This is a ridiculously hard video to watch. But….. It’s one of the most moving videos I’ve ever watched. If you are a Bully lover, you must watch it.
In the spirit of making you feel better about your situation…. I thought I’d share our monster of a New Years Day.
Awaiting the “New Year”, we have a lapse in attention of our newest member of the Bully crew. Jackson is still learning house manners, and will absolutely flip out at unexpected sounds late at night. Of course, when he does that, it can set off a scuffle, if I’m not right on top of it. Of course, I wasn’t. So at approximately 11:55, we ring in the new year with a dog fight. Ugh.
Not the end of the world. We’re pretty experienced with these things. Within a few minutes, we have it all back under control. No injuries. No lasting grudges. The pack is peaceful shortly after. But….. Bummer way to ring in the year.
So…. Later that morning I have 3 of the 4 pups in the truck, running errands. Beautiful day. Lovely drive. The day was starting to look up. Until, a sheet of icy snow flipped off the vehicle in front of me and smashed into my windshield. This scared the holy shit out of all of us. I did manage to not drive off the road…. So there’s that. And even though there was no scuffle because of the scare…. It made everyone pretty freaked out. So, no damage… But seeming like one of those days.
Like I said, I had 3 of the 4. My wife had the 4th. She was salvaging the stressful day by hanging out at her moms. Of course, when she let our dog out to pee….. He see’s a deer just outside the yard. Of course, he goes smashing out of the yard and through the woods behind their property. Oh, did I mention this was just before dark….. And it’s the coldest night we’ve had all winter.
Now, we have these Garmin GPS collars:
They are awesome! They show you real time, where the dogs are on a gps unit. You can track them. You can go get them if you need to. The new models have a tone, that you can recall them with. You can track up to ten dogs. They are really amazing tools if you’re gonna be in the woods. The sense of confidence, and comfort they give you are really phenomenal…..
Yes, they’re expensive. But the piece of mind they give is worth it. That’s why we have one for each dog.
Of course, the downside to these things are….. YOU MUST PUT THEM ON THE DOG!
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
Yep. Since Mandy was just letting him out the back door to pee, and NOT going on a woodland excursion…. he was just wearing his house collar.
So, three hours or so later as they scour the woods in arctic gear and finally go back to the house….. Milo (the little escapee) is sitting at the back door, just waiting to be let back in.
He was a little cut up from the chase, but nothing significant.
It’s about 9pm now, and I think we may be done with this “New Years Day From Hell”.
Now, lest you think I’m just whining, I’m not.
I like to think I have some of the tenacity of these dogs. It takes more than one shit day to stop me in my tracks!
I’m not telling you this to bitch. I’m telling you because this is a blog for people with “difficult” dogs.
“Difficult” dogs come with days like these. Maybe this will make you feel like your day wasn’t quite so bad.
Maybe, seeing someone else have a fiasco, and not completely shut down, makes it easier for you to keep your head up with nightmare New Year story.
I like to use analogies when I learn. When I teach martial arts, I go to the analogy “well” quite a bit! I think they help everyone learn, not just me.
So, one I came up with for understanding how some problems develop in dogs, is…….
“The Super Fan!”
None of the dog trainers that I’ve told it to, like it. Here’s why:
They see the balance of power in the human dog relationship all out of whack. The dog runs the show. The dog chooses everything. Which couch is it’s. When this obedience nonsense will be happening. When you pet them. And it goes on and on.
One dog trainer I knew, described it as the dog having YOU trained. He was fond of saying “Open the door, Monkey.”, “Pet me Monkey.”, etc, etc…… He had a million of them. And they were totally accurate. And, they were really hard to hear. I watched that dude pitch that line to a lot of people, and I never saw anyone not struggle with the implication that their dog didn’t care about them. That the relationship that they imagined with their dog didn’t exist. That their dog was a cool, economist, who was only tolerating “the Monkey” because of the payouts it was getting. It feels like they’re implying that the dog doesn’t love you at all. They seem to imply you’re being deluded into servicing this animal.
