Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Education of a Vick Dog

Having a Michael Vick dog running around the house has taught me many lessons. Knowing a little about their history has taught me others. One of them is that chaining a dog and then storing him in a small cage for months and months with little human interaction is not a good dog training method. But, we all know that already. My Vick dog Audie needed basic obedience classes and so I searched out beginning dog training classes like a proud parent searches for the best kindergarten class. And in the past few months, Audie and I have taken a couple of recommended beginning dog training classes.

Above: How NOT to do a dog intro. (This is not Audie, btw)

Disappointingly, in both classes, dogs were allowed to stare at other dogs (you've seen it, a hard eye stare) and to run up to other dogs, face to face, nose to nose.

I’d momentarily hold my breath and hope the recipient of a rude greeting didn’t decide to correct his classmate with a growl or worse for such a blunder. Because of this, I thought about ranting on about how beginning dog training instructors need to teach their students about the language of dog before showing us how to teach our dogs the language of people. But instead, let me share five lessons that another instructor taught us that could potentially save your dog’s life.

• Teach your dog that all good things come from you. This includes his meals and toys. Teach him to allow people to handle the food in his dish and to take toys away. How many toddlers would walk up to a dog, take his toy, and try to stuff the dog’s stuffy toy into their own mouth?
• Teach your dog that grabbing his collar is a load of fun. You never know when grabbing that collar might save your dog’s life and you’ll want him to think it’s just another great game of “grab the collar”.
• Teach your dog to wait. A dog rushing out the front door could end disastrously.
• Teach your dog a “watch-me”. A dog checking in with you is a dog paying attention to you.
• Teach your dog that friendly strangers really are friendly. And if your dog sits for them, they might be even friendlier.

Watch for video to come. We’ll gather up a few of the Michael Vick dogs to demonstrate and show-off these lessons they’ve learned now that they’re settling into real homes and given the opportunity to live real lives.
And in the meantime, for all of us who teach beginning dog training classes, please teach your students a little about the language of dog and show us how to be leaders. You’ll be helping us keep our best friends safe while ensuring their place as a treasured member of our families.


Anonymous said...

What great tips.
It amazes me how many dog owners think it`s ok for their dog to stick it`s face in my dog`s face.
Hell I`d bite.
As a human I don`t want a stranger walking up to me and invading my space let alone touching their nose to mine.
Why on earth do people believe that ANY dog would want that?

Splash said...

Greeting behavior is a tough one I have to deal with every day.

I have Labradors, and my guys really do believe that a full body slam is an appropriate greeting. Other Labs love this. You should see it when we get more than 4 or so Labbies together -- dangerous for load-bearing walls.

Sadly, other dogs and breeds do not always see appreciate a hearty welcome. Other dogs' people, on the other hand, see a big goofy happy Lab, figure it's safe, insist on having their dog approach and greet, and, well, SLAM!


I tried to cover handling greeting behavior in my beginning obedience class (in Sierra foothills) but the students just didn't care. I permanently lost 3 students. :(

Donna said...

It's great to hear a non-pit perspective on dog greetings, Splash. Thanks for sharing.

We're living in an odd time ... Where did people first get the idea that dogs should face off with every strange dog they meet on the street? Facing off is what dog fighters do to excite their dogs into conflict. If a we wanted to write a hand-out on how to create leash frustration/aggression in a dog, that would be Step One.

Sadly, too many dogs that come to Pit Ed class with leash aggression first get that way out on the streets after 'practicing' inappropriate greets. Poor dogs. It takes a lot of work to teach them that mom isn't going to face them off anymore.

Anonymous said...

Dear Donna,
My little girl needs SERIOUS help with other dogs. She is a rescue, and was not able to get all of her shots until she was almost 2 years old because of a compromised immune system thanks to her previous owners neglect. Can you recommend any good pit trainers in the south bay? We are patiently waiting our turn on the BadRap list, but if she could get some help before hand, I would be willing to do both. I try very hard to change minds about pits, but when my dog is lungeing at every dog that we pass on the trails, it makes it a little more difficult. Any suggestions would be helpful. We can't use pinch collars or choke chains because her skin is so bad. Help!!!!
Thanks, Natalie

Anonymous said...

If you live in the San Diego area, I'd like to recommend the San Diego Humane Society's classes. I took my rescue APBT girl to their Head Start class and it was a great experience. Dog-dog socialization was NOT encouraged. The trainer made it clear that class was not the time or place for dogs to meet each other, period.

Once we had the basics down, I taught my dog "get behind me," which has been very useful. She's starting to do it automatically when we're in a situation she's uncomfortable with.

Anonymous said...

Here is a fantastic article about head on leash greets and rude body language

"He just wants to say hi," is the bane of our neighborhood. "Sit" and "watch-me" are our best friends when walking out and about. Sorry we're in training ;)!

Midwestern Bully Love

Donna said...

Natalie - email me privately

Anonymous said...

It's a little unclear from the way the blog is written but it suggests that the owner of Audie allowed such nose-to-nose greetings as in the photo (which as others have pointed out, is a huge no no). But the link goes to Linda C, showing a different dog, and she would surely NOT allow such a thing. Would be good to clarify

Linda said...

Thanks for pointing that out, and I will clarify. I did not allow Audie to do nose-to-nose greets. I know better. However, the instructor ignored others in the class who did allow their dogs to go nose-to-nose. Those students didn't know any better, and I feel that instructors are doing a disservice to their students by not helping them understand why this type of greeting can be dangerous. I did speak to the instructors about nose-to-nose greets in my classes, and I hope there will be a revision to those training programs.

who wouda thunk it?? said...

I live on a city park, my back yard adjoins the park. I am constantly met with people who want their dogs to "make friends" with my dogs, who see the interloper as a threat. They think I am mean and rude as I rush out to ask them to get off my fence.You are right, the owners do not have the slightest notion of dog body language, pack behavior, or natural instincts. they are scarey, and I feel sorry for their pets.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of educating.
This Vice Principal could use some.
Isn`t this quite the lesson to teach kids.
Apparently they should judge a book...person...or dog by it`s cover.
What a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

The first things I teach in my basic class is "watch me" command and how to turn and get your dog away from another dog that is behaving in a non-friendly manner.
I do not allow people to let their dogs just go up and greet other dogs, no matter the breed. I do spend the time to try and explain to them the rationale behind well as trying to get them to understand more of their own dog's body language.
Every aspect I try to teach is to give the owners the tools to help their dogs learn self control.

Thoughts said...

These are great starting points, thanks.

Amanda said...

Wonderful tips!!! It is amazing how hard it is to find good training/trainers.

Even ones we thought were good missed some of these basics like you talk about here Linda: focus on the owner, all good things come from the human.

Tips and info like this is why I am constantly referring prospective adopters to your website! So much great info, because let's face it, dog training (like child rearing) is not just about common sense or intuition. We all have things to learn and ways we can improve. =)