One of the biggest problems I have experienced in training my dog and my dog rescues is other people. You can not control other people. (OK – full disclosure, if you have ever met my dog, I can’t control my dog either). My dog, Chankla, is a very smart dog and at a good 20 feet away, or the minute she makes eye contact with someone, she can tell if you are going to follow MY rules or HER rules.
For example, she thinks everyone will be amazed by her ability to make a 6 foot vertical leap from a dead stand still and nail anyone of any height with a doggie nose butt to their forehead. How else would you say hello? Everyone is stunned and amazed, but maybe not in the way she intends.
As she moonlights as a therapy dog, this is not acceptable behavior when we are on a therapy dog visit in the hospital. With this in mind, I try to consider any interaction a training opportunity. I ask people to please not pet the dog or pay her any attention if she is not sitting. Every interaction is either reinforcing good behavior or bad behavior. In short, we are training her or she is training us. Maybe 10% of the people we come in contact with honor the request. Smarty pants is training us.
It is even harder with children. Not only do the parents have to be on board, but so do the children. But the consequence of children not listening is more impactful. Adults can better read exuberance vs aggression from a dog, but children are still learning general boundaries with dogs and may be bitten if they are not interacting appropriately.
Children not consistently listening to my direction has been a big problem. The advise I have been given from trainers has been to disengage the dog from the children when the children don’t do what you want. That is great advise, but it is just not always that practical when the dog is getting mobbed by children at the Home Depot or the Cinco de Mayo parade. No parents, often no common language, no quick escape. Which is fine with the dog, because she thinks everyone in the Home Depot is there to see her anyway.
I was resigned to deal with non compliant children with Chankla, and I started to think of new ways to communicate my direction to children. But as I started taking Tasha out into the neighborhood, interaction with children has become a problem that can not be ignored. As Tasha is becoming more socialized and will stand by as I talk to neighbors, it is very hard for younger children to understand that a wild dog can not be approached the same way as your average dog. I tell them that they can pet Chankla all they want, but that they can not pet Tasha. I explain it is because she is scared and might bite them. Simple right? They nod yes that they understand.
Kids are smart, they understand, but they are wired to test boundaries. The minute they see me turn my head, they try to pet Tasha. Every time! You can’t raise your voice to be emphatic because you are attached to a wild dog that reacts to anything that is not calm and even keel, but you need to get the kids to understand that they are endangering themselves. Nope. Doesn’t work. They heard and understood every word. Just doesn’t work. Tasha is pretty and fluffy; she looks friendly. They want to touch the dog.
So we started a game. The “if you hold still like a statue game…” All the kids seem to understand this game and the payoff. If they hold really still, like a statue, and let Tasha sneak up behind them, she will come sniff them when she is ready. And when she sniffs them, and they stay extra still – she might lick their hand. And when she licks your hand – you have to remain still like a statue or she will run off. They stand like perfect little statues until she licks them, and then their statue eyes go wide and their little smiles get so broad that it startles them and makes them stiffen up and hold even more still.
How does that work? Why does it work? I have no idea.
Maybe there is something in there about telling them what to DO instead of what NOT to do. And of course making it a game. Who doesn’t love a game. I was amazed at how long they would hold still. Kids are complicated little things.
I was sharing my game experience with Dr May and while we were marveling about how any of us ever grow up, she shared with me a great post about toddlers and dogs. We have had many frustrated conversations about people giving up their dogs because their dogs bit the toddler, etc. etc. when most of the time the dog and the toddler should never have been left unsupervised. I would growl at you or bite you too if you pulled my tail! Toddlers are known to bite each other when they are frustrated and learning boundaries – we expect a lot out a dogs and toddlers when we leave them alone to work it out.
Once puppies gets to a certain age, dogs teach the puppies appropriate behaviors and that there are consequences if they don’t catch on to subtle signals and body language. The toddler age, 2-4, is the age dogs thinks humans should be catching on and is prime time for dog bites to occur. The dog believes that the young walking human is no longer a baby (puppy) and should understand subtle warning behaviors (which of course they do not). Dogs warn and then they bite, and everyone thinks that the bite came out of nowhere. This is really kind of reasonable from the dog’s side, they had probably been giving the parents and the toddler signals for a while. We just need to understand a little dog language before we let the kids and dogs interact. And we need to know how to control children, our own and other people’s children, around dogs.
Here are a few great links Dr May shared about dogs and toddlers and dog signals.
Toddlers and dog – a guide to get other people’s kids to do what you want around your dog
This is a great informative video with a baby jumping on a dog. It is hard to watch the dog clearly giving signs of distress and the adults ignoring the warning signs. The video identifies the dog’s cues. It’s very informative. It is easier to watch knowing the dog does not eat the child. What a good dog. If I was the dog, I would have eaten the child and then the parents for good measure.
Here is a simple easy to understand link to doggie body language it covers
More doggie body language videos here