Friday, November 25, 2005

Day 127

The day after Thanksgiving presented a perfect opportunity to get in some "little kid" training. My niece came over for a visit with her two and a half year old son. Now in my book neither toddler nor puppy belong in the living room and so we headed for the training studio with its open space and room to play or learn or better yet, get in a good dose of both.

I am pretty much not able to stop training or teaching so Baby Jake and his mother joined Sanity, Wrap,one of my board and train dogs and myself in an interesting couple of hours. It actually wasn't until I got a chance to look carefully at the pictures taken that I realized just how valuable the time was in terms of teaching/learning for all the young ones.

If you have ever wondered why children under the age of 5 have more face bites than any other age group, just take a look at this picture. For starters, this is not a "cute" snapshot.
What I saw was a young dog totally unsure as to how to react to the human in front of her. Take a look at her ears, level of her head and her neck extension and then realize that the blur around her tail tells you she was wagging it.

The child has a very threatening expression on his face and he was making very angry sounds. He has inclined his body forward in a rather combative pose and just after this picture was snapped his left arm came up in preparation to what? I really don't know because I had already taken the necessary steps to defuse the situation and move them both on to other things.

What is even more interesting to me is that so far, in showing this picture to a diverse group of people not a single one realized just how serious a problem this little snippet of time could have become. It didn't. Instead it was turned into a good learning experience for mother, child and pup. And yes, it was even a good learning experience for me, since I actually hadn't realized just how lacking in basic animal savvy our population has become.

What did I do? Is that what I hear all of you asking? Simple, I called Sanity to me. Great use of the come command, gave me a chance to praise her and at the same time showed her she could walk away from a situation like that one.

In this next picture I am working on teaching Baby Jake how to hold a tug toy and offer it to a dog without getting bit. Notice how I have my finger hooked in Sanity's collar? By placing my hand in that position it is easy for me to feel what Sanity is planning on doing and at the same time it is easy for me to help her maintain her emotional control without being overpowering about it.
With Baby Jake, the major problem was to get him to hold the rope still and at the same time to keep his fingers back far enough to stay out of teeth range. Success did happen and Baby Jake and Sanity did get to play a few super short games of "tug". My goal with Sanity was to begin teaching her to pull gently when she is playing with a very small and/or young person.

In my general training plan, today was one of the most important of all training days. Good things were learned all the way around.

Footnote: I have no choice but to use the name "Baby" Jake since I am dealing with one human and four dogs all sharing the same name. I sure hope that the popularity of the name Jake abates well before this Baby Jake is old enough to understand what is going on in the name department.


  1. In answer to the question being asked by several people. Baby Jake is all of 2.5 years old. Yes, he is really tall for his age.

  2. Dianne Singer3:48 PM

    Absolutely terrific photo and analysis of a potentially dangerous situation. Such a simple preventative tactic - proper obedience training allowing the owner to call the dog away from the situation. This photo should be a poster with accompanying bite prevention training in day cares and schools everywhere!

  3. Anonymous6:40 PM

    Not sure if I would choose the tug of war game. Why did you choose that as the means of interaction?


  4. Rather than run away from a game that just about every boy, man-child and man seems to want to play with a large dog, I have embraced it.

    Meaning, I have taught all my dogs to play tug-o-war in a very specific manner. They are to take hold and hold on. Any resitance from the human will simply trigger an equal resistance from the dog. No head shaking, no swinging from side to side, simply a steady firm pull.

    Since it has worked very successfully for me with all my own dogs and all the dogs brought to me for training, I am most happy with the results. It does require self-control on the part of the dog. Even if the human is going to insist on shaking the tug item from side-to-side the dog will simply ride it out and continue to match the pull pressure.

    Interestingly enough, all the dogs who like to play at the tug game seem to really enjoy this sort of tugging. They all get this silly glazed cow look and sort of zone out. When the person gets tired of the game and quits, the dogs always sort of sigh and look mournfully at the toy before walking away to find something else to do.

    There is not a single thing wrong with a good game of tug. It is all in how you define it and what rules you are willing to play by.

  5. Anonymous7:10 PM

    Margot: I still have your post on tug as a training drill from a while back. Good piece.

    I believe Woodhouse also wrote that tug was fine as long as the dog and person both knew it was a game.

    Steve Kuhn
    HH, NJ

  6. In the end, it always comes down to who makes the rules? The human or the dog? In the "land that I rule" I make the rules and the laws and act as the final judge and jury.

    For the most part, it makes for a peaceful existance for one and all. Minor glitches get fixed in a hurry.

  7. Anonymous12:59 AM

    I was exposed to your entry by way of a crosspost on an entirely separate group and can't say I wasn't somewhat critical of some of the questions it presented, but I also can't say we're not on the same page. I appreciate your insight and have to thank you. Overall, a great illustration of the factors dog owners need to acknowledge and another "training opportunity" be it for dog or trainer alike.

    Personally, I neither play tug with my dogs nor trust them with children unitiated to dogs, nevermind combine the two. They've surprised me so many times I might see the temptation but I'm simply disinclined to give a child the notion of anything but the utmost respect for a dog- regardless of its size. On the other paw, I can't think of a better way of teaching a dog the consequences of its own bite pressure than to socialize it with a diversity of other dogs, all of whom have their own pain thresholds but speak in the unmistakably native tongue to the tune of "ouch, you jerk, take it easy, that hurts".

