Friday, June 5, 2009

Training Rant - Special Needs

I was out walking my troublemaker this week (the one posted in my picture) working on a bit of socialization and environment changes. While we were out, we ran across a situation that I think most owners don't think to train for. I wanted to post about it because I think it's something we should all prepare for. It takes less than a second for your dog to bite someone and it is your responsibility to do everything you can to prevent this.

In my area, we have a lot of special needs group homes. While we were walking, we came upon an individual who is frequently out in the community. Doesn't seem like a big deal, right? Well, for us it may not have been, but for other dogs it is often a preable for disaster.

One of the things I've been teaching my guy is how to properly meet and greet people (and dogs too). Sounds so simple, eh? If it's so simple, then why do so many dogs bite?

Now, for a little clarification, "meet and greet" doesn't just mean a person standing and we can walk up to them. This means we can allow people of various shapes, sizes and styles to walk up to us and we can walk up to them (without negative reactions). I want my guy to be able to deal with any situation that arises ...

He should be ok with children walking up to him
He should be ok with them running screaming by him
Or the person pushing a stroller (screaming child or no)
Or the person with a grocery cart (maybe the local bag-lady?)
Or the smelly guy who lives at the corner
Or the super neat freak lady who lives across from the laundry mat and always smells like detergent
And yes, he should also be able to deal with the special needs individual who comes lumbering up to meet him saying, in a squeaky voice that sounds somewhat like a chipmunk, "Hello Dog! Hello! Hello Dog! My name is Tony! Hello! Hello Dog!"

It is up to me as the handler to give my dog the tools that he can use to deal with these situations. I have been teaching him how to deal with different scenarios and different people. He was so very well behaved when meeting Tony earlier in the week.

While we were chatting, Tony told me about the last time he was bitten by a dog (he's been bitten many times but doesn't understand why). Last time, the dog barked at him while he was walking along the street. Perhaps many of us are saying to ourselves that he should have stopped walking, but he didn't know to do that. The important thing that you must keep in mind is ... *He didn't know* He told me that he thought that the dog's barking was ok and that the dog wouldn't bother him. Unfortunately, the owner (who was on the other end of the leash) didn't realize the potential danger of what was going on and didn't control her dogs very well. Tony continued walking along the sidewalk and the dogs nailed him on both legs. There were puncture wounds on both legs and much bruising.

Tony was bitten. It could have been a child. Was the dog quarantined? No. The owner disappeared quietly. Will this happen again? Probably.

I want everyone out there to be aware of the potential danger that a situation like this may present. It could happen at any time. When Tony lumbered up in his swinging and staggering walk, my dog sat down and waited just as I asked. If my guy had lunged or barked ... I don't know what the reaction would have been from Tony. Who knows. I couldn't have controlled Tony or his reaction. All I can control is my dog and myself.

My point is ...

You can't expect every person to know how to properly interact with your dog so therefore it is your job as a dog owner to teach your dog how to properly interact with people - ANY people.


Dianne said...

I wish more people would realize that

my neighbors dog is very large and she can't control him on the leash. he doesn't bite but he jumps onto people to kiss them, his size knocks people over.

and I also wish more people would learn how to approach a dog - I always offer my hand slowly, where they can see it
and I always ask first if I can pet the dog

mytwh said...

Wow, great post. Lots of things to think about and new things to do with D. Thanks!

GoLightly said...

Great post, DDF.
It's so hard to prepare them for anything.
Anything has to happen, first.

T said...

Excellent excellent post!!

This is another reason very early socialization, to all things, people, and our environment is so important.

My biggest gripe is dog owners that always put the blame on the person that got bit, instead of realizing even if that person did not know how to approach the dog, it is OUR responsibility to teach our dog, and protect our dog, and the other person from any mishaps.

meemsnyc said...

This is a good point. Dogs need to learn how to greet people, all kinds of people. Generally, I never go up to dogs on a leash unless the owner says its okay.

