THIS IS NO REPLACEMENT FOR A GOOD TRAINER OR BEHAVIORIST
To assume a trainer’s dogs are perfect because they live with trainers would be analogous to saying a teacher’s children will get full scholarships to Ivy League Colleges because their parent teaches.
As I stated last column, over the winter, Uhura and Foster decided to stop getting along. They were both having an off day. Scuffs are normal in dog life, but sometimes they do not “Get over it.” In seconds, a jostle that otherwise would be ignored, resulted in a blood drawing fight. Though it broke up fast, Uhura and Foster were on the “outs” with each other. I did not wait weeks to see what would happen. Delaying intervention is a big mistake. Step one was strict environmental management. No behavior modification would be effective without serious environmental management. The more dogs are able to rehearse (do) the undesired behaviors, the harder it may become to resolve the situation.
Management is not responding to fights. Management is preventing interactions while reducing stress. If dogs keep up any level of the behaviors, stress is not reduced. Our backyard is divided into sections. However, because there could be limited visual contact, the yard sections were only used first thing in the morning and after we came home when all the dogs needed to potty. Foster would go out and be secured in the dog run off the deck. The girls would go into the main part of the yard past the deck and the deck gate closed. Foster would do what he needed to and come in. The deck and dog run area would be opened for the girls.
The rest of the time, we rotated dogs so Uhura and Splash would be out together and Foster and Ravyn would be out together. When all dogs were inside (frequently because it was winter), Foster’s realm was the kitchen. If he had to go out and Uhura was inside, she would be leashed and moved out of sight while he was led outside. At last outs before bed, the girls would get the back yard and Foster got a quick walk. Foster would go my room first. Uhura and Splash got confined in my daughter’s room (they like to sleep in crates) and Ravyn joined Foster in my room. In the morning, Uhura was leash walked downstairs. Foster would run to the family room and crate himself while Uhura was taken out to the main fenced area with the other girls. Then Foster would go out. When we left the house, Foster and Uhura would have no ability to see or reach each other. They would be confined to different areas of different floors. There could be absolutely no chance of either dog seeing the other or alone having any contact.
Family had to follow the protocol. Progress happened when I said it would. If there was a slip, the management process was reworked. I made sure my children (son 16 and daughter 11 at the time of writing) were never in a situation they could not handle. We had easier protocols for them to follow like when my son was home from school before I got home from subbing or the two were home while Dad was working and I had an errand to run. Generally, children are not able to safely manage situations such as this. There is too much a risk for a mistake or a bite. However, my children have grown up around this. They have learned the importance of crates, gates and leashes for various things. They were able to handle a modified protocol. I do not recommend this for the average child – even if you think the child is dog savvy. One moment of forgetfulness and tragedy can occur.
Management is vital for human safety. It is safer to prevent a fight than intervene! It is amazing how many dog bites happen from people trying to break up a fight. Even your loving dog may bite he owner in the heat of a fight. Never assume your pet will not bite you because he loves you. When adrenaline is up it is like a bar fight – everyone throwing punches and sometimes innocent bystanders are struck.
Baby gates, separate areas in the yard, barriers to block view, leashes and a serious game plan are all part of environmental management. The quality of management is vital. Separation does not mean the dogs are allowed to snarl and snap or even glare at each other while on opposite sides of a fence. This increases tension and diminishes the effectiveness of behavioral work. Separation may mean absolutely no visuals. You need to follow what is outlined by the trainer or behaviorist with whom you work.
Next time: beginning to bring hostile factions back together.
Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.