They don’t like the super fan analogy because to them, it seems, like the rock star is in control of the relationship. One trainer said to me “The rock star can walk in the room and say do this, and the fan will drop everything, and do that.” That seems right….. On the surface anyway. But if you look closer, you’ll understand my point. If a famous country singer walked into his fan club, and in all seriousness, asked them to dress and act like gangster rappers…… I bet they wouldn’t be quite so in love with him anymore. So really fans are pumped to drop everything and do what you want, IF you want something they understand, enjoy, and agree with. Sounds like most dog’s obedience, doesn’t it?
See, fans are actually fickle as hell. Many a star has kept some aspect of their lives a secret for fear they would lose all their fans. They are careful to craft their PR very carefully, just to stay in their fans good graces.
So, if we look deeply, you’ll see the analogy is quite accurate:
You want to be a rock star. So, you behave certain ways to attract fans to you. and it works, they love you. They follow you around. They stop seeing you as a person, and just start to obsess over you. They develop an unhealthy lopsided relationship with you. You have to hire security. You have to change your behavior to stay out of their site. Disguises. Avoid your favorite places. etc…. Next thing you know, they’re mailing you hate mail, and tearing out your hair when they run past.
Doesn’t sound like you’re much in control. Weird. You’re the rock star. But you do everything you do to keep your fans in love with you, all while managing the huge pain in the ass having them has become.
Hmmmm……. Sounds like your average dog owner.
Wanted a dog for the sense of love and companionship. Get the dog, and just lather it with love and anything that may make them like you more. And it works. They love laying on top of you on the couch. And they love the way you pet them when they ask. They love how you’ll give them food if they stare at you. And, all the toys you leave out for them. And they love how you respond to their bark right away if they do it just right.
Some of them really get the obsession going, and really feel like they need to be attached to you. And you get the dogs that have separation anxiety. And, the dogs that are crazy jealous and possessive.
You end up with a dog who loves you deeply. It’s just that the relationship is not balanced or healthy for them…. Or you.
To fix it, you have to do the same thing. You have to get past the superficial part of the relationship. You have to set healthy boundaries. You have to teach them to see you as a real person. You have to develop an ACTUAL relationship.
That means learning how to really relate to them. To see and understand them for who they are, not just what they can do for you. And to teach them who you really are, so they can see you for more than just what you can do for them. You have to share experiences, and develop trust.
Maybe then, you won’t be the Beatles, you’ll just be you. And they won’t be the nutty super fan. They’ll just be them.
Maybe. you could get rid of your bodyguards, and go for a walk in the neighborhood again.
Whatever you celebrate…… Enjoy it!
A lot of people are either having guests over. Or are leaving their pets at home for longer than usual while they go somewhere. If you have a “difficult” dog, this can be daunting. I’m very familiar with the urge to cancel holiday plans because it just doesn’t seem worth the “dog” issues. But, over the years, I’ve learned how to manage things better. Hopefully some of these will help.
Some holiday tips:
1. The obligatory training/lifestyle suggestion. Yeah, if you don’t have this base already covered, it’s not gonna help for tomorrow…. But, I’d be misleading if I didn’t suggest it helps EVERYTHING. It is a HUGE part of the equation. Like 2 thirds. Lifestyle, “Pack Structure”, or how you live with you dogs, is 1 third. Obedience training is the second third. But, like I said. This can’t be done in a day…. So not really helpful if you’re staring down the x-mas barrel. But, for next year!!!
2. Exercise. It doesn’t fix everything. But it sure helps manage things. It is the other 3rd of the equation for a good dog. But, more importantly, it’s one of the only “short term”, “immediate” fixes. It sure is hard for dogs to be annoying when they’re worn out. So, before you leave them for the day, or have people over….. Plan a little extra time, and WEAR THEM OUT!!!!
3. Crates.Obviously, if you leave them. But, they can be great for when guests come over. Crates, are a great way for dogs to be WITH everyone. If you’re little difficult one, is weird with people, or just hyper, you can put a crate in the room where everyone is. They get to be “with” everyone, but not bother everyone so much. Yes, they’ll probably freak out for a sec. But usually, they settle down. They get to be there, but not ruin the day.
