Are you making things worse?

As an animal professional I tend to be different from the norm and since I’ve been in my field a long time, don’t see things the same way as the average pet owner does. Plus, I take the things I know for granted.

So, when I attended a party that integrated a large number of dogs and humans together I was appalled when two dogs got into a minor squabble and the owner intervened and reprimanded the wrong dog.

In fact, I would have simply used some sort of interrupter to stop the incident or let the animals sort it out.

Favoritism and discipling the wrong dog isn’t a rare occurrence–it happens a lot.

The problem with it is that it also can escalate problems.

You see animals have a social structure within the home. Both dogs and cats sort out who is the top cat or dog but humans tend to mess it up because of an idea versus reality.

The idea is that everyone should be treated equally or fairly.

This is not reality in the animal world.

At the party, the dog that got in trouble was not the favorite of the owner.

The favorite dog is a beautiful animal, stunning really, but she is over indulged and pampered.

This means that she is allowed to break the rules the other animals have to follow and is not ever scolded for bad behavior.

She tends to irritate the other dogs who give her clear warning signals to back off. The warning gaze turns to growls which then are accompanied by a slight showing of teeth and then a lunge.

Instead of backing off, the favored dog continues. This means that the dog that is working to set limits and back her off is often reprimanded for his or her bad behavior by the pet owner who should be a bit more clued up than she is.

Now, at the party this became a problem because the dog with poor social manners is not adhering to good dog manners.

Instead of backing off when first “asked” by dogs she is bugging, the strange animals are having to get overt in their attempts to get this dog to stop behaving badly.

But seriously, it is the owner that is behaving badly. She is being irresponsible and creating a problem where there shouldn’t be one.

Animals are very subtle in their communication with each other. Body tension and slight positioning telegraph a lot to the other creatures in their sphere.

Human intervention, while sometimes needed, is often not appropriate because the human thought process is often disconnected from the reality of the situation.

An older dog will mold and discipline a new puppy. But if the owner reprimands the older, established animal–well, it makes for some issues down the road.

Also, it might suppress the behavior for the moment, but the intensity that will be displayed later is likely to be highly escalated.

The animal world is not into equality, it is not into fairness, this means that the social order is sorted out by animals and isn’t usually what people “think” it should be.

In fact, what pet owners think things should be might actually be be making the whole thing worse and preventing a peaceable kingdom.

So, the next time you have the inclination to interfere–stop and use some restraint– because you just might be making a mistake that could turn ugly.

Okay, so fess up–do you make this type of mistake? Maybe you don’t, but please share what you know or have learned either way!

Chime in via the comments or over in my Facebook community.

Photo Credit: Tambako

Aggression A Dirty Little Secret?

dog aggression

Animal professionals take a calculated risk when they work with animals. Knowing you face the risk of an attack or death is a reality when it comes to working with wild animals but what about companion animals such as pet dogs?

The biggest risk, believe it or not, involves the dog owners who keep aggression a dirty little secret. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to have been able to avoid serious injury and incidents by paying attention to animal behavior and stacking the cards in my favor. However, the only times I’ve had close calls have been due to owner failing to disclosure the fact that his or her pet had aggressive tendencies.

In one situation, I was on a consult for a puppy. The owners had an older dog but never said anything about him being aggressive during our initial interview by phone, nor did they do so while I was on the premises. However, this dog lunged to attack me and I was fortunate to have my training bag to thwart the attack and use as a barrier.

Now, I’ve made my living working in animal behavior & training for a long time and so that is a strong skill set–but there are other pet professionals that work with pets and that don’t have that knowledge to be able to deal with behavior problems–especially when they take them by surprise.

Before I get into this a little more, I want to say to those of you who own a pet, you are responsible to disclose whether or not your animal is aggressive.

This means if the animal has growled, nipped, tried to bite, or has ever bitten anyone–you are required to inform anyone who is going to be around your animal that there is potential for trouble.

Failing to do so is a grave error that could cause injury, disability and even death. You are liable for the actions of your pet and it is your responsibility to make sure that you keep your pet safe and other living beings safe from your pet if he or she displays aggression.

This doesn’t mean a pet professional won’t work with you, but it does mean that he or she will know to take safety measures to mitigate potential problems and so will be prepared if something does happen.

For instance, not too long ago an animal jumped a pet pro from behind and managed to grab and drag the person by the scalp. As she tried to protect herself, the dog lunged at her face. Throwing up her limbs to defend herself–she was mauled. What she discovered later, the dog had attacked all members of the family.

Now, when I was helping one of my colleagues with his practice, I was mortified by some of the incidences that happened within households. There were two dogs that attacked a toddler and ripped his ear off.

When I asked another owner to disclose the last time their dog had bit someone, he put out his hand to show me puncture wounds that went through the hand–and said, “two weeks ago” but it was shocking to hear that bites were a regular event!

Over the years, with few exceptions, I’ve not had a problem with people withholding information from me. Part of this is because I have a questionnaire that inquiries about growling, nipping, biting and other related activities.

Plus, I also ask the pet owners directly AND in some cases, will also ask other pet professionals who work with the animal for their input.

When I’ve asked non-trainer pet professionals about this issue, many discover that a cat or dog is aggressive when they insist that pet owners sign off on the issue.

Honesty keeps others safe, and then an informed decision can be made as to whether or not the problem is manageable or not.

If you are a pet professional, take the time to ask the tough questions and to do some exploration with new clients.

Finally, don’t forget to ask if the animals behave differently when their humans are around or not. Since, as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Okay, so now I want to know–have you failed to disclose something about your pet’s behavior because you were embarrassed, afraid or ???

If you are a pet pro–have you faced the unknown due to non-disclosure?

Please share your stories in the comments below. If comments are closed, take a moment to leave your note over on my Facebook community page.

Photo Credit: Lucas Vieira Moreira