Many years ago, while visiting a friend in NW Rhode Island, I got a call from the local Animal Control Officer. She knew that I was very familiar with dog aggression and called me to say that a police officer was in a stand-off with a Rottweiler. Literally, they were on the center line of a street in a small community nearby. Without any more information, I jumped into my car and drove to the location, with a total elapsed time of about ten minutes. On the way I found out that this standoff had been going on for roughly five minutes before I was alerted, for a total time of fifteen minutes.
Apparently, the dog had been reported as a stray and the officer had been sent out to find out what his status was. When I arrived, the scene broke down like this: the police officer had his sidearm drawn, pointed at the head of this Rottweiler, who was literally about five feet away on the opposite side of the yellow center line in this small community street. The dog, in all his black and mahogany glory, was a full grown male, probably 80-85 pounds. There were about a half dozen community members on the sidelines, watching the spectacle. The Rottweiler, for his part in this, was barking in a half-hearted attempt to elicit (what I recognized to be) play from the officer. After each bark, his little stub tail would wag six or seven times, after which he would bark again, and then his tail would wag again.
In sizing up the situation, I was comfortable that this Rotty just wanted to play, and was trying to be understood. However, the public servant misunderstood and wasn't playing at all. My choice of action was to climb out of my car, sit down on the ground, and laugh like a fool.
The big goofy puppy immediately turned away from the officer and ran to me. He totally turned himself upside down in my lap, and became my instant friend. All he was looking for was a friend. I put a leash on him, and put him in my car, never speaking to the officer. I then turned him over to the animal control officer, and that was the end of that.
It’s not at all uncommon for good folks, and public servants, to be intimidated by some breeds of dogs, and the Rottweiler is certainly one of those breeds.
A puppy named Puppy
As a professional dog trainer with a couple of decades of experience working with dogs, both in the military and as a small business owner, I get many questions about pets when I meet people. Two of the most common are:
Why did I become a dog trainer?
What to expect when bringing a puppy into the home?
These questions always take me back to a time when my two brothers and I were young adolescents, aged 10, 12 and 13. We were excited when Mom brought home a German Shepherd puppy for us. As with any household with a new pet, our first task was to name the new member of our family. As you can imagine, getting three young boys to agree was nearly impossible. Time passed, and the puppy became Puppy.
Both of my parents were very busy, employed full-time outside the home, in addition to the responsibilities of raising three active sons. When Mom brought home Puppy, she assumed the dog was ours, so the responsibility for Puppy was ours. As with any pup, Puppy was high energy and loved to play, including using her razor-sharp teeth. Soon those teeth became instruments of pain and we learned to stay away from Puppy.
In hopes of getting some control over a rapidly growing dog, Mom enrolled Puppy in a group training class taught by Bob Dixon (years later Bob would become my mentor) in downtown Kennebunk. Mom and Bob had been classmates at Kennebunk High School. It was amazing to see Bob take Puppy’s leash and have her settle down very quickly. Unfortunately, the homework with the dog fell to Mom and she did not have the time between her duties of home, wife, mother, and employee. Puppy ended up being sent away to boarding school with Bob for training. With Bob’s skill and experience, Puppy performed exceptionally well and received high marks.
When Puppy returned there was no one at home to maintain the discipline and training that Bob had begun. As Puppy grew and became more unmanageable, so did the conflict at home over the disruption. Within a few months, Puppy was given to a farm, so she would have more room to run, even though we lived on 60 acres.
As a professional dog trainer, I see this same scenario play out all too often. One of my mainstay mantras has become, “A dog for the home is a dog for mom.” The children will lose interest, and all responsibilities will be added to the mom’s chore list. In my professional life, as a Dog Trainer, I’m often called on to help relieve stress in the home. This is usually caused by one little four footed furry fuzzball, which has become a whirling dervish of fury requiring lots of time. Training can help where inadequate planning created turbulence. I encourage folks to plan for 10 – 15 years. If you aren’t prepared for ‘puppy training’, consider acquiring an adult dog. In future blogs, I’ll speak to options to do this!
Fur Friend or Foe
Many years ago I was employed as the Animal Control Officer for a small, coastal town in southern NH. I got a call from the shift supervisor in the next town over, who described the situation as follows: this big German Shepherd dog had taken up residence on a front porch, and wouldn't let anyone in or out of the house. The homeowners had no idea who he was or where he might have come from.
I got to the home about five minutes later, and I saw this clearly distressed yet handsome, well-cared for male German Shepherd laying on the front porch of this house. I pulled up right at the end of the walkway. The dog leapt to his feet, barked at me a few menacing barks, then laid back down with his back to the storm door, facing me. At that point a woman and child from inside opened the inside door, and this big boy barked over his shoulder a few confused barks, then stopped, looking back at me.
At that point the supervisor who had called me pulled up, watching as this drama unfolded. In reading the dog's body language, it was clear to me that he was afraid, he didn't want to hurt anyone. He didn't know who he could trust. So, I decided that the best thing for the situation was to be the dog's friend. I jumped out of my truck and sat on the ground, and laughed like an inviting fool.
For his part, he charged me, barking furiously. But the closer he got, the higher pitched the bark became, subsiding just as he got to me, before diving into my lap. He was just looking for a safe friend he could trust. I leashed him up, put him in the truck, and away we went to doggie jail. He was claimed within the hour by a distraught owner, upset that his dearly beloved dog had gotten loose, and glad to have him back.
The “act like a fool” technique isn’t advisable for any but the most experienced trainers of dogs that actually understand canine behavior and aggression.