Stop That Begging!

Yes, another piece from Northern Virginia Today I expanded for here.

 

“My dog won’t stop begging,” is a common owner complaint. You are eating or cooking, Sparky comes over to investigate what you are doing. This is normal.  My dogs do it all the time.  However, my dogs are not rude beggars.  Why?  What did you do to stop these behaviors?  The answer is not “why my dogs are not rude beggar” but WHAT I did to get better behaviors.  What you do when Sparky comes to check out that great smell determines what Sparky will do next.  Will he become a rude beggar or a patient waiter?

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Uhura as a puppy at an outdoor café.  What do you not see?  Rude begging while we were eating.  Why?  Training!

 

Dogs do what works for them. While you are eating, Sparky approaches and poked you.  You toss Sparky food thinking he will go away.  Sparky starts these behaviors again.  Once again, you give him something to make him go away.  In reality you have reinforced these begging behaviors.  You showed Sparky what he was doing gets him what he wants.  Sparky comes up, he pokes you, you feed him.  If you do not feed him, Sparky tries harder. He is not being rude; he is simply giving the behaviors you have reinforced.  Now what? Do you yell at him?  Do you give him more hoping he will go away once satisfied?  Every time you do this you are teaching Sparky these behaviors will work to get him food.  You have taught Sparky to become a rude beggar.

I feed my dogs from my plates or from the counter as I am cooking.  YES!  I DO. Feeding your dog from your plate does NOT create a rude, begging dog.  Tossing your dog food from the counter as you cook will NOT create a dog who counter surfs.  Dogs will counter surf even if we do not feed them from the counter.  Dogs smell stuff and they will investigate it if they can get to it.  They are dogs.  So what is the trick to getting a dog that does not beg while you are eating or cooking?  Here is the trick – it is not a trick really – decide what you want from your dog and train for it.

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I want a dog who waits politely.  This is what I work towards.  Give your dog a mat and teach him to remain there while you eat or cook.  While he is remaining there, toss him things.  This reinforces “If I stay here, I will get food!”  If you toss your dog food while he is doing something you do not like (rude begging) that is what he will continue to do.   Again, decide what you want and train for it.  Now, you have done this and the behaviors keep falling apart.  What could be happening?

It is easy for the desired behaviors to be undermined.  Great Aunt Edna comes for a visit.  You have explained the rules for when humans eat and how Sparky can only get things when he is in his place.  Since Edna is a newer person, Sparky may not give the behaviors to her that he does you.   If Edna gives Sparky a snack from her plate while he is not giving desired behaviors, your work has been compromised.  This is where management and showing visitors what needs to be done to keep your training going. Assuming you can retrain the dog after is not fair.  It is confusing to the dog.  If you are worried visitors will not respect your work, keep Sparky away while they are eating.

For those who cringe at giving dogs “people food,” many are safe for dogs. It is easier to make a list of things to avoid than it is to list all the people food dogs can have.  Avoid: chocolate, anything in the onion and garlic family, avocado, caffeinated things, macadamia nuts, citrus (the peels, leaves and stems contain oils), coconut and coconut oil in large amounts, grapes and raisins, anything with Xylitol, and a few other foods.  Also, make sure meat is lean and no bones from your plate.  An internet search will provide good lists of foods to avoid and foods that are safe.

Begging need not be a problem if you are willing to decide what behaviors you want from your dog and train for them.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern Virginia and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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Oh Go Stuff It!

Another piece I wrote for Northern Virginia Today expanded for here.

Toys we can stuff with food! Freezable holders of canine goodies!  Where would I be without my Kongs and other food stuffing toys! Kongs and toys like Wal-Mart’s Sumo, etc., are wonderful ways to help alleviate boredom, give your dogs things to do when you leave the house, replacements for food bowls, etc.   These toys are meant to be filled with goopy things for the dog to lick out.

