Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Adding fuel to the fire

In response to an earlier entry (Day 127) a writer, who didn't even have the courage of her convictions enough to actually sign the post, criticizes even the thought of having a toddler and dog(s)loose in a large room. Mz. Anonymous appears to feel that any human under the age of 10 must never be exposed to a dog at all. At least that was the way I read what was written.

The exact quote goes like this,
Shocking disregard for the child's safety and that is where the statistics for child dog bites originates--with the adult supervising, or not supervising.

My first reaction was HUH? After several more reads, I reached the conclusion that Mz. Anonymous is actually one of those poor souls who was raised in total isolation of animals until she was past age 10 and now finds herself fearful when faced with a situation she doesn't understand. I'm sorry for her, but that is not a sufficient reason for me to discontinue teaching something that I consider to be of extreme importance.

To wit: young animals need to learn how to behave and get along, not only with their own species but with other species. In this case, the toddler and the pup both learned a lesson that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Both will need several reminders over the next few months to insure a permanent memory. Those training sessions will be dutifully arranged.

Second point to note. There were actually three loose dogs in the training studio along with one loose toddler and two very attentive adults. Each dog brought something special to the lesson. Wrap, (Doberman)semi-retired and an old hand at toddler training and puppy training, lounged on her couch until needed to help with the teaching. Rosie,the black and white Armenian street dog,with me as a board and train had clearly told me she would be steady and stable around a toddler. Then of course, there was Sanity. At six months and counting, she is still seeing everything as new and interesting.

The first game of tug was between my two. As Wrap and Sanity began to play tug they also began to do that Doberman thing called talking. These growly noises are a pretty good indication of just how intense the game is becoming. So, I have always insisted that it be played silently. When silent, they don't any of them seem to be able to go beyond a low level of intensity. This low level keeps the game a game and never allows it to spiral out of control. It is a behavior that MUST be taught, since it doesn't appear to come naturally to the dogs. So be it. I teach it.

Unfortunately, to those with no dog savvy, it seems to look and sound like a fight. Which is exactly what Baby Jake's mother thought was happening. I hushed her. Downed the dogs and stepped between Baby Jake and all the dogs. Why? Because once again, he was going to rush in, fists raised and feet attempting to kick, all the while screaming. Notice here, I used the down command to control the dogs while I physically stepped between dogs and child. If you don't have a reliable down command then this is not the time to worry about teaching one.

Tug game put on hold, toddler diverted to another activity and mother lectured on the dangers of telling her child the dogs are fighting. Even if they are fighting, there are much safer ways of moving the child out of the way. Gee, how about a game of fetch?
Need I tell you that didn't last long either. He became intrigued with trying to throw the toy into the mirror. Ain't kids wonderful when they are two?

When going into a training session of this type it is critical to remember this is not the time to be trying to introduce a new command. It is not the time to be trying to proof a just learned command. This is the time when you take the commands that are truly basic to living and begin to use them in real life ways that are set up to help the dog learn responsibility and taking control of maintaining their own emotions or behaviors. The sit and the down commands are wonderful as stop action commands. The come command removes the dog from the problem area while teaching that it is acceptable to "run away" some of the time. The place command, in this case morphed into a go to bed command makes it possible to sent one or more dogs to an out of the way location while you are focusing on the remaining dog. One more time, I stress that this is not the time to begin to teach the commands nor is it the time to begin the proofing part of the training. The dogs must know the commands cold before you even consider starting the toddler or small child part of the training.


  1. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Margot thanks for the continuing posts. I think your typing is wasted on several people though. Lack of both self- and external- control of one's dogs (and one's children) is more in vogue.

    Melissa Stagnaro
    Alexandria, VA

  2. Melissa- Thanks for the encouragement. On the one hand I agree with you about the lack of self and external control of dogs and children in current vogue.

    However, I honestly believe that my time responding is not wasted as long as I continue to seek to teach, train, educate. For some reason I continue to believe there are far more people out there thirsting for knowledge than there are people out there trying to snuff the flame of learning.

    Guess that makes me one of those fool eternal optimists.

  3. Alison Rhea5:04 PM

    Excuse me if the following post sounds harsh, but I simply have no patience for people who run their mouths on subjects of which they haven't the slightest inkling of comprehension.

    It is outrageous that someone begrudge interaction between a well trained pet (there is a distinction between well trained and well behaved!!) and a young child. Despite what many of the ignorant masses may believe- interaction between the two is NOT synonymous with biting. However, what does in fact lead to most bites are parents/dog owners who, despite their claims of all-knowing canine intellect, are sorely inexperienced and uneducated in the canine realm.

    I only hope this poster does not actually have a child and a dog living in the same home together! Kudos to you Margot for making a conscious effort to develop your dogs coping skills and ability to thrive among humans! I am working on this same area with my own dog now. Due to his background, he cannot yet be off leash around young boys, that is my ultimate goal...

  4. Ah Alison, Of course you are correct in your thinking; however, without comments such as Mz.Anonymous sent it would be almost impossible to get any sort of dialoge going. Without dialoge there really isn't much in the way of teaching or learning going on. The part that saddens me is that Mz. Anonymous is so unsure of her own abilities to do anything other than attempt to sow discord that she is actually afraid to sign her name. Sad, truly sad.