Oakville is a small town on the edge of Lake Ontario and, although it is within the “The Golden Horseshoe” (being an area of dense population and industries stretching from Toronto to Hamilton), it has endeavored to maintain a small “olde towne” image which it has done with moderate success.
The result of the lakeside, and the image, has provided consistent tourism business over the warmer months. For the tourists, and for Ray, it means outdoor patios serving ice cream, gelato, baked goods etc.
Ray has always been highly food motivated and, when passing a café or restaurant, he has no reservations whatsoever about stopping and staring at the people behind the glass window who are trying to have an undisturbed meal*. Sometimes the customers are clearly amused so we let Ray do his eye contact thing but, at other times, it is just more appropriate to coax him past the window.
As much progress as Ray has made over the past two years, and we are certainly thrilled with what he has achieved, he has developed a disconcerting habit regarding treats. He was trained to be comfortable with other dogs by simply making the association that dogs mean treats. The same concept was used for meeting people.
With dogs, he knows the routine. See dog ….. look up at “peeps” ….. get treat! With people it can get complicated because often the people, unlike the dogs, have treats to give him. When we give him a treat, he knows from our body language whether any more are likely to come. He knows from experience that barking gets him nothing from us, except to be ignored. Unfortunately, he has not applied the same rationale to other people and we have had a few incidents where he has “woofed” at somebody because no more treats seemed to be forthcoming! It seemed to be a very definitive “I want another treat!”
Now imagine the sleepy town of Oakville, on a warm Sunday afternoon. People are milling around, looking in windows of souvenir stores. Cafes and restaurants have their sidewalk patios open, and the gelato and ice cream stores are doing a wonderful business. Now let us introduce a 75lb Shepherd/Rotti, who would do pretty much anything for food, into the picture!
For Ray, this is not a problem because anything that is being served, or otherwise being eaten outside, is fair game to be shared with him. He makes that perspective very clear as he eyeballs (e.g.) some innocent person’s gelato. As long as that person ignores him, there are no expected problems however, if they give him any attention, then the process of intimidation starts and becomes an issue because when Ray “woofs” in these circumstances, it is a very commanding “WOOF”! People tend to recoil. We really don’t want Ray to capitalize on that reaction, nor do we want him to get nervous around people again because of such reaction.
The solution is to watch his body language very carefully. If somebody offers him a treat and then wants to talk about him, which is often the case (during which time Ray is being ignored), our first clue is his unblinking and fixed eye contact. This is a good time to distract him.
He will generally take a relaxed sit position when expecting a treat but, in this scenario, his sitting pose will become rigid. If we missed the first clue, then this may well be our last chance to intervene. So far this approach seems to be working so as at today, and until Ray changes the rules once again, we believe that we are still in control!
*Related Post “Please Feed Me” – Dec 12, 2014