8.15.12 kahru .2

Dealing with the puppy or dog in front of you, not a fiction you make up, is very important. My new blog post is about the risk we run when we deny our dog or puppy the right to be who they are and love them anyway.

In the course of a day I get to see many kinds of people doing all kinds of training. Some is wonderful, and some is cringe-worthy. Recently I witnessed two variations of puppy raising on the same day.  One interaction made me nervous for those who come into contact with the dog this puppy will become, and the other made me excited for the bright future of the puppy.  What was the difference? The ability of the owners to understand their puppy for the individual they really are, not what they want them to be. It will make all the difference for their future.

While seated outside at a coffee shop I was excited to see a young long-haired dachshund out for a walk.  Unfortunately what happened next was a show on how not seeing your puppy for who they are can derail an attempt at proper socialization.  The pup looked about three months old, a great age to be out learning about people and things, so bravo there.  His owner stopped to let a couple of young high-pitched ladies pet him. As the young ladies squealed about the cute puppy, the pup in question tucked his tail and backed away. This was a clear sign to me that the puppy was overwhelmed by the high-intensity attention directed at him by these two proclaimed puppy lovers.  His owner did not see these as tell-tale signs of a puppy in social distress.

She picked him up, shoving him into the faces of the ladies to hug and pet.  So of course they hugged him and loved him in true human fashion.  The whole time he was tail tucked, ears back, and shaking; even more signals that he was overwhelmed.  As soon as he was put back down on the sidewalk, he turned and jumped up at his mom.  This was again misread.  She thought it was “jumping up” and punished the behavior by standing up so as “not to reinforce it.” However, it was not your classic “problem jumping.” It was height seeking for safety and comfort.

She then went on to tell the ladies who “love dogs too” that “Dachshunds aren’t the mean dogs everyone thinks they are.  He would never bite, he’s too much of a sweetie.” As the pup’s mum was extolling the virtues of her young pup’s misunderstood super nice breed, a woman walked a little too close to him. Feeling scared and overwhelmed, he lunged and snapped at her ankles.  “Oh!” his amazed owner exclaimed  “That’s nuts! He never does that.”

The reason this puppy’s future is makes me nervous is that the puppy’s true feelings about the interaction were never taken into account by his owner.  He was communicating very clearly that he was not having a good time being held and hugged, but she did not “hear” him.  She saw what she wants him to be – a cute, outgoing, well-rounded dog.  The owner is telling everyone what she wants to be true of her dog/breed but not seeing her puppy for who he is in the moment.  Her denial and lack of understanding are failing her puppy and her future dog.  He may eventually give up on communicating his discomfort at all and bite directly. I bet she’ll hear him then. He will get branded aggressive and a bad dog, merely furthering the lore of the ankle-biting little dog.  He had been giving warnings about his feelings for some time; his owner was too busy talking about how misunderstood her chosen breed is to hear the individual in front of her.

When trainers tell people to socialize their puppy it does not mean to take a puppy out and force them to “deal” with any and every person or situation.  You need to pay attention to how your puppy is feeling about the person or situation.  Look at their body and learn to read the signs of discomfort. If they are upset, get them out of the situation! Then train so they can change their opinion about it for the future.  Exposure is not socialization.   If this dachshund pup was being listened to by an owner who was paying attention to her actual puppy she would be able to mold him into the breed representative she wants him to be.  Right now she is simply in denial that her dog will be exactly what she doesn’t want him to be.

Later that same day I was out walking with Johnny and we got to see some puppy owners who made me be believe it may all be okay.  I spotted a couple of ladies with a small dog coming toward us.  As we walked past on the other side of the street I saw them asking for eye contact, a paw shake, and other behaviors that are non-compatible with barking at other dogs.  I could also see that the dog in question was a small gray puppy miniature schnauzer.  I couldn’t help myself as this was just such a stark difference from the dachshund puppy incident that morning.  I yelled “Good job with the training!” to the two women.  “Thanks,” they yelled back, “he is just a puppy and he’s a schnauzer so you know, he wants to bark at everyone.”  They continued asking for their set of non compatible behaviors as we yelled a few more niceties across the street.

I thought to myself as Johnny and I continued on our way, there are two dog owners who are completely aware of what they have on their hands and the potential problems developing in their puppy. They are working to create a positive early set of experiences and proactively installing behaviors they can use to manage their dogs as he gets used to the world around him.  This puppy is well on his way to keeping his home and his manners.

These last owners were talking to me while correctly managing their puppy at the same time.  They knew what he was doing and were acting accordingly.  I wish the dachshund puppy owner would take note.  Two puppies, two different puppy raising approaches.  I see a bright future for one and am worried for the other.  The difference? One set of owners is seeing their pup for who he is now instead of who they want him to be and that will make all the difference.

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1 Comment on Are you listening to your puppy?

  1. Camie Savine says:

    very interesting subject , outstanding post.

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