    Anecdotally, my dog who voraciously rips through a good-size gumabone within 5 minutes is the same dog that daintily lifts that same gumabone from my hand with the delicacy of a butterfly. She didn't always have such manners and I attribute that, in some part, to the regular socialization she's gotten since she's been in my care.

  8. Anonymous7:26 AM

    What I see is utter disregard for basic rules of safety with dogs and children: a child--and OMG a child under ten years old--alone with a dog, any dog, off leash (plus another dog coming up from the rear).

    And the idea that allowing a dog and a child to "play" tug, an aggressive game unless the human is strong enough to always win and the dog is 100% safe and not at all capable of inflicting serious bodily harm.

    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.

  9. Hummm...Mz. Anonymous has given me some serious food for thought. Perhaps I would be well advised to do like some of the current TV shows and commercials are doing and post a disclaimer any time I decide to share one of what I consider to be the most serious aspects of Beginning Canine Manners 101. Maybe something along the lines of "...don't try this unless you are working on a closed course and using a stable and responsible dog. And above all, don't try this unless you are actually capable of training a dog." Or something like that.

  10. Monica Mansfield10:11 AM

    Um, I don't see a child being left alone with a dog. I see a responsible dog owner teaching a toddler and a puppy how to interact with each other. Tug is not the evil game that so many people make it out to be.

    Good for you Ms Woods for taking this opprotunity to teach these two how to behave around one another. How else are they supposed to learn if they are not shown the proper way?

  11. Stella10:24 AM

    I'm sure the last anonymous posted would be shocked and appalled to know that I have raised two children and hosted hords of their friends in my home with no less than three dogs, of varying breeds. I have raised dobermans, Great danes and Irish wolfhounds in a family environment.I have never had an agressive incident.
    Is it not far better to train your dogs to properly handle encounters with children rather than avoid them? Because realistically, unless you live in Siberia, they will come in contact, and ignoring that possibility is entirely irresponsible.
    Thank you, Ms. Woods, for trying to educated dog owners. There should be more people like you and there would be less tradgedies in the news.

  12. I agree with at least two of you, that tug is generally a game to be restricted to dog savvy adults, but Margot can train dogs and knows the particular ones involved in this exchange. A tug game is all too often an occasion when a kid, especially a toddler, gets bitten. Often on the face, because that's the closest part of the kid. Since most dog owners/toddler parents are not really able to regulate the game, I suggest that people less than 10-12 yrs old not play tug with dogs.

  13. Dody,
    While games of tug should be restricted to dog savvy adults, the hard facts show us that in the real world boys are going to start tug games with any dog willing to be engaged.

    Since that is the reality, the practical thing to do is to teach the dogs how to handle themselves when the time comes that they are faced with a boy or manchild who is insisting on a game of tug, won't take no for an answer and there are no sensible adults around to help bail say dog out.

    When the dog knows to carefully take hold of the tug toy, clamp down, close its eyes and hold on while at the same time only applying a force equal to the force being presented; well then, that dog will never be involved in a child bite. Even more interesting is just how fast the boy or manchild will lose all interest in the game, thereby leaving the dog alone and ending the chance of a face bite.

    The use of careful force prevents the human for regaining the toy. The closed eyes prevents the human from making threatening eye contact and the solid hold prevents both toy and teeth from becoming weapons, whether by accident or design.

    Of course, the initial training needs to be done by someone who has enough dog training experience and also child experience to handle the entire situation with care and aplomb. And that is the real crux of the matter, isn't it?

  14. Anonymous9:04 PM

    Well! Now I realize we did it all wrong. And we did it when we were kids, and we did it with an old sock stuffed w/ more socks and knotted. And we shook, and growled, and made eye contact, and went nose to nose, and occasionally got a skinned knuckle when Dog took a fresh hold. And we'd let go, Dog would shake the sock prey violently and come stuff it back in your hand. And we loved it, and Dog loved it, and never did get bit.

    And with one dog in particular, with a nice iron molar bite, we spun in circles and Dog loved the ride, sometimes shaking mid air.

    Now safe tug is a very good idea and I'll probably work on that exercise now that I see the merits of its finer points. And my spinning days have spun out.

    But, honestly, not playing tug with your average good natured family dog is a form of terrible neglect of the dog and self deprivation.

    Woodhouse -- and Margot -- are right.

    Steve Kuhn
    HH, NJ

  15. Anonymous11:27 PM

    is the shocked annonymous poster would have LOOKED at he picture and perhaps read you post she might have been much less irate. First the child was NOT left alone, one there is the photographer and if you look closely there is another person sitting close by that can be seen in the mirror.

    Teaching a child (or adult in some cases) to hold properly a toy or offer a treat is a wonderful project, it is this kind of training with the dog and child that prevents the terror that this poster seem to fear is going to happen.

    The first picture is one of those *priceless* picture that most non trainers/dog folks would think is a cute picture of a kid interacting with a dog. More people should read this.

    Bonnie Stenzel

  16. Anonymous12:40 PM

    I can't thank you enough for posting this! Even though dog behavior is not the end all in life, it is SOOO important to be educated and, as in my case, have things like this to educate other's with...

  17. Glad to be of help. I had no idea when I took these pictures they would stir up so much dialogue. At the time, they were just a bunch of pictures to make the blog more interesting.