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Doggie Signals: Taking a Risk and Trusting Cooper

January 18, 2012

My dog doesn’t always greet other dogs and people correctly.

No, let me rephrase that: My dog almost never greets other dogs and people correctly.

And when I say correctly, I don’t mean my hope for how he would act when he meets others. You know, calmly sitting and waiting for my signal that it was OK for him to stand and do the little sniff test. No, I mean that even by doggie standards, his form of greeting can be … well … a little off. He doesn’t just lunge at other dogs and people. He doesn’t just bark. He will actually get himself worked up to a full-on growling, barking, lunging fit. And if the other dog reacts at all, it just winds him up even further. The moment he can actually greet the other dog (or person, because he will do the same thing with people — and most don’t take it well), he completely relaxes and acts like a normal dog again.

It’s not like he’s never been exposed to other dogs to learn a proper greeting. He’s been going to the dog park since he was about 15 or 16 weeks old (when he had a full round of his first shots). He was in his first puppy class about a week after. I’ve talked with the trainer repeatedly about it and we’ve tried a variety of techniques to teach him that the reaction won’t get him his way. None of it has worked. She noted when we started dealing with it that — while rare — some dogs never outgrow their puppy-like over-reaction and the need to vocalize when meeting others. With these dogs, the most you can do is attempt to control the reaction, but you can never really curb the behavior.

Cooper is apparently one of those rare dogs.

Lucky me.

This isn’t a small issue. It could keep him from passing his Canine Good Citizen test. He has already mastered all of the challenges on the test except for reacting “appropriately” to another dog. But more than that, he can scare people who don’t understand that all of his bluster is just his way of telling me and others how much he wants to say hi. Only people who are good at reading doggie body language understand that he’s happy, not aggressive.

Most of the time, I deal with it by ignoring his tantrum (or, at least, trying to be as non-reactive as possible) and moving him in the opposite direction of the stimulus. In some cases, I make Cooper sit and try to direct his attention back to me. Neither is perfect. The only real chance I have to redirect his attention is if I have a treat. But I fear doing that too often because I feel like it rewards his abhorrent behavior.

Yesterday, on our walk in the midst of slushy fields, I secretly wished for a treat when I saw a wayward Rottweiler barreling straight for us.

Cooper had already made a scene by growling, barking and lunging at a mother and her two children in the little park down the street. Thankfully, the woman wasn’t deterred by his behavior and walked right over to greet him. Once he had the chance to sniff her leg, he immediately calmed down and just asked for a little love. She ruffled his fur and spoke a few sweet words to him before slipping away.

I turned to take him back down the path from which we came when he froze and then whined and then started pulling at the leash. I looked up and caught sight of a large black and tan dog that easily outweighed Cooper by 75 to 100 pounds galloping straight for us, his blue leash flying behind him. A boy about 9 years old ran behind, but clearly wasn’t going to catch up with his dog before Rottweiler reached us.

From the distance, I couldn’t really tell if the dog was friendly or not. For a moment, I debated scooping up Cooper and holding him out of reach, but I knew that:

  1. If the dog was really determined to get to Cooper, he could easily knock me down and have him for lunch; and
  2. The dog could pretty much just snap Cooper out of my hands without having to do so much as lift a paw off the ground because he was that tall and I’m that short

So, instead, I watched Cooper and his reaction. Realizing the dog was headed his way, my often-frantic pup stopped pulling and simply stood his ground, head and tail up. I decided to trust his reaction and tried to remain calm as the dog slid between us and his head, which was bigger than Cooper’s entire midsection, lowered toward my dog.

To my surprise, the strange dog — despite his size and his breed’s reputation for being a guardian — didn’t snap or growl or bark. Instead, he simply sniffed Cooper from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. When he was done inspecting my dog, Cooper immediately crouched down and bounced around and tried to engage him in play. As Cooper distracted him, I grabbed his leash so that I could give it back to the kid headed my way.

As we slowly made the slippery walk home, I felt proud. Not because I did something right, but because my little, spastic, overly happy, social-climbing dog did. He read the situation and reacted in a completely appropriate doggie manner.

Now, if I could only get him to do that a little more often.

And I could learn to trust him a little bit more.

From → Animals, Cooper

3 Comments
  1. Susan Berger permalink

    ROFL…I could picture all that in my head and it gave me a good laugh! Way to go Coop! AND you!

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