gone, she went to check Prunella – and found that her trachea had been badly torn.  It was a wound she could not survive.

Filled with righteous indignation, she leaped into her van and drove up the road to the house where she knew the dogs lived.  Their owners were just piling into a car, dressed up for some outing, when she arrived.  Smart woman, she parked her van diagonally across the drive to block them in, then told them that their dogs had fatally injured her goat. 

The female owner leaped right into denial.  She whined that it couldn’t have been their dogs – they’re always chained up in the yard.  A pointed look toward two trees surrounded by hard-packed earth and empty chains said all that needed to be said about that.  So Audrey told the male owner that he needed to take ownership of the problem and come to put her goat out of its misery – NOW.

Quietly, he got his gun and did as he was told.

Then they all piled into the car and went off to their party.  Leaving their dogs to roam free through a neighborhood filled with poultry, sheep, calves, pets — and children.  No tears. No apology. No offer to bury or replace the goat.

No responsibility.

Sadly, it will be dogs who pay the price for this bit of ignorance and stupidity. Their owner will likely let them run at large until a neighborhood vigilante shoots them or the county sheriff picks them up and gets rid of them for him.  Then he’ll find a couple more dogs who are ‘free to a good home’ and chain them up outside his house until they die or go mad.  Or kill something.

A dog doesn’t need a home in the country.  It needs a home that cares. 

   The Goat And I

-Robert W. Service

Each sunny day upon my way
         A goat I pass;
He has a beard of silver grey,
         A bell of brass.
And all the while I am in sight
         He seems to muse,
And stares at me with all his might
         And chews and chews.

Upon the hill so thymy sweet
         With joy of Spring,
He hails me with a tiny bleat
         Of welcoming.
Though half the globe is drenched with blood
         And cities flare,
Contentedly he chews the cud
         And does not care.

Oh gentle friend, I know not what
         Your age may be,
But of my years I’d give the lot
         Yet left to me,
To chew a thistle and not choke,
         But bright of eye
Gaze at the old world-weary bloke
         Who hobbles by.

Alas! though bards make verse sublime,
         And lines to quote,
It takes a fool like me to rhyme
         About a goat.

September 16, 2008 at 3:08 am 2 comments

Putting out the Welcome Mat – Sort of

The Wall Street Journal’s Travel Watch column recently featured a piece called “Where Dogs are Welcome.”  One of the businesses featured in the column was the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, Michigan.  They recently opened “The Dog House,” a facility they refer to as “the ultimate dog retreat,” marketed “so guests and their pets can vacation together.”

I like to vacation with my pets, so I decided to look into the resort a bit further.  From their website:

Grand Traverse Resort & Spa has become a dog-friendly travel destination! Introducing, “The Dog House – The Ultimate Dog Retreat” located on the grounds of Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. Bring your beloved dog on your next vacation and relax knowing that they’ll spend their time in a Resort-caliber dog boarding facility with a professional, trained staff to look after them.

It’s a great idea.  Offer high-end pet boarding at a luxury resort.  But – it’s not what I’d choose.  I’m pretty sure that my dogs’ idea of the perfect vacation includes sharing a room with husband and I – not staying in an adjacent boarding kennel, no matter how luxurious it might be.

I wrote the Grand Traverse Resort and asked if I could have the option of keeping my dogs in a guest room with me.  They very politely replied that all pets must stay at the boarding facility.  Unfortunately this “no pets allowed” policy is becoming increasingly prevalent in hotels, motels and resort facilities across the country — and it isn’t our dogs’ fault.

Entitlement-driven, rudeself-absorbed pet owners who appear to have a deep-rooted need to flaunt their disrespect for society have a mounting presence in public places today.  Apparently rude is the new cool — and the increasing ‘coolness’ of American society tears away our rights faster than a power chipper ripping through pinewood.

I find it maddening that, instead of holding rude people accountable for their actions, most businesses and political entities now choose to simply lower their standards to a level attainable by the lowest common denominator.  If some pet owners choose not to train or clean up after their pets – no pets should be allowed.  If some people will throw trash out irresponsibly – no one should be allowed to bring food or drinks to the park.  If some parents refuse to require polite behavior from their children in public, no children should be allowed in fine restaurants.

It’s completely asinine.

For what it’s worth, I don’t have a problem with the Grand Traverse Resort’s pet policy.  Some people want to vacation in a place where there are no cats and dogs, or in a situation where their pet is close, but doesn’t require their immediate care and attention – and it’s fine that they want to cater to that crowd. 

I won’t, however, be staying there myself – if i can’t find a hotel that will take my pets, I’ll sleep in my van.

August 14, 2008 at 4:41 pm 2 comments

National Assistance Dog Week

A Pair of CCI Pups Check Out Their New Vests
CRAWFORD, Colo., Aug 06, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — August 10-16 has been officially designated as National Assistance Dog Week to honor the more than 20,000 dogs that assist people with disabilities. Their work ranges from guide to hearing dogs: from assisting those with mobility problems to alerting for sudden onset diseases like seizures or diabetes. Literally and figuratively, assistance dogs have been opening doors for their partners since the early 1920s. With a service dog helper, people who were unable to leave their home can travel, go shopping, attend classes, or pursue employment. Federal laws assure that their dog is allowed access on public transportation and in public places. A service dog recipient is even guaranteed equal housing accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, it is important for anyone working in the public sector to be informed about these valuable canines and the laws regarding their use.
How to celebrate? 
  • Donate
  • Be a puppy raiser
  • Volunteer to help with training, kennel work or other tasks
  • Stand up for a disabled person with a service dog when some unthinking person treats them rudely

We plan to celebrate by donating to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), our favorite assistance dog group.  CCI published this excellent information on service dog etiquette.