4. Enforce the rules. On your dog; if they don’t normally beg food, don’t let them “just today”. If they normally sit before being invited onto the couch, just cause it’s Festivus, doesn’t change anything. But honestly, and I think more importantly, enforce the rules on your guests. Yes, it’s it’s gonna be annoying. Yes, people will be irritated. But, if you let people act differently, your dog will see, and they will act differently. For some that just means after the guests leave, you’re dog may take a few annoying hours to get back on the program. For some of us, that means, HUGE protesting when we try to re-instate the rules. And for some, that means the inconsistency means your dog slides back into fearfulness, or aggression, and now your back in a world of shit. Make sure that if you’re gonna put your dogs in that situation….. do what’s right for them, NO MATTER WHAT. Otherwise, leave them home, or in their crate.
5. If you leave them crated for way longer than normal. leave them something interesting to do. That may take up the first part of time at least. Puzzle/treat toys. Meaty bones. Or my new favorite…. A Kong filled with peanut butter that’s been frozen. That one takes a WHILE. Helps pass the time, and release a little frustration.
6. If they didn’t get the privilege of being loose, you’re obviously not looking forward to “Releasing The Krackens” when you are done. Step 1- don’t come in and make a thing about it. You’re guilt, excitement, whatever, is just gonna get them tripped out worse. Just walk in AND IGNORE THEM. as soon as they start to settle down (yes it will seem like forever) get them out and WEAR THEM OUT again. They’re gonna need to dump that energy to not be completely annoying. Then, get right back to your normal structure ASAP.
Hope that helps some of you.
I’ve dedicated a ton of energy over the past 2 decades to change the public perception of the vastly misunderstood American Pit Bull Terrier.
I’ve been responsible for changing the mind of countless people. I’ve personally been credited with a dozen or so adoptions that would NOT have gone with a Bully breed, had they not met my dogs.
Just the other day, I totally validated a persons irrational fear of these dogs.
I am rehabilitating/socializing a new rescue right now. He lived on a chain for a year and a half. He had ZERO manners. He’s not in any way aggressive….. But he will jump from the floor literally on top of your head in order to kiss you WAAAAY to energetically. And, when he’s all pumped up, he will bite your sleeve, lay down and alligator roll, all with that huge, stupid Bully smile.
Clearly, this is not acceptable behavior. But it’s not “dangerous”, or “aggressive”. I am determined to fix it, and give this dog a second chance. I WILL make him a breed ambassador.
It will be impossible to do that without pissing a few people off. It is literally impossible. There are some people who have it out for dogs, or that breed in particular, and are just waiting for proof. It is impossible not to give them ammunition. I mean, for you to change their mind, you have to have a BOMBPROOF dog. They have to have perfect obedience, and sit right at your side, just waiting for you to ask them which well Johnny fell down.
Sweet, give a few months and I’ll have that. But right now….. Right now, he’s working on it. Cool, peoples answer is to not take them out in public until they are perfect. Problem is….. You can’t get them perfect till you take them out in public! You have to work on a skill, and nail it. Then, add distractions. Then, TAKE THEM OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD. Know what? They will at some point screw up, and lose their manners. THAT’S HOW YOU MAKE THEM BOMBPROOF.
And this is one of the MAJOR hurdles people have to getting their dogs past the “Good in my house, but nuts in public” issue. People are scared of what others may think of them (or their dog/breed). So they don’t take their dogs out in public. And their dogs never get to become those awesome ambassadors they could be. The less dogs that are bombproof, the more validation people have. It’s a never ending catch 22. By trying to not look bad in front of people…. You are doomed to looking bad in front of people for the life of your dog. By insisting you never make a bad impression of your breed, you reduce the number of ambassadors on the street, keeping the average impression low.
If you have a dog in your charge, you have to think more about what’s best for them, than you do anything else.
People will be pissed when you’re teaching your dog impulse control and out of nowhere they get crazy and start barking. They’ll say “why would you bring them here?”. People will be pissed when you say “Please don’t pet them. I’m working on her fear of strangers.”. They’ll say “why would you bring her her?”. The list goes on, and on.
My point is, you have to look first, at what’s best for your dog. Most likely, that’s getting past their issues, not hiding them and being embarrassed. Then, you have to look at the big picture. What’s best for the overall impression society has of dogs, is to show them BOMBPROOF dogs. Not hiding any dog with a problem, making the problem worse and reducing the good examples.