Before I continue, check labels for Xylitol.  This artificial sweetener is very toxic to dogs even in small amounts. It is found in some brands of peanut butter, other nut butters, reduced sugar yogurts and even some brands of honey. Also avoid other artificial ingredients like aspartame, etc. 

When you begin using one of these toys make it easy to start. Loose kibble, a little canned dog food, etc.  If the toy is packed too tightly the dog may frustrate and lose interest – even if hungry.  Once your dog gets the hang of the toy, you can make things a little more challenging.  I will take peanut butter or squirt cheese and smear some on the walls of the toy.  I will add some kibble or treats.  Some will get stuck to the walls and other pieces are easy to get out.   It will not take long for your dog to get the hang of these toys.  Soon you will be able to make things a little harder and longer lasting.  However, continue to watch for signs your dog is getting frustrated.  Even experienced dogs may stop using these toys if they cannot get the goodies out.

4.5 weeks grated surface work (1)

4 1/2 week puppy walking on a grated surface – the Kong toys and bone were also stuffed with canned food.  I used Kongs as part of my socializing for puppies and to get them seeking things from these toys.

You can use a multitude of foods in these toys: mashed banana, plain yogurt, berries, applesauce, pureed pumpkin or squash, rice, ground cooked meat, canned dog food, etc. Layer these foods with kibble so they have to lick and work at some layers and others are easier.

Did you know you can freeze Kongs? Frozen Kongs are a great summer treat and they last longer.  As they thaw, the stuff inside becomes easier to get out. Plug the small hole with peanut butter or something similar.  Put the Kong large hole up in a plastic cup or container.  Layer things until the toys are about three-quarters of the way filled.   Before you give the toy to your dog, put something not frozen at the opening.  This way your dog has something easy to get out to encourage him then he can work on the harder stuff.

When you leave the house, give your dog a stuffed Kong in his crate.  If he can have unsupervised house freedoms, hide a couple for him to find.  If you have a dog walker come in, leave a stuffed Kong to be left when the walker leaves.  When it is yucky out and the dogs are restless, food stuffed toys are a big help with boredom.  It is important that dogs learn to settle and be quiet, Kongs can help give a quieter activity.  They are great for use in hotels, in crates in the vehicle, etc.  I bring prepackaged squeeze pouches of dog meal enhancements (pureed meats, fruits and veggies) and squish some into each toy.  Combined with social skills and travel lessons, Kongs help relax my dogs when we are in hotels.

To save time, buy a week’s worth of toys.  Take fifteen minutes on a Sunday evening to prep and freeze.  Each evening, rinse the used toys and wash on the top rack of your dishwasher or swirl a bottle brush with hot, soapy water around the inside and rinse.  It takes me less than fifteen minutes to get all my dogs’ Kongs stuffed and in the freezer.   If you have kids, helping prepare Kongs is a great job for them!  Even little kids are able to help fill Kongs.

Instead of feeding your dog from a bowl, use Kongs and other toys. Through measuring the size toys I have, I learned they hold half to all of a meal ration per dog for each of my dogs.  I use food to enrich my dog’s environment and encourage activities.  Each morning my dogs get part of their ration in a bowl.  I scatter a handful of kibble in the yard to encourage them to use their noses.  Before I leave, they get food stuffed toys with the rest of their meals.  Used wisely, these toys will not “Make my dog fat.”  Mix the kibble ration with canned food or pureed vegetables and there is the meal.

If you do not have any of these toys, go get some and get stuffing!

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Northern Virginia.

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Dog Parks: Green lights and Red flags

In an earlier blog this month I discussed dogs who should not be at dog parks. You have owned your dog for a good time and watched his behaviors in a variety of situations.  You have decided your dog may be a good candidate for a dog park and you want to visit one. However, your dog is not the only dog you need to worry about. No matter how well your dog would do at a dog park, there are other dogs to consider. Before you enter the park observe dogs and humans closely.

