I have a different approach to interacting with dogs. I must confess that the dog who obeys instantly like a puppet doesn’t do a lot for me. In fact, that behaviour reminds me of one of old Mussolini’s sayings: “Obedience must be prompt, absolute and respectful”. I am not, in any way, calling anybody who trains dogs any names, just my bias.
When I meet a new dog I don’t think about training him/her. I try to figure out what kind of dog is this, self assured? Timid? Energetic? Quiet? How much does this dog already know?
It doesn’t take long to figure out these basic characteristics, but it took me a very long time to figure out how to approach the problem. I too started with the mindset of ‘training a dog’ and then I realized that a lot of the tenets of dog training are not carved in stone, and should be flexible according to circumstances.
For instance, ‘The dog must walk behind the human’. It is convenient to have the dog walk behind me, so that I don’t stumble into it when I walk, because my strides are far longer than a dog’s. But if the dog walks fast enough and does not interfere with my walk, I don’t mind having the dog go ahead of me most of the time. Why not, after all? There might be a time when I want the dog to follow me, for instance when we are approaching another, unknown, dog. I prefer to be between the new dog and my dog to convey the message, ‘this is my dog, do not approach’. Very often, this is not necessary, but if it is, I can do it because by paying attention I can foresee a possible situation. And this is another very important point. When you are in charge of dogs you have to pay attention, all the time, just like they do.
I agree with a lot of the commands used with dogs, like, Sit, Stay, Down, Drop it, Stop, Give me etc. But, by far the most useful command is AH AH! This has to be done loudly, with a very firm tone, forcefully and ‘staccato’. All dogs respond to this instantly because this is a sound that is used by a lot of animals as an urgent warning. You would use this command only in very definite situations, like the dog is starting to eat something wrong, is approaching some danger, or something similar. Do not abuse this most powerful command or it will lose its power.
In a pack situation, as when a few dogs are off leash in a park, I let the dogs decide the individual positions. This is because dogs know each other’s nature better than we ever can, and they walk or run according to their own nature. Most of the time the position of the dogs is not important, as nothing interesting is happening. But if a situation arises the dogs respond according to their role in the pack. I have already described the function of the Caretaker. Another very important function is of course the Protector. In my experience this function is activated only rarely, because, contrary to what people worry about, interactions between dogs are mostly peaceful. Only once it happened that two dogs from another pack attacked Henri, my Beagle. Immediately Diesel, my Jack Russell, sprang into action and had the two fairly large bullies, on the run.
Of course, Jack Russell are by nature fearless and rather ferocious so it makes sense that Diesel would be taking on the function of Protector.
Another dog who is a great protector is Burton, a French Bulldog.
Bulldogs are, of course, fearless, as they were originally bred for bull baiting, an English pastime which I hope has gone out of fashion. Anyway the dogs were bred small so that they would not be reached by the bull’s kicks. Let’s not linger on this image, but let’s rather consider that because of this, bulldogs and all the “bully breeds” are fearless, self assured, powerful, and may be aggressive. Not their fault, and the aggression can be controlled by a knowledgeable keeper.
Burton’s owners are justly proud of an exploit of their tiny but invincible little dog.
His owner was walking him and her Pug in an off leash park when she was attacked by a wolf or a wolf dog, we are not sure which. These very large animals are supposedly prohibited, but there are some around, and they are mostly fine.
It seems that this particular one was attracted by the fur collar she was wearing. Burton was off doing his own thing as he always does, but heard the owners shouts, raced back and threw himself on the wolf – dog and bit him so hard in his hind quarters that the creature ran away screaming. Burton is forever our hero.