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Playing games with your puppy or dog

I must give a word of warning about the possible danger of wrapping your arms round the neck of your dog. We have just read the story of a two year old whose parents obtained a free replacement dog advertised in their local paper stating the dog was good with children. In the past, it probably was and for the first few days, the dog was fine. Of all the reasons put forward for the attack the most likely is that the child tried to cuddle the dog and wrapped her arms round the dogs neck. This is a very dangerous dominating gesture that a dog will only endure from its owner having the required and respected leadership qualities that a child usually does not. I doubt a case for damages would succeed here as no money changed hands but it is possible that no one ever tried to cuddle the dog this way before and so no one was ever aware of the potential devastating consequences. It does not always happen but the risk is always there. This is also one of the reasons I had decided to write this week about game play with your dogs.

The second point is with regard to a high profile personage who has recently fallen foul of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Please remember that though the Spanish Act does not ban specified breeds only have them kept under strict control it is much the same as the United Kingdom Act in line with EC guidelines. Many people are still unaware that the Acts regard any dog as dangerous if on any occasion there are reasonable grounds for apprehension that a dog will injure anyone whether or not it actually does. Now how many times have you felt apprehension of someone else’s dog? It was my apprehension in a vet’s waiting room that prompted me to write these articles. If the Spanish authorities receive a complaint and are willing, they can enforce a control order on anyone’s dog even if it has never bitten. As from last weeks article it is also very dangerous to have a sign saying beware of the dog or to say to anyone be careful my dog will bite. This is admitting you have a dangerous dog and as such should have a control order enforced on it and kept muzzled. You are all legally entitled in our civilized society not to have to live in fear of anyone’s dog. Now would any one want to disagree with this?

Game Play.

If you have ever watched wolf puppies and even domesticated dog puppies, play games they have more significance for survival than for mere entertainment. Wolves usually attack game on the run by biting the back legs thereby immobilizing the pray leaving to bite and throttle it latter. You may have seen pups biting each other this way in their play. This is just from instinct, as no other dog has taught them this. You will often see a stronger puppy turn over another pup and appear to throttle it to dominate it. You will see the submissive stance where a puppy dips its front legs then drops its head, tilting it up at the superior dog accepting domination. (Never imitate this stance with your dog) You may have seen a puppy or dog wrap its paw over the neck of the dominated dog to say you are mine. (We have the same stance. Ever felt uncomfortable when a boss has placed an arm round your neck as supposedly a welcome into the firm) (has the opposite effect with girlfriends and wolves do it to) Dogs will do this to you by placing a paw onto your leg when it requires attention or to establish it has control over you. Licking your hand or standing on your lap are also attention and control signals used by your dog.

How often I hear owners say to me ‘no my dog is lovely he is just showing me its loving nature? Much like a vampire I can do nothing until invited over the threshold by owners who have if reluctantly accept they have a dog with a problem. We do seem to have a natural protectiveness towards our dogs and do not easily tolerate some know-it-all to come up and say their dogs are antisocial and dangerous. My question to myself is could my uninvited intervention possibly save a child’s life. I have walked away many times having said nothing. I watch and see how owners interact with their dogs and I can see potential problems emerging for the future. If only I had a crystal ball to show owners the possible outcome if they fail to change their methods. The way we play with our dogs and in particular, with puppies we can teach them dangerous behavioural precedents. Games to dogs are ways of learning for survival of the fittest not how to be a nice cuddly toy. What you need is for you to teach your rules of right and wrong to the dog that will over ride its own natural instinct rules.

When your puppy enters your home it has learnt to bark at the other pups as an invitation to play and this it will continue to do to you. Only play with your dog after a period of it being quiet. This problem is much like a baby learning that when it cries it gets attention. You must teach your dog that you are the boss and you decide when attention is given. It is important that your children should also do this as they are the most vulnerable and even though some maybe smaller than their dog children must appear higher up the hierarchal ladder. Remember size to a dog is not important. It is possible to teach your children to use the right body stances and make it appear they have more leadership qualities than your dog.

Never play chase games where the dog chases you or your children as the danger here is when grown up it thinks it can chase any children and the milkman or the postman. This is the practice for the ultimate hunting game and again how good or bad you are relative to your dog in this respect is obvious the dog wins.