Good play, or green lights, will include dogs that look relaxed and “loose.” Do you see dogs exchanging roles during play?  (Not all dogs may exchange roles but if they are giving each other a chance to stop and determine if they want to keep going as they are, that is OK).  There may be play bows, air pawing and a general relaxed look to everyone.  Are tails held relatively level with the back (dog build allowing – some breeds have tails that are set higher, over the back) and wagging loosely?  If a dog signals he does not want to play, are the other dogs respecting his space?  Are dogs taking time to stop playing and relax?  Do the faces look relaxed?  Is the mouth open and soft with teeth covered?  These are all positive signs.  It does not mean things will not change if something happens but these are good signs.

What about behaviors to use caution around? Stressed dogs are ones I would not want my dogs around.  Pinning ears, lowered tails, cowering and trying to look smaller, dogs are things I do not like to see.  Dogs who are lip licking, showing the whites of the eyes and yawning when not tired are displaying stress. Look for hyper-vigilance or as I call it “Looking like a cheerleader in a slasher movie.” Do you see dogs frequently rolling over and exposing their bellies?  Are there dogs pacing or looking for escape and avoiding people and other dogs?  Stressed dogs are more likely to end up in trouble.  Their tolerance levels are low and they are afraid.  If you see stressed dogs in a dog park, it may be prudent to rethink visiting that day.  If you begin to see these behaviors, I would seriously consider leaving – honestly, when I went to dog parks if I saw this happening, I left. Now let’s look at dog park red flags.

When you see dogs mounting each other this is not necessarily dominance. Mounting is also done when a dog is confused or stressed. This behavior can become problematic. A pack of dogs chasing a smaller dog is very worrisome.  If I see dogs giving hard stares, using stiff body language, repeatedly laying the head across the shoulder of another dog and tails up high (when not part of their normal build or dogs whose tails are naturally up high due to breed now held low), I am going to leave. Dogs that are hovering and pouncing on entering dogs, guarding water bowls or people, etc., are things I do not like to see at dog parks.  Do I see bullying in play: dogs not respecting requests to back off from other dogs, lots of body checks and harassment, constant slamming other dogs to the ground?  It can be a short step from rude play to an all out fight. Do I see owners punishing stress behaviors instead of removing the dogs from the park?  Punishing stress increases stress and the chance of something happening.  I would not enter a dog park or I would immediately leave if I see these things occurring.

Other red flags I will leave if I see are dog walkers/trainers bringing their dogs to parks or if I hear people talking about bringing newly adopted dogs to parks.

If the overall behavioral environment at a dog park is good, then for the right dog, carefully used dog parks can be beneficial. However, when the atmosphere turns, dog parks become riskier.  Be vigilant as what looks like a fun time can turn fast to not so much fun.

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Dogs Who Should Not Bet At Dog Parks

Not too long ago a story came across my social media account regarding a dog badly hurt at a dog park in Prince William County.

Several years ago I had a client dog severely maul a goofy pup at a dog park in Fairfax County.  The person walking the dog midday was given explicit instructions to avoid dog parks with this dog.  The dog walker felt she knew best and ignored the client’s instructions.

Though many dog owners think dog parks are the best thing out there, many dogs brought to dog parks should have alternative methods of exercising used.  I would like to look at dogs that should not be at dog parks.

