Dog-human relationship

On a journey to adulthood

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I see rising a dog as a journey, a long one. Salma was around 2 years old when she started to behave like a mature dog but it still took a year for her behaviour (especially towards other dogs to settle), and she did become a lot more confident in a past year. Now I feel that we know each other well, I know what I can expect from her. But the most importantly I trust her fully when it comes to interactions with other dogs. I know she is very skilled, and confident so she knows when to participate in interactions. She prefers to avoid conflict and uses running as a way of getting rid of some dogs, especially adolescent and puppies, at the same time she is not afraid of confrontation with dogs that are pushy or bully other dogs. She will displace the, and she will not let them displace her. Salma was really scared of dogs when she was young, she was separated from her mom at 4 weeks and didn’t have a good dog role model while growing up. I worked on her as well as I could, but put too much pressure for her to have contact with dogs, and for a while she was obsessed with meeting other dogs. From the beginning she was more interested in her environment than working with people, so when dogs came into play I was probably the least interesting thing on the menu. Back then I was really into clicker training, and training in general and I was missing the knowledge to see our relationship as something more complex than positive reinforcement. And don’t get me wrong I really loved her and I think she loved me, and we did have fun together I was just too focused on training my dog and not focused enough on helping her become a well adjusted adult. Slowly, my attitude changed and I become more interested in dog communication, and focused more on just being a unit with Salma. I remember the switch, how I felt that now we are a group going together for a walk and not just dog and a owner. And Salma is just a wonderful dog. Yes she has issue with chasing trains (which she doesn’t do but would love to) and rabbits and she is a bit emotional when she gets excited. But she is so cool and sweet. I was very lucky to find her. And she must have good genes as her sister is also very skilled in interactions with dogs.

Funny enough this post was supposed to be about Chili. But I guess most posts are, as she is still work in progress and I’m still trying to figure her out. 

She is a year and 10 months old now and far from being an adult. I see changes in her behaviour after we came back from Communication Classes, she is more confident and more interested in other dogs. I let her explore her personality and learn how to interact. Because she is a bit more outgoing those last two weeks, I interfere and protect her less. I see it this way if she is hiding behind me when a dog comes by that dog is not getting to her, because I need her to feel safe with me. On the other hand if she approaches a dog herself and that dog chases her away or scares her I don’t interfere. I want her to learn that her behaviour has consequences and to pay attention to the body language of other dogs. On the other hand I don’t think she is ready to deal with unstable dogs so I do make sure (as much as possible) that we avoid those. 

Salma during the communication classes

It’s all about control.

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I recently read an article titled The Control Myth. It’s about our human need to control everything and it ends with a nice quote that even the most out of control dogs have a place in our lives. I used to be a big time control freak when it comes to my dogs. And it became especially salient with Salma. She started to go completely mad about rabbits and trains and I in turn begone to control her every move, including looking in a direction that could trigger her. Such as bushes in Vondelpark. She would listen but she was still aroused and tense and I was tense because trying desperately to stay in control at all times is hard work. And at some point I let go. I’ve accepted Salma just the way she is (and she is a wonderful dog, but also a god with a drive) and it was as if magic happened. More I trust her and let her be herself the more she chooses to be with me. We used to struggle and now we are a team. Today we had an interesting interaction in Vondelpark. As we approached a field where a group of dogs was standing close to their owners, Salma didn’t want to go through the group so we went around. As we were already going through the field male American bulldog saw us. He came closer and stopped 10 steps from us. Both me and Salme where standing laterally to him. He looked first at Salma then at me and at Salma again. Salma didn’t show interest in meeting him. He decided to walk up to me. He wasn’t tense but more curious. At the same time as he got next to me Salma appeared behind my back. She looked at him from behind me (they were close to each other) and she pushed my thigh with her nose. It is time to go she was saying. We went our way (slowly and relaxed) and the bulldog went back to his group. I liked this because it really felt that me and Salma are a family group and that our communication goes both ways. I listen to her and she listens to me. A lot of people would say that I’m crazy but now instead of stopping Salma from going into the bushes (where she starts running like a maniac) I encourage her to go and praise her as she runs. Sometimes I join her in her adventure. And she loves and and she stays closer. Because now I k ow that even when she is at a full speed (and she is fast!) she does pay attention to me and does listen so in fact she is not out of control she is just having fun. And I’m enjoying myself seeing her to free and out of control 😉