Makes me feel terrible that my dog tugged a guys sleeve. It was a huge handler error. I wasn’t watching his arousal level, because he’d been doing so well. Yes, I immediately, corrected him, and put him in a down while I apologized. Yes, while we I am explaining he’s learning manners, a child was playing 3 feet from us while he held his down. Yes, I allowed the kid to pet him, while he held the down (only to demonstrate his temperament, and show the earlier behavior was not uncontrollable). And no…. None of that made a difference. He was now sure all APBT’s are dangerous, and out of control. He is convinced that I am an irresponsible prick.
And yes, that makes me kind of sick to my stomach. Not that guys feelings, because he’s made up his mind already….. But, because he will now be able to badmouth these dogs, that I have tried so hard to help.
I just have to focus on all the good we’ve done. And will do for them in the future.
Anyway…. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from doing the right thing for your dog.
What’s that saying…… You can’t make an omelet, without making somebody angry.
Or, something like that.
We talk too damn much. Really……. That’s the point of this article.
I have two main interests. Dogs, and Martial Arts/Self-Defense. These seem ridiculously unrelated on the surface…. But, in reality, they aren’t. I’ll explain:
This is how I think animal communication goes. And yes…. Humans are animals.
1. Calming/Avoidance Signals
It goes in that order as a continuum, unless the situation warrants jumping to a higher spot on the ladder.
Now, I’m clearly, only talking about the “conflict” aspect of communication. Because, when your goals are aligned, there’s no “need” for “good” communication. It’s like if you and someone else are both zealots of a certain political bent, you don’t have to have amazing communication to convince them of which way they should vote. But….. If you are of opposing viewpoints, and you want to change their position…… You’d better have some damn good communication!
Our problem is that we’ve become so specialized in language, that we’ve become dependent on it. Which is fine, if you’re dealing with linguaphiles. But….. If you are dealing with a being that either doesn’t know language, doesn’t know your language, or is not “able” to be “civilized”…… You can’t afford to not have the rest of the continuum.
How does this effect our two subjects:
Inexperienced people, will use calming signals like look aways, nervous laughs, hands up palms out, etc…. And if that doesn’t work, they go right to “Sound” and try to talk their way out of it. They just JUMP two ahead. If THAT doesn’t work…… They’re screwed. The likely hood that it will work is low, as prematurely running up the ladder is a sign of fear. Fear draws aggression. And when they ignore your “Sound”, and become more aggressive…… Most people have ZERO experience dealing with the “Touch” and “Attack” end of the continuum, so they are ineffective…… Or worse…… don’t even try. All just because they only have 2 of the 6 rungs on the ladder.
To fix this, you have to learn human body language to fill in the gaps in the “Stillness”, and “Pressure” categories. And, learn Brazilian JiuJitsu to take care of the “Touch”, and “Attack” categories. They are BOTH important! If you can fight well, you’re fine if you end up all the way at the end of the continuum……. But without the understanding of body language, you’re gonna start the whole process further up the ladder than is necessary. And it’s a damn slippery slope. The higher up the ladder you go, the more emotion there is. The more emotion there is, the more likely you are to escalate. A full understanding. of the ENTIRE continuum reduces your chances of conflict. Remember that….. You’ll see it again.
If you think people have a bad understanding of human body language, they have even less of canine body language! When dogs see us, they see a being who doesn’t communicate well at all. We ignore all the communication under level 4. We also only communicate at level 4 and above. To them we must seem like the body language version of “hard of hearing”. Here’s a typical example; you disapprove of something they’re doing…. With absolutely no “warning”, we say “NO” (“sound”), and if that doesn’t work, we punish (“Touch”) them. Hell, the only time we use anything less than level 4 with dogs, is when it’s a complete accident. Here’s the typical example of that; we want to approach a dog, but we don’t know how they’ll react. So we throw ZERO “calming signals”, cause we don’t understand canine versions of them. Then we stand still so we don’t scare them, accidentally throwing an escalation signal (“stillness”). Then, we walk straight at them (“pressure”), and bend over the top of them to pet them (more “pressure”). They don’t like any of this and we are rifling up the ladder. So, in an attempt to get ahead of us, they growl (“sound”), and we top them with yelling (more “sound”), or worse a correction (“touch”), and the only way the top us is with an “Attack”. This exact example happens damn near daily. It’s not an exaggeration.