  1. Never take a newly adopted dog to a dog park – No matter when the rescue group or person you acquired the dog states, you do not have enough information about this dog.  They may stated he was OK with other dogs but this may be certain dogs he lived with.  This does not mean he will like all dogs or even tolerate the stuff all dogs will do.  A dog can be quiet friendly and at ease with a core group of other dogs.  The same dog may not want other dogs near him.  It takes time to get to know a dog and determine if the dog is one to try a dog park with or not.
  2. Dogs who are in need of socializing and social skills – Dog parks are the worst place to socialize a puppy or adult dog.  There is not enough control of the situation.  A dog can easily develop fears of other dogs based on actions at the dog park.  If he is giving signals he does not want to play and other dogs keep harassing him, instead of becoming social, your dog can quickly determine all dogs need to be kept far away.
  3. A dog with any behaviors deemed aggressive towards animals or humans, does not care for other dogs, etc – Behaviors that are things we would deem risky towards others are completely unsuited for dog parks.  They increase the risk of an incident.
  4. A dog who is fearful and hides, works to avoid things, etc – See (2) and (3).  Fearful dogs will not get over their fears if they see other dogs playing and having fun.  Our dogs determine what is fun or not, not us.  Just because we think our dogs will get over it if exposed to lots of dogs having fun does not mean it will happen.  More likely your dog’s fears will worsen.
  5. Dogs who resource guard (toys, water/food bowls, humans, etc) – If a dog does not want other dogs or people near his things is a greater risk of causing a scuffle.  I have watched dogs hover over water bowls and dog parks and drive other dogs away.  I have watched dogs attack others over balls and toys brought to parks.
  6. Dogs who cannot walk away from a possible challenge or fly into a scuffle like a drunk at a bar brawl – Scuffs will happen at dog parks.  If your dog cannot ignore them and has to get in the middle, this is not a good thing.  The more dogs that engage in a scuffle, the riskier it becomes.
  7. Dogs who repeatedly slam other dogs to the ground, rolls, pin, body check other dogs and/or intensely chases other dogs down – Rude play is risky play.  All it takes is one rudely playing dog for another dog or human to become injured.  I have been injured by rudely playing client dogs.  I have had clients bitten by dogs who rudely demand play.  Also these dogs are more likely to cause a scuffle to happen as other dogs begin to try tostop his actions.
  8. Dogs who do not respond to signals from other dogs to stop – This is very concerning to me.  Too many times I have seen dogs giving clear signals to leave him alone.  Other dogs were ignoring the signals.  The targeted dog began increasing his responses.  This is a short step to a fight.  If your dog ignores other dogs’ language, he is being a problem.
  9. Dogs who will not call away from intense chases or fights happening near them – Stuff will happen at dog parks.  Dogs who will not return when called during high stress situations are at risk or become a risk.
  10. Dogs who are not feeling well or who are seniors with aches – Dogs who are off their game are more likely to have lower tolerances.  Lower tolerance may make them quicker to respond in ways humans do not like.
  11. Younger puppies in need of good associations – Dog parks are high stress environments no matter what we do to try and make them fun.  All it takes is one bad experience for a puppy to end up with long lasting negative effects.  A carefully chosen puppy socializing class is a far better choice.  I like these and trainer organized play groups because there are professionals on hand to intervene and teach the owners what is going on.  Tossing a puppy in to a park full of dogs and expecting him to have fun is not fair.  It is also setting puppy up for failure.
  12. Client dogs if you are a dog walker or other dog professional – The liability is too high.  Dog parks are not the place to exercise client dogs.  Above I mentioned a client dog who had a dog walker do this.  The dog ended up paying with his life.  The dog was not one who was comfortable at dog parks nor comfortable in the presence of other dogs outside a few in the neighborhood they did play sessions with.  Dog parks are not the safest places to proof training at either.  Again they are too high stress. It is not fair to your client dog or to your client to do this.  If a problem happens, the liability is on you.  Are you willing to risk a lawsuit to pay for damage your client dog does?  Are you willing to explain to a client why your actions resulted in her dog being deemed dangerous after a fight occurs?  If you use a dog walker or trainer who comes to your house when you are not home, insist they do not take your dogs to dog parks.  Put it in writing.

How many of these types of dogs do we see at dog parks?  Well I have seen all of them over the years.