OldMorgans said...

In an ideal world, people would know how to approach a dog and owners would properly train their dogs. Which still leaves the special needs people who just can't understand and very young children who are just too young to understand.
The dog gets blamed for being a dog.

Life With Dogs said...

Great, succinct close - if only more people got it!

By the way, we gave you a nod this week. :)

Rebecca said...

You left a comment at my blog back in January and just wanted to return the favor.

martha said...

Great post. and you are so right.
We have a new 7 week old black lab
and are going many places for short 10 minute trips.
He now sits whenever he sees someone about to pass by him or come up to him. It is automatic.
he sits for kids, for bikes, for the vacuum cleaner! Sometimes he forgets and i give him a reminder.
I never learned this properly with my other pups (key word is "I")
he also now doesn't touch his food until I give him the go-ahead.
I'd say in many case it takes about 3 or 4 dog ownership trials before the human gets it right!!

RuckusButt said...

Couldn't agree more! I was lucky with hazel, I raised her while doing my MA living in grad student apartments of a vet college. ALL kinds of people and animals near by daily! One of my neighbours was in a wheel chair which was also great exposure. As was the veterinary teaching hospital. We would walk in once in a while, hang out in the waiting room a few min. then leave and continue our walk. Hazel loves going to the vet to this day, even in a different city.

Even still, some things can take them off-guard. I had a step-relative (since deceased) who had a pronounced hunch. The first time Hazel met him she barked, something she rarely does. BUT within a few min. of investigation she was ok and never did it again. So, it's ok if they are weirded out sometimes, IMO, the test is how well/fast they get over it. I don't mind a dog giving warning when something is scary or doesn't make sense to them, as long as they listen and trust me when I give it the ok. On occasion, it has been wise of ME to trust HER seemingly inappropriate reaction b/c there was actually something wrong. This is one beauty of knowing and connecting with a well-socialized dog - you can trust that they aren't just misbehaving but rather telling you something useful.

Great blog. Sorry for rambling, I love this stuff!

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Dianne ...

Jumping can be awfully dangerous in the wrong circumstance (such as children, seniors or other fragile people).

For the approaching thing ... I wish more people would walk slowly after they ask. Many will run or walk quickly as soon as they find out they are allowed to come pet the dog. The other thing is that sometimes, not extending your hand is safer until after the dog has had opportunity to smell your legs. Depends on the dog, but it is up to the owner to tell you how to approach.

T ...

People will almost always blame others. Most people don't like to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

Provided early socialization is done PROPERLY, then yes, I would agree with you. However, I do have a big pet peeve about people who feel they must introduce a million new things to their dog all at once and then can't figure out why the dog is freaking out at things and people at 1.5 years old. If socialization is not done properly, then it often causes more problems than it resolves.

martha ...

That's great that you're taking a positive approach to training your new puppy. Do your dog a favor and don't introduce too many things all at once while he's still young. 7 weeks is really young to be removed from the litter and he may not be ready for all these new things.

Give him enough time to learn the environment before moving to the next one. Be careful not to create problems and remember to read your dog's body language! Is he sitting because he thinks that's the right thing to do? Is he frightened? Why is he doing this by default so early? At 7 weeks, he should be wanting to run up to people and animals and say hello.

RuckusButt ...

I love it when people in wheelchairs come by! It's such a wonderful learning opportunity.

You're right, some things will take them off guard. But the owner should give them the right tools to be able to deal with these times. That is the owner's job.

I love the following comment you made here:

"On occasion, it has been wise of ME to trust HER seemingly inappropriate reaction b/c there was actually something wrong. This is one beauty of knowing and connecting with a well-socialized dog - you can trust that they aren't just misbehaving but rather telling you something useful."

The key here (that you did point out but I want to ensure anyone else reading understands too) is that the dog is well-socialized and has been solidly trained. Trust is something that has to be earned both in you and in your dog.