And that’s not the only way it affects our life with dogs. They learn not to trust us. See, dogs throw levels 1-3 CONSTANTLY. To them, we just don’t seem to care. This seems small, but can lead to pretty significant problems. Here’s an example; Some ill mannered person (read above example) approaches you and your dog. If you knew anything, you could read all the signals of discomfort your dog is throwing, and ask them to stop. But, you don’t, so you didn’t, so they get bit.
And creating problems out in the world isn’t even the main problem. Dogs are pack animals. And most of them don’t really want the burden of being of being “Pack Leader” (yes I know that a played out term, but it works so shut up). But you leave them no choice. You don’t look like you’re listening to them, or are willing to address their concerns…… So, they say “fine” and handle business themselves. Look, I’m not saying that all problems are caused by “Pack Leadership” confusion. Sometimes, the problem is that you’ve trained them to be little extremists. They learn that you don’t pay attention to anything under level 4….. So EVERYTHING is level 4 and up. Like I said before….. A full understanding. of the ENTIRE continuum reduces your chances of conflict. Both between you and them, and them and the rest of the world!
Great, now that I’ve told how bad you are at everything…… What are you supposed to do about it?
1. Whichever one you’re interested in Dogs, or Self-Defense….. Study the body language of that species. Clearly, if you look at the links above, that’s doesn’t take a lot of digging. This is also one of the only times I recommend TV for anything. There are a million “dog” shows on TV showing “problematic” dogs. STUDY the dogs. IGNORE the commentary, and the leading music. Literally study the dogs. See if you can see the continuum unfold. For people study….. Watch movies. Actors are fake, but they are masters of creating effect. Turn of the volume, and see if you can see the body language play out. Yes…. I probably have too much time on my hands.
2- Spend some sessions working UNDER level 4. As in no touch, or sound. Get, your dog….. Or a willing (very patient) person…… And try to get them to do something that they have NEVER done before without using ANY language (including gestures, and mimicry), or touch . The action can be standing on a chair, or making a certain gesture. Nothing TOO crazy. But, you’ll be surprised at how freaking hard it is. A dog trainer I worked with once made me do this with a person, to get a better understanding of “Marker” training. It’s kind of like the “colder/warmer” game when you were a kid. It’s crazy challenging and will show you just how hamstrung we are by this gift of language we have.
3- Learning “touch” and above, you should really seek help from a professional. A dog trainer can show you how, when it’s utterly unavoidable, to correct (“touch”) properly.
And a martial arts instructor (preferably BJJ. Preferably me) can show you how to put hands on a human, if you blew every other part of the continuum.
Anyway, to sum it up…….
To get better at communicating with dogs, OR people.
Shut your mouth.
We took Milo and Mabel to the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test at Finish Forward Dogs, and they passed with FLYING COLORS!!!!
For Milo, it was no biggie. He’s kind of one of those easy dogs, that just does things well. He’s a bit of an overexcited greeter, but no fears. No aggression.
But…… Mabel, is a different story. Outright dog aggressive. People reactive. Food aggressive. Just a bad, bad dog (we love her anyway). We have worked on that little angel for a long time. This was one of those things that we saw a year ago and thought “There’s no way she could ever do that”. But, tonight, SHE DID!!!
First…. Just in case you don’t know…. Economics isn’t just the study of money, and it’s effect.
A great book called Freakonomics
convinced me to stop being nauseous at the though of economics.
Anyway… What the hell does this have to do with dogs?
Well, there’s a rule in Econ called the Rule Of Unintended Consequences. Yes, it’s pretty self explanatory. Although, the story people in Econ always go to is called The Cobra Effect. As the story goes……. In Delhi India, there was an epidemic in the overpopulation of Cobras. The government tried to solve the problem by paying citizens for any dead Cobra they turned in. Of course, this lead to people breeding them to turn them in for profit. And when the government found out, they canned the program. As soon as there was no reason to keep the snakes…… They were abandoned. Which of course caused the population of loose Cobras go UP. So, the solution for getting rid of Cobras, increased them.
And so it goes with dogs. The things we do to train them, sometimes don’t do what we intended. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes, it’s horrible.
The reason this is on my mind, is because of my little Mabel. In our constant search for developmental things to do with our dogs, we’ve found a pretty cool “benchmark” challenge for her.
She’s getting ready to take her Canine Good Citizens test.
Now, for a lot of dogs this is kind of a joke. Like, her brother Milo is doing it too. And, for him, it’s just a formality. But, for Mabel….
