Enlightened… yet again!

I have noted on a number of Posts about Ray’s unfortunate habit of going up to somebody he knows, and suddenly going through his lunge and bark routine.

We have come up with a number of explanations generally around the concept that he was demanding more treats, or perhaps was simply expecting treats, or perhaps he was more sensitive because the person was on his territory. All had, and still have, a degree of credibility.

Just recently we experienced the same with a neighbor just down the road , and we were on her property! I apologized on Ray’s behalf and explained that he was probably expecting treats which were not forthcoming, hence the reaction.

Just after that event, I was chatting with Heather (the love of Ray’s life and Humane Society dog trainer) when I decided to present her with the situation and get her thoughts. They were really interesting!

She explained that while impatience for treats could well be the cause, it was more likely because of his “comfort zone”, and she presented the following scenario.

A dogs has a comfort zone, or personal space, just as we do. Our personal space is important to us and we can feel very uncomfortable when a particular person encroaches that space. Conversely, we maybe very happy when certain people move into our space.

Ray knows that if he “says hello” to a person he will likely get a treat however, to “say hello” means that he must move close to the person. He is in fact putting himself in a position which brings the other person inside his personal space, which he justifies because of the imminent treat.

Imagine that Ray now has the person inside his personal space, but no treat is imminent. While he could be thinking “Where’s my treat?”, he would more likely be thinking “Oops (or something much stronger), she is too close for comfort. What should I do?”. His natural response is to make the person move out of his personal space, and close to 80lbs of dog lunging and barking is very effective in that context!

We were recently in a similar situation and I was watching Ray. When I saw him tense up slightly, I asked the person to just take a couple of steps backwards. No lunge! No bark!

Meeting and having a casual conversation is not a major problem because we generally have treats for him and, again, it is not difficult to monitor him for any change in his attitude. The problem is when a discussion is started which involves some degree of thinking such that Ray is overlooked for a few moments. We must remember to ensure that Ray has his “space”!


21 thoughts on “Enlightened… yet again!

  1. I saw something on FB about tying a yellow ribbon on the dogs collar or leash to indicate if the dog had “issues” (which could be said also for a dog who needs his space) – I think it’s a good idea but not well-known. I do tend to jump on people! Woof!!!

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    • Yes, the yellow ribbon concept has being going for quite a few years but, unfortunately, has been so poorly promoted that only a very limited number of people would understand that it signified something.

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  2. Growing up, I had a dog who was often uncomfortable with strangers. Luckily, when she became uncomfortable, she simply left the room, sometimes growling softly under her breath. I wonder if you could teach Ray that it’s okay to “step away” when he feels uncomfortable? Or maybe have him sit, and then you step toward the person, leaving him safely a bit behind you? Just a thought…you obviously know your dog the best!

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    • Hi Ann – Ray’s original problem (one of many!) was that he was afraid of everybody and reacted intuitively (bark and lunge to keep them away). We have successfully got him to understand that, in fact, good things happen when he meets people. As wonderful as that is, he now wants to say hello to everybody! Sadly, not everybody is interested in him! We still have some work to do!
      Stepping in front of him is a little precarious because he is very protective of us and has demonstrated that he can misread body language really badly (story is in his book). We prefer to position ourselves so we can check him periodically for any sign of discomfort.

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  3. We are having house guests. They are animal people with several pets including cats. However, yesterday my sweet cat Morgan bit both of them. The were aggressively petting her which she hates. She did the twitching tail which they ignored. She moved out of range, they moved. Then she nipped them. They were surprised. I was more surprised that I had to explain to a person with pets that you have to watch for signs. Cats are pretty clear when they don’t want to be bothered starting with fast swishing tail and ending with a growl right before the bite. I have trained (and me not a dog expert) a few friends not to touch a dog without asking and not to come down on the top of the head. It’s people who need training too.

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  4. I agree 100% with the space issue. Liezel’s comfort zone used to be a block away – if she saw someone down the block she would start barking and lunging. With a lot of hard work, some firm corrections, and a lot of reward she will tolerate us having conversations with people, but I do not allow petting! My preference is for the other person to give her a treat if they would like, otherwise, just ignore her. To add to Ray’s trainer’s explanation, many dogs do not like their heads pet. Having someone much larger than you, arms outstretched, reaching for your face is uncomfortable. At least we have the ability to raise our arms and say “What are you doing?!” Our dogs only have a growl (which a lot of times owners attempt to stop), a bark, and then a bite. Learning Liezel’s body language, accepting her growl as “I’m not comfortable,” and respecting her space has got us to where we are today. I’m glad you talked to the trainer about this! Ray’s going to be much more comfortable with you knowing about his comfort zone.

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    • We noticed a long time ago that, when people greeted each other, they never patted each others head and yet seemed to think it fine with a dog. We also noticed that dogs never hug each other and yet people, especially children (who have clearly never been told any different) want to hug a dog. We also noticed that so many people will approach a dog without asking if it was ok…. but Ray handles those quite well! Ray has certainly been an education over the past 3-1/2years! 🙂

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