Dog parks are high stress areas, even if we think they should be fun. We must remember it is not what we want that is important but what the dog feels.  I used to go to dog parks. I had dogs at the time that were well suited for them.  However, I was always watching them for signs they were not happy or if they were getting too riled up and losing self-control in play.  It happens, they are dogs.  Some days were not dog park days if they were having an off day.  When this happened, we left.  If we saw dogs behaving in ways that were concerning, we left before it could negatively impact my dogs.

I stopped using dog parks because I was seeing too many dogs that did not belong in situations with that level of stress.  Dog parks were becoming stressing for my dogs.  I remember being at one park where a dog walker came with four client dogs and told people to be careful so her client dogs did not get hurt.  I was at one when a person annouced loudly she was coming in with a dog who just came out of the shelter.  She wanted to see how he acted with other dogs.  (He was not happy and highly stressed).  I watched a trainer using highly punitive training methods with client dogs at dog parks.  I was watching too many fearful dogs and bully dogs at dog parks.  I no longer felt comfortable with my easy-going dogs at dog parks.   Why?  I did not want my dogs to stop becoming easy going.

With my current dogs, I avoid dog parks unless we are the only ones there. Why?  I have put too much work into my dogs over the years to have that work set back.  Also some of my dogs are not suited for dog parks.  Yes, I will state that.  Two do not tolerate rude dogs, one is low confidence and one I do not want to risk her social skills as she is my demo dog when I do dog safety things.  My dogs do not need a dog park to be happy or to have needs met.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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The Economic Benefits of Dog Events

This is an expanded version of a piece published in Northern Virginia Today, Feb 9, 2017

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Annually, in Virginia, there are over 100 AKC sanctioned events of varying sizes.  These events include conformation, obedience, rally, agility, herding, lure coursing, field trails, etc.  There are also events run by the United Kennel Club, United States Dog Agility Association, North American Dog Agility Council, and other groups overseeing dog events.  What many people do not realize, unless they are involved with dog activities, is how much they benefit local economies. According to American Kennel Club a dog event may contribute $1.5 million dollars to a local economy in a larger four day show weekend. Smaller events put several hundred thousand dollars into a local economy.

How do dog events benefit the economy?  Lets first look at the need for sites to hold events. If you own property capable of hosting dog events, you get rental money. I have been to events at Oatlands Plantation, Keepstone Farm, Fredericksburg Expo Center, Prince William County Fairgrounds, Dude Ranch Pet Resort, Rockingham County Fairgrounds, Salem Civic Center, etc.  Over the years I have attended shows not only in Virginia but also in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Quebec, Canada.  I have either shown or gone with my children as they showed.  Currently the main exhibitor in my house is my daughter who shows two dogs regularly and a third as a Junior show dog.

Are you a food truck owner or someone with a business that could have a set up at a dog show? Every dog event I have attended has had anywhere from one to dozens of different vendors. Dog grooming supplies, dog food, human food, leashes, toys, various training equipment and toys, scissors sharpeners, massage therapists for humans and dogs, books, antiques, woodworking, even non-dog related items and advertisements for local tourist attractions, local businesses and what-not have all set up at dog events. Stand in the middle of a dog show and look on the surface how many businesses benefit from our events.  But wait!  There’s more!

Where do out of town exhibitors and judges stay?  HOTELS!  The more pet friendly a hotel is, the more likely exhibitors are to stay there.  If your hotel can host dog shows, even better.  You get not only people staying there BUT people coming to the event who may eat in your restaurant, etc.  Then dog shows may attract spectators who may…. eat at your restaurant.  When word gets out your place is friendly towards dog exhibitors you will get referrals.  I know I tell people where I stay when we are showing.  If your facility is able to host shows in a ballroom, etc., once word gets out you may get requests from other clubs to host shows there.  But wait!  There’s more!

When judges are brought in from far distances there are airlines involved. Some exhibitors fly cross country to compete.  This means needing rental cars, taxis, Uber, Lyft, etc.  Hmmmm….  But wait!  There’s more!