For Mabel it’s REALLY HARD.
One of the first parts of the test, is to be greeted, and GROOMED by a stranger. Oh. My. God. It has taken a TON of work for me to convince her that everyone out of her pack deserves to live. But to let them touch her feet….. Are you kidding?
Well, seems like an easy fix. Have some “strangers” approach, and offer her a treat and leave. Classic “Counter Conditioning“. Her current conditioned emotional response is “go die”. But, after a few reps of this drill, her response to a stranger is “cool, what have you got for me?” Which is great.
(Now, don’t get me started on whether or not this is the best long term solution. As, currently, people only have about 20 seconds of not producing the treat before she realizes she’s been duped. And, for it to “work” in the first place, it has to happen more often than not. Which means, you have to have endless amounts of “decoys” to keep it going for life. I’m still undecided on the subject. I’m sure I’ll write more about it as I learn more about it.).
But, I digress….
Now, for the unintended consequence. Mabel now associates strangers, or at least strangers in that setting (still figuring that out) with getting treats. Cool, but now she is getting TOO EXCITED when she greets strangers. Great.
Who would’ve thought that Mabel’s problem would be being TOO friendly.
Yeah…. Cobra effect, in full effect.
Oh, well. New thing to work on. Working with your dogs is supposed to be a lifelong process!
So, look at your own relationship/training and make sure that you aren’t throwing your own unintended consequences around!
Oh yeah! I got me some sliding snowshoes!!!!!
These bad boys are a cross between Backcountry skis, and Snowshoes.
In my zeal for bad ass dog activities under ANY circumstances, I’ve run into some snags with the tapering period before and after the snow season. My kicksled, is awesome for when it’s been snowing regular. But, if you hit patches of thin cover you’re carrying that rig. Not fun.
Oddly enough, the kicksled sucks in fresh deep snow too. The runners are are only about two inches wide, and so they just sink into fresh deep powder. Come to think of it, the kicksled is really only awesome on packed trails. Now, that said, on a packed trail, it’s about the coolest thing in the world!
But, I’ve run into problems on un-groomed trails. If it’s real deep, the sled sinks. Snowshoes don’t help, at least not for a pulling scenario!
The obvious answer is for big, backcountry skis!
Sure. But, here’s my issue with that. I wind up getting out of the skis, a ton during an excursion. To walk to the trailhead. To walk through a dry, or rocky patch. Or, even ditch, or ravine crossing.
The trail by my house is a perfect example. There’s two ways to access it. A 3/4 mile walk on the road, that even when the trail is beautiful, the road can be dry, and no good for sliding. Or, through a deep un-groomed field about 2 blocks long, and a ravine crossing.
Both options suck bad with a sled. And aren’t much better in ski boots.
Enter the “Sliding” snowshoes!
They are fat, and short like backcountry skis, so they’re great for breaking trail in deep snow. Plus, they’ll SLIDE like skis….. Which is good if there’s dogs pulling you! But the reason they’re way cooler than regular skis, is that they work with my regular boots! Which means, I can throw them on my back, and hike it, if there’s not enough snow! That means, there’s no risk in picking the wrong equipment. If there’s enough snow, we “skijor”. If there’s not, we are Canicrossing!
Bring on the snow! Or not, doesn’t matter.
BTW, if all that sounds like too much hassle for you, but you’d still like your dogs out on the trail…..
Give us a call. We’ll pull em for you.
Snow, or not.
Tyler Muto is a trainer out of New York, that I Really like.
He has a technique that he calls “Conversational Leash Work”. It’s very cool. It’s very gentle. And he uses a Prong Collar.
Gentle use of a Prong. How’s that supposed to work?
I’ll let him explain it:
Pretty interesting stuff. He’s using -R, and a very subtle and gentle way that’s hard to find flaw with. It’s just a tad further up the intensity scale from a BAT protocol, that is pretty much accepted by even the most sparkly, of the fairy farts, and rainbows crowd.
And just in case you think that “that’s fine on a mellow dog, but not MY monster”, check this out:
Anyway…. There’s some interesting use of a Prong Collar used for -R, and you don’t come out the other end being arrested for animal abuse.
Check out more of Tyler’s stuff at his website: Connect With Your K9