Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Be still my heart

Here is Nell. She is a former shelter dog. Nell is learning to walk calmly on leash even when there is a car, dog or runner passing by. This is challenging for her because she likes to chase and herd things. All very normal sheltie behavior. Isn't she cute?

Here is her big brother Rufus. He tried to teach Nell how to walk but she didn't listen to him.

This is Bear. Another former shelter dog. Bear is learning how to walk nicely on leash and learning some basic manners. He is a really quick study and loved the treats.

Here is my other Prison dog program helper. A nice relaxed face. You can see this dog will not get stressed by Hopes antics.

Look at this face! This is Levi, another former shelter dog. Levi is learning some basic manners and to pay attention to his owners. He is cute so he has gotten away with things by working the classic head tilt into his routine. (can you blame anyone for falling victim to that look?!)

A story to share: I went to my local Wal-Mart the other day and when I came out was quietly walking to my car. Lost in thought not paying much attention I stepped past a large truck and was assulted by the sudden sound of a very close dogs' loud aggressive/reactive barking. Truth be told it scarred the bejeepers out of me and made my heart race. I wasn't expecting it. The van parked next to the truck had a crated german shepherd in it with the back door all the way up. No owner in sight.

I understand wanting to keep your dog cool in the heat and providing airflow. What I don't understand is putting a clearly reactive dog in the position to practice that behavior, repeatedly, in public. I wasn't the only unsuspecting person to walk past this dog. Not only does it not do this particular dog any good, it doen't do much to make the breed look very good either. People tend to lump certain breeds as acting a certain way. This dog was the poster child for those people.

Now that dog may have been reacting like that because it was either territorial. (get away from my van) or because it felt trapped. (I can't get away and you being close makes me nervous.) Dogs are a fight or flight animal by nature. Either way practicing the behavior is not going to make that dog feel any better or act any better in a similar situation. Not to mention the stress it caused in that dog to do it over and over. (He was in a busy parking lot remember.)

If anything the dog learns that the barking and forward display drives people away. The dog doesn't know that we would go away anyhow because his van isn't our intended target. They see us enter their percieved space, bark to make us go away, and we do. To them they have power to make us go away. In reality we are only walking by on our way elsewhere. (this is how many dogs see the postman too) It basicly reinforces some very inappropriate behavior.

If that had been my dog I would have left him home. Not an option? Then turn the crate around so the door wasn't facing out to the public. I would have also parked the car MUCH farther away from the store so that people wouldn't have been walking past it.

I thought about staying to speak to the owner but thought better of it. You never know how people are going to take unsolicited advise. No matter how well intended. Next time I might go complain to the store about a dog scarring people in their parking lot and have them call the owner to move the vehicle. I really hope there is never a next time though.

What would you have done?


Riley said...

It's too bad you couldn't have stayed, but I can understand you not wanting to give unsolicited advice. It'd make me feel uncomfortable either way, for sure, to be in your situation!

Still, just the fact that they crate their dog in the car and bring it places (however bad that was, given the dog's behavior plus the heat) makes me think they are at least wanting to be "dog people." Maybe they are very naive and didn't realize their dog is so reactive? I mean, I don't see how they couldn't, but it's possible. In a perfect world they would be receptive to your advice but maybe they are total... you know.

And yeah, it looks horrible for any breed to have a dog snarling and frothing at passersby. You and I realize that the way a dog acts in a vehicle isn't always indicative of the dog's true personality (my parents had a Cocker who was so territorial on a tie-out line and in the car, but a sweetie pie in any other situation, even the vet) but most people just think "Oh, there's another vicious GSD."

So unnecessary and stressful for the pooch, and probably scared more than just you that day. :[ Sad all around.

Riley said...

Oh, and haha, your helper dogs are adorable! I'm guilty of owning a plush Dobie about that size. When I was 12 with major I-want-a-dog-of-my-own lust, it was how my parents shut me up for another six years. :]

Marie said...

I definatly know that dog might act completely different in another environment. Hopefully so!

My parents got me a life sized stuffed pony for the same reason. It came with two shovels. One for me and my brother. (They thought this was hysterical.) I eventually did get a real pony.

I like the helper dogs best because they have a nice solid stay and don't need to eat or poop. It sames me alot of time. LOL