How do we enter dog events?  We get premium lists!  Premium lists can be electronic or printed.  This means people have to program the entries or print the paper ones.  Larger events often hire professional superintendents to manage all the paperwork and print catalogs, etc.  Wait!  What was that?  Yes, printing catalogs of who has entered and in what class.  Judging schedules may be needed depending on the event.  Again, if you are a printer, this can benefit you.  Do you own an awards company?  How many ribbons, rosettes, plaques, trophies and other things will be awarded at shows?  Now long before we even consider entering an event the exhibitor has to prepare!  The type of event determines what we do. Sooooo…  BUT WAIT!  There’s more.

Before we are ready to do any event, there is preparation.  This may mean buying various training supplies and equipment to building our own.  In my back yard I have agility things my husband has made.  I buy training rewards, toys, grooming supplies, shampoos and such I would not get otherwise.  There are classes and seminars we attend.  What about vendors who are getting things together to sell at a dog event?  Where do those supplies come from?  BUT WAIT – yes you know the rest…

What about all the other things we consume while heading to a dog show: Coffee, donuts, fast food, gas for our vehicles.  Think of the sales tax and meals taxes, parking fees and other things we pay for that we would not do if not for dog events?

I have attended many larger “cluster” dog events.  Some have been over a period of a week.  Some have had numerous competitions during these days and drew over 2,000 competitors.  People from all over the region and out of state will attend.  If not for the event, we would not be in the region: we would not be renting facilities, hotel rooms, buying supplies, going to classes, etc.  If not for the event, we would not be spending our money in your area.

It is becoming increasingly difficult in many areas to exhibit and compete with animals. Animal rights activists are trying to shut everything down.  Ask yourself: if we shut down dog (or any animal) events, how will this affect my community?  Support your local dog event – support your local economy!

Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.

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But He’s Friendly!

You are enjoying a quiet walk. Suddenly a stranger races up and envelopes you in a huge bear hug.  He lifts you of the ground and screams “Wow!  Hi new friend!  How are you?”  What would your response be?  Would you yell and scream? Would you throw a punch or at least push the friendly assailant away?  Would you call the police?  What would you do? This behavior coming from a stranger would be unacceptable.  If we would not tolerate it, why do we think it is OK to let our dogs behave in such manners?  Why are we shocked when the target of our dog’s exuberance snaps or when our dog snaps at a rude dog?

“Oh he’s friendly!” called out an owner as her loose dog charged into the face of a friend’s dogs.  My friend was furious.  One of her dogs was reactive and the rudeness of this strange dog set back months of intense work.  Forget the fact that the dog was off leash and the owner was breaking the law.  Even if there was no leash law, allowing a dog to race up to a strange dog is dangerous.  You have no idea how the target of your dog’s attention will react.

I was at a garden center with my oldest dog when a larger dog on an extending leash was allowed to pull across an aisle (on an extending lead) and go after my dog. “Oh he just wants to be friends!” the owner laughed.  Then he became irate when I told him he had to control his dog.  My dog was threatened by the actions of the much larger animal.  He can be reactive thanks to issues when he was younger and a few very rude dogs, but he loves to be out and about.  He is a great little dog both my kids worked with.  My daughter still shows him every now and then in Juniors.  Foster tolerates a lot and will ignore a lot, however a large dog targeting him is not such a situation.  We had been enjoying a lovely outing prior to.

I watched a loose dog tear into a group of children.  The owner yelled the dog is fine and wanted to be friends.  Some of these children were terrified of the dog. They began screaming, trying to drive the dog away, etc. Their actions could have made the dog go from happy and playful to defensive.  I remember a story from Florida where a friendly dog bounded to the edge of his un-barrier fenced property (shock fence).  His target was an elderly pedestrian.  As the frightened woman stepped back, she stumbled off the curb and broke her ankle. The owner insisted the dog was just being friendly.