Retrieval of an item to dog is a chase game so throwing something for the dog to fetch back is another hunting game that the dog can do far better and faster than you and wins. You must change the outcome of the game for you to appear to win by when the dog gives the item back to you. Never chase the dog to go out to fetch it or to try to get it back off the dog by force. In time, it will settle down and drop it then you can go over and pick it up to throw it again. It is very important to teach the leave command so you can take anything including a bone off your dog without it showing any sign of anger as you simply give it back after a few moments. The number of children bitten trying to take something from their pet is too numerous to count. If the dog growls at you or your children when trying to remove the item from the dog you must stop this dangerous tendency at all costs. As a pup give it items like toys or chews and then gently take them back for a moment with a calming voice. Make your dog use to all of you being able to do this and that you will always give it back. If your dog does bring the item back to you with the request to through it again try to teach it to hold it until you take it before you will throw it again. Remember it is your rules. Try not to let it drop the article at your feet and so be careful that the dog is not controlling how and when to play. On occasions just, ignore your dog by not looking at it until you wish to continue. You may find at first your dog will try to push the item into your hand and be quite persistent but you must teach it you control game play not your dog.

Having trained your dog to bring the item back you now can face yet another hierarchal game for the dog and that is who is the stronger in a pull game. You must always win and this includes your children. It is important to teach the leave command as many dogs are very strong and children have little to no chance of getting it off the dog without parental help. How many times have we seen the designed pull toys used with a dog where both the dog and the owner are playing at growling at one another? This is very dangerous as it reinforces the dogs believe that it is stronger and higher up the hierarchal ladder once again. At the end of the game having taken it off the dog then hand it back to the dog to carry but it must never finish with a win and then trot off head proud having beaten its owners. When you are finished, remove the pull toy to a safe place where the dog cannot get to it by itself. Tug-of-war initiated by your dog is not usually for fun.

Never ever, wrestle with your dog as this is just like in the pack of puppies, establishes once again its place on the ladder and that the dog could treat you or your children as lower than it, and could then consider biting you or your children in anger.

Never allow your dog any toys that it uses to attack, savagely shake, rips apart or uses for sexual purposes. This is often what people term as the dog feeling his feet. It may look funny but to the dog, this is all serious business. There is one often-asked problem how to stop a dog mounting your legs. If you have this problem say nothing do not look at the dog but just stand up and turn away from the dog and sit down again with your back to your dog. If the dog persists then get up again and this time walk away, return but again say nothing, and still ignore it. This to your dog is simply rejection and it will soon give up. Speaking to your dog is to give attention. You do though have a challenger for leadership here as only the lead male has the right to mate in a pack so it is important that you teach your dog it is not a leader. (Am I a killjoy?)

Having reached this point you may think I have just killed off all forms of play with your dog. There are many games you play as well as to teach them control, obedience and to use their nose in search games. I teach my pups to find my keys by hiding them around the room. I have had to use that game many times when I have forgotten where I left them. Play at fetch the metal food bowel when feeding time is due. It is amazing how many dogs do not like to hold metal. When you are walking your dog drop something behind you and after a short time tell your dog to go and seek and walk back with it until your dog finds it for you. Why not teach your dog to appear to drop down dead when you point your fingers at it like a gun and say bang. This is a real showstopper. My dog loved this one and dropped like a stone but I could never stop him peeking.

All I want you to do is try to look at your dog’s perceived outcome of each game and see if there is some hierarchal benefit for your dog. If there is then turn the game round so that you and your family always win but the dog always receives lots of praise for playing the game by your rules. Suppose you have a dog that likes to sleep in a chair by its own choice. There can be a hierarchal problem here so just say to the dog to get off and give it loads of praise when it obeys. Wait a few moments then tell it to get back into the chair. Now there is no hierarchal problem as the dog is playing by your rules. It may even give up sitting in chairs, as there is no merit in it. Remember the dogs question is what is in it for me.

Next week I will look at the progress of reported problems and some common problems often encountered like how to stop a dog barking to be with you or demanding your attention. If there is anything, you feel you would like to question or topic you want me to cover then please give me a call.

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