Long time no see

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Somehow I Couldn’t find time or energy to write in a couple of days. I lot has been gong on, not only with the dogs, and my mind was wondering far away from the blog. Chili is 8 months old (tomorrow to be precise) and if she will continue to be such a pain in the butt she may not leave to see her adulthood. Seriously, I don’t know how parents of teenagers do it. At least she can talk back to me. Though she is very expressive with the looks she gives me when I don’t want to play with her. She also became more annoying towards other dogs. She is still afraid of a lot of them but on the other hand she started to bark at the rest when they don’t want to interact with her. Today two dogs gave her a strong lesson on why she should be more polite. Both older females, and both very good with communication. When Chili didn’t respond to their calming signals, and warning signals they chased her away but only as long as it was necessary. Chili was a slow learner but she finally realized that she should respect their personal space.

Salma on the other hand is doing ok but she had some bad experience with dogs recently. First with a very aggressive Yorkshire terrier, and then with a young Belgian shepherd. In both situations the owners were total d***heads, and could be responsible for a serious tragedy. Poor Salma did very good but she was stressed with those situations.

Salma in the park

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I finally managed to take Salma for a proper long walk in a park. It was wonderful to be just with her and see how much she enjoys running. I really love how she can ignore dogs that are barking at her. We even met a little female dog that ran straight at Salma while growling, and Salma just waited for her to come close and sniff her. It made the little dog calm down immediately.

There was one moment when Salma seemed to be too interested in bushes close by so I took her on a leash (just in case she would get a stupid idea). She was pulling me so I switched the leash from harness to collar. When Salma was small I spend a lot of time teaching her not to pull on collar and at the same time she was allowed to pull on the harness. Later I got more lazy and switched all together to the harness. Now I use the collar when Salma gets too excited. Over three years past but she still knows not to pull on the collar. After she calmed down (and we walked to a big field) I let her off again. I wanted to get tension out of her so we played tag of war with a stick.

She had an ok interactions with dogs but could see that she does have a problem with communicating to young dogs that she doesn’t want to interact with them or that they are getting too intense. She tried laying down and turning her head away and when it didn’t work she started running like crazy. She makes big circles in those situations and that usually gets her far away from the dog that was bugging her. I was very proud of her when we where in a cafe, getting coffee and someone pushed in tense female dalmatian. We where standing in a narrow part of the bar and the poor dalmatian found herself really close to Salma without a way out (there where suddenly a lot of people in the cafe standing by the door). Salma gave the dalmatian a soft eye and waved her tail slowly at the height of her back but not raising it over. It was nice to see the other dog relaxing her body. Fortunately, someone opened the door and she could go outside. I think it’s sad that so many owners don’t even know that they are putting their dog in a difficult situation. Many probably don’t even notice when their dog feels stressed.

The rest of the walk went great and yet again I realized how much I enjoy spending time with my dogs. It really makes me happy 🙂

This is a picture from last year

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Having fun

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As I run up the hill, just to immediately run down and confuse Chili, I realize that my approach to rising a dog is a lot different then it was when Salma was small. In fact now I’m closer to my approach when I was 10 and had my first dog Tina. I’m simply having fun with my dog. Not because it says so in training books but because I enjoy it. When Salma was small had great ambitions. I was really interested in learning theory, clicker and so called positive training methods. I tried to raise Salma according to the book, properly. But I didn’t think about creating a strong bond with her or i didn’t realize for a long time that some interactions she has with dogs are not playful. From the first moment I saw Salma n the little crate in the shelter I fall in love with her. In that instant I knew I want her to be my dog. I just still had to learn a lot about dogs (and i still do). My view on our relationship with dogs have changed since then,