A wagging tail is not a happy tail all the time.  I have seen many people say their dog is being friendly when in reality the body language is scary.  I was at a vaccine clinic when a woman allowed her dog to pull into a group of dogs and owners.  When I stopped her, she became irate.  “He needs to say ‘Hi’ he is friendly.”  That was not what the body language was screaming.  The dog was stiff, hackles raised, hard stare indicating bad things are brewing, etc.  He bee-lined right into the faces of the other dogs without stopping.  It was scary.  His owner assumed a wagging tail meant friendly.  No, this dog was going in for something else and eased up only when the targets cowered and moved back. Had one of the dogs risen to the challenge, I am certain there would have been blood.   For more on tails, visit this link.

Even if your dog is friendly, not all humans and animals may tolerate his exuberant greetings.  If I am working with a fearful dog, your friendly dog’s approach can create behavioral setbacks.  A dog who feels threatened may defend himself.  A friendly dog can cause damage as he pounces on another animal or human.  I had a client neglect to keep her dog from the front door as requested.  The dog joyfully lunged and sent me down several steps.  I have watched people knocked over by exuberantly greeting dogs as owners cry out “Oh he’s friendly!”  Are you willing to cover medical bills if your friendly dog injures someone?  Will you blame a dog owner if his controlled dog on a short leash fights back as your out of control dog jumps on his head?

I am a dog lover, however; I do like a well-mannered greeting. I love it when people make sure their dogs are not allowed to be rude to mine when we are out.  It is safer.  Your dog can be friendly!  Just make sure the dog is under control and you are respectful of others. .

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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Why Does Your Dog Hate Me?

“Mrs. Peak! Why does your dog hate me?”  The boy, about ten or eleven at the time, lived several houses up the street.  Yes, one of my dogs had serious issues with this child.  My other dogs avoided him.  The sad thing was two of my dogs took part in many child-focused dog safety programs and career days.  These two adored working with children. So why did one of my dogs go into a frenzy when this boy or his cousins were near?  Why did my other dogs move away from him?  My dogs did not hate him, they feared him.

The months this boy lived up the street were a nightmare.  He and his cousins caused trouble for many people.  They thought nothing wrong with going into yards to play on swing sets, even if it meant climbing fences.  They would be found at the opposite end of the street, jumping on a trampoline when the home owners were gone. They would go into side yards to play around and on vehicles that belonged to others.  They would be seen on top of cars and vans.  A kindergartener was often found almost half a mile away from home with a toddler walking along streets that could get busy.  They would pick flowers and vegetables from gardens.  The oldest boy was the ringleader of the pack.

Now, before these kids moved in, here is the set up we had and still have for our yard and how we manage the dogs.

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Back yard – large area where the dogs like to play.  The front half is divided into a pool, deck, kennel area.  All sections are fenced and the fences latch.

Our yard has a six foot privacy fence with No Trespassing signs. Our dogs only are allowed in the back yard. The only way to get to the fence is by trespassing through our side yard, maybe forty feet, to get to the back fence.  Alternatively the kids would have to climb their back fence and come through the county easement between the back yards of our street that borders a main street.   This meant going through thorn buses and poison ivy.  And yes, sometimes they would do this.  More often they would climb the fence dividing their yard and a neighbor’s, cut through and climb the neighbor’s fence into the next yard and come to my yard.

 

Our yard is divided into four fenced sections.  This way we can confine the dogs to one section of the yard while we have a gate leading outside the yard open.   We have a large play area, an area for the pool, an area for the deck, and an area we can use as a dog kennel if needed.  All are four foot fenced within the six foot fence.  Finally, the dogs are not outside unless there is someone responsible home or awake.  Nor are they outside all day.  They love to be outside and will often demand to go out.  But they are not outside dogs by any means.

We take care to keep our dogs safe and confined.  So why did my dogs fear this child?  Let’s look at what the child would do.