SERVICE DOG ETIQUETTE
    • Don’t be afraid of the dog. Assistance dogs are carefully tested and selected for appropriate
       temperament.
    • Don’t touch the dog without asking permission first. This is a distraction and may prevent the dog
       from tending to the human partner.
    • Never feed the dog. Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the
       working assistance dog team.
    • Speak to the person, not the assistance dog. Most handlers do not mind talking about assistance
       dogs and their dog, specifically, if they have the time.
    • Do not whistle or make sounds to the dog; this too may provide a dangerous distraction.
    • Never make assumptions about the individual’s intelligence, feelings or capabilities.
    • Be aware of potential architectural barriers to the individual.
    • Be respectful of the assistance dog team. They are a working pair going about their daily lives.

Source: Canine Companions for Independence

August 10, 2008 at 12:42 am 1 comment

Rules of the Road

Twelve-month old Audie is travelling with us on his first extended road trip.  Twelve hundred miles door to door, right through the middle of the country on I-35.  We’re off to the 2008 IACP conference to attend workshops put on by Brian Kilcommons, Kayce Cover, Stanley Coren and others on a wide variety of dog-related themes.

My young fellow has been on several short trips, but none of them involved long stays in motels or visits to big city areas (unless Dubuque, IA counts as a big city?)  Zip, now three years old, is a veteran of such trips.  And even though she’s a neurotic bundle of obsessive-compulsive energy Kelpie, she manages it quite well.

Riding in the van was mostly uneventful.  As they usually do, Audie and Zip rode together in a size XXXL crate behind the front seat.  It’s cushy and comfy and cozy and rather spacious.  Audie whined a bit the first day (he is quite a vocal boy), but he rode without a fuss all day today.

Potty breaks went well.  We managed to find nice areas for the dogs to stretch their legs near the gas stations we stopped at to refuel.  A newly mowed hay field behind a station in Iowa; an enormous expanse of lawn between a hotel and a Harley-Davidson dealership behind a gas station in Missouri; a strip of shady grass between a truck stop and a Baptist church in Oklahoma and a long evening walk through a quiet, shady medical office complex in Wichita.

When I can, I really do like to let them stretch their legs.  Both dogs got a chance to romp briefly off-leash in all these areas.  Don’t panic – we were safe.  I realize that most people don’t (and probably shouldn’t) let their dogs go off-leash far from home or in urban areas.  I suppose that you could say that this is one of those “this stunt was performed by a professional, do NOT try it at home!” situations.  The dogs need to run and well, I’m lazy.  So I let them off lead for a bit.  I’m also too lazy to bring toys so I take the three-foot leather belt leads I use to walk the dogs, tie them in knots and toss them to be fetched.  Being dogs, Zip and Audie don’t care.  Their motto is “if it moves and Mom says FETCH – CHASE IT and race back to her with it!”

Audie has stayed in motels a few times before and seems to know the drill.  Walk politely next to Mom in the hallway and lobby, sit politely to wait for and ride in the elevator and BE QUIET inside.  On this trip I decided to start teaching him to sit-stay outside the breakfast area while I go in to get my coffee.  Did I mention that I’m lazy?  Much too lazy to make two trips to the lobby (one to get the coffee and another to take the dog out for a potty break!)  When we got to the lobby the breakfast area was filled with businessmen milling about and seated at tables eating the free breakfast.  Perfect.  Even though it was crowded, the people there hardly noticed a quiet dog sitting by himself in the lobby.  Chalk one up for my boy – he stayed beautifully, even though I dawdled a bit over the baked goods.

Zip’s turn was next.  I needed a refill (it takes a LOT of java to get me moving before 8 am!), so we headed back to the lobby.  The crowd in the lobby had cleared a bit since my last visit, and now a few families with small children were mixed in with the business types.  I sat Zip down and went to top off my cup.  I returned to find that a woman with a baby who was sitting near zip was making silly faces and barking at my dog.  Zip was even more horried by it than I was.  Still exactly where I left her, she sat stock still with her head averted from the woman and a completely horrified look on her face.

I rescued my poor girl and took her outside.  She ‘did her business’ like the veteran traveller she is (quickly, discreetly and without a fuss) and we went back inside to finish packing.  As we stood waiting for the elevator, the daft woman from the lobby stuck her head into the hall — and started making faces and barking at my dog again.  Zip gave her a look of utter disdain and growled softly.  Even though I completely agreed with her assessment of the woman’s character, I gave her a quick ‘leave it’ and hustled her into the elevator to avoid the annoying dimwit.

Tonight we’re in a dog-friendly hotel in Round Rock, TX (not the conference hotel, it was already booked when we made the last-minute decision to come).  There are dogs in the rooms on both sides of us and across the hall.  If these imbeciles their owners typify the manners of most of the dog-owning public — doG help us.  Two of the nasty little beasts have tried to lunge out the door after us, and the whining and barking hasn’t stopped since we got here HOURS ago.  As they lunge past Zip and Audie stare at them as if to say “Don’t you have any manners?”

Indeed.

June 6, 2008 at 2:40 am 1 comment

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