I like to think that it changed for the better, but time will show. Right now I see training as a secondary thing, if our dog is happy, his needs are satisfied and we know how to communicate (and by communication I mean two way interaction, so we also know how to understand his messages) with each other than training is a matter of time. For example if dog pulls on the leash like crazy, or barks excessively, working on those behaviors would be one of the last things I would do. I want to know what is going on within the dog. Is he stressed? What is the atmosphere at home, and the relationship with the owner? And so on. And if we made sure that the dog is happy then I would focus on problem behavior (if it’s still there). Of course there are some behaviors that are dangerous and have to be managed immediately, but in general I think that focusing only on the problem behavior, and not the dog as a whole, is not a good approach.

I was not supposed to write about this now, not at all. It was supposed to be about Chili. What I wanted to say at the beginning was that because I changed my view on the way we should build our relationship with dogs, I changed the way I interact with Chili. I’m more creative, and I play more spontaneously because I really enjoy it. With Salma I was little bit too serious about everything. And in any way I don’t question teaching behaviors or creating rules for your dog. Absolutely not! The day when we could start teaching Chili to sit in order to get something was one of the best days ;). It’s just that it is very important not to lose yourself in the training and ambitions. Dogs should be a part of our family and not tools to achieve something.

Sunday with Salma

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On Sunday I could finally take Salma for a long walk in a park. Unfortunately, the weather is getting better which means that a lot of people decide to hang out in the park. I personally like it the most in winter or when it’s raining and free from tourists, junkies and children. We managed to have a good walk, but next time I will try to be there before 9, and hopefully it won’t be as busy. .I love walking Salma, I feel that we really understand each other and most of the time I know what to expect from her. For example I know that if she has a bit more stress she will run like a lunatic for the first minutes off leash and now I take it into consideration. After letting her go I always through her a ball or a stick so she can direct her energy at something. Otherwise she runs really fast around me, and sometimes gets lost in the bushes. Two weeks ago Salma, was really going crazy for the first minutes of the walk, and yesterday she was very good. I hope that it means she is less stressed now. She exchanged greetings with some dogs, but mostly ignore them. As we reached the big field where dog owners meet, I saw a group of people standing in the middle with their dogs. Even from far you could feel the tension. I walked around them, and Salma followed (she usually won’t approach a group of dogs unless I will walk towards them). I noticed a young female American Staffordshire terrier in the group, we met her a week ago and she was very pushy. Salma managed to out run her and when she came at her again and tried to displace her, Salma nicely stopped her and came to me for support. I didn’t want to meet this dog again. Just as we were walking away from the field I heard an explosion of growling and barking. I turned around I saw the female amstaff running over a much smaller dog, a female husky (a pretty strong dog) went to separate them, but by then amstaff’s owner grabbed her and lifted her off the small dog. I ‘m happy we weren’t anywhere close to that. The rest of our walk was fun and relaxed. Chili on the other hand was really annoying last night. She was all over the place, and I even took her for an extra walk (which I usually wouldn’t do because I don’t want her to get used to too much exercise).

This morning I unfortunately met a cat with Salma. I’m getting sloppy, I used to see cats long before they would see us, and today he surprised me. I had to put Salma on a collar instead of a harness, and we took a minute to cool down. Fortunately, she can calm down a lot faster than before, which means we can continue walking without her flying on the leash. Chili’s morning walk was nice. She met a very well behaved male Husky, and they actually manage to run together. I really need to find her a strong adult dog to teach her some manners. I think she will be pretty strong when she grows up and I don’t want her to bully other dogs. What I found very nice again was the fact that she definitely, knows that we go for walks together. She will run off with another dog, but she doesn’t forget about me, and If I walk away she follows. I hope this won’t disappear completely during her puberty.