Several times a week I would see this boy and his young cousins in my side yard. Rocks and sticks would be thrown at the dogs.  They would kick the fence and hoist themselves up to the top and harass my dogs.  I could not go to the bathroom for risk of the kids coming after the dogs while I was occupied.  I would have to bring them in.  As soon as the boy and his cousins saw my dogs outside, they would bee-line to my yard.  I had to sit and watch the side yard where the kids trespass to get to the back yard.  Even If my dogs were inside I had to watch for these kids.  Why?  Well the oldest said his mother said he could use our pool whenever he wanted because we had one and he did not.  I spoke to one of the women living there and said he was not allowed to be in my yard or in my pool at any point.  But back to the beginning when the all moved in and the fun started.

I was nice at first.  I would stop the kids and ask if they wanted me to get a dog and they could visit.  But they had to give me certain behaviors and not trespass.  Then the kids saw the pool and started to escalate with the dogs and their targeting my yard.  After a couple weeks or so, I became a bit of a banshee.

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When the kids realized how closely my side yard was monitored, they started coming through neighboring yards to get to my fence when the neighbors were at work.  This meant climbing fences (between 3 – 4 feet high) to trespass through other properties and coming through two yards.  At one point another neighbor also had a small pool or large hot tub.  This was one of the yards they would trespass through.  They would come into the neighboring yard, find lawn chairs, ladders, etc. and climb my fence to harass the dogs.

There were numerous times we would be doing yard work and the kids would walk right through the gate to look at the pool and tease the dogs.  Yes, we were outside, we were in the yard and the kids did this in front of us.  Nothing we did or said to the kids (nice words to flat out yelling) or informing the adults at the house what was going on stopped the kids.

Eventually I did what other neighbors did: called the police.  I was sick of having to bring my dogs inside when they wanted to be out.  I was worried what my liability would be of one of the kids fell over the fence and was bitten.  What if one fell into the pool? The mother of the oldest boy said he could not swim at all.  He insisted he could go into a pool.  The police checked my set up and said we  exceeded what was required for safety in the county on all fronts.  Our yard had previously passes county inspections for the pool and fence.  The inspector was very pleased with the care we had taken for safety.  We had the yard marked “No Trespassing.”  Add in talking to the other grown-ups, if anything happened, the police would not hold us liable.  Then they went up the street to talk to the adults at that house – yet again.  Yes, this house had been visited numerous times before I made my first call.

Sadly it took numerous police visits after various neighbors called officers to get the grown-ups to respond.   By the end of the fall, the oldest cousin and his mother, followed a few years later by the rest.  Once he left, the issues greatly eased up.  Back to the boy’s question: “Why does your dog hate me?”

 

No matter what I did to remedy the situation, the boy did not stop. He encouraged the younger ones to cause trouble in the community.  My dogs love being outside when the weather is good.  Active dogs  relegated to inside as much as they had to be due to the kids does not make for happy dogs.  Even if I was out playing with the dogs, the kids would come over the top of the fence.  If we were doing yard work, the boy would saunter in; go to where the dogs were confined and yup…  They would tease, throw things at the dogs, swing sticks at them and harass us while on walks.  You tell me why my dogs feared this boy and his cousins.

Dog owners, observe your dogs, secure your yard, use good fences.  Do not hesitate to stop children from annoying your dogs.  Do not leave your dogs outside when no one is home or awake to intervene.  It is amazing even when you are around how fast kids with an agenda can cause trouble. I used to manage outside time around when the older kids were at school – but summer did not give that luxury.  I have watched dogs in neighborhoods where I have lived develop severe aggressions towards children when owners failed to work to protect their dogs and manage the environment and when other parents allowed their kids to cause trouble.

Luckily the damage done those months was not lasting. Not all dog owners will be so lucky.  Some dogs may have lifelong fears of children.  Please, if a dog really fears a child, maybe there is a reason.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

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