Dogs have pretty much taken over my life. I blog about them, foster them, rescue them, train them, and, most of all, I love them.
As with anything that a person spends copious amounts of their time on, there are valuable insights that are only gained when the light of experience illuminates their hiding spots.
This is especially true with foster dogs. There are so many different personalities that come through our doors. From scared to hyper, we have experienced a full-spectrum of various personality types. Fortunately, “breaking through” to earn trust is, almost always, requires the exact same sequence of events regardless of the dog. Being as such, once the process of actually being trust-worthy, combined with plenty of positive reinforcement and patience, is understood, it is relatively simple to implement.
But, there is one lesson that was extremely difficult for me to learn.
Most folks who have a dog inherently know that their reaction times and reflexes make us look like we are moving in slow motion. One of the areas that this becomes most relevant, for me, is when one of our dogs or the mama dog, engages in a behavior know as a “correction” directed at one of our foster puppies. I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying to find a video that illustrates how fast and seemingly violent a correction is, but to no avail. The best metaphor that I can think of for the behavior is when you see a pack of wolves in the wild feeding on a kill(I watch a ton of documentaries). You will often see individuals “snap” at one another during this footage, and while it looks very intense, violent, and dangerous, there is never any severe injury sustained by any of the pack.
The same is true for our dogs and mamas when they teach puppies how to behave. To the human eye and mind, it is aggressive, dangerous, scary, and violent, but when the behavior is broken down into it’s constituent parts, it becomes apparent that none of those adjectives are anywhere near realistic descriptors of the behavior.
I remember the first time I allowed Sully, our large boxer/amstaff mix, to correct a puppy for jumping into his face. Up to that point, I would actively discourage behavior that I deemed to be “mean” that, I now know, is perfectly healthy, normal dog/puppy interaction. Not only is this behavior healthy and normal, but it is also integral in teaching a puppy the manners and behavior that is acceptable in dog/dog interactions later in his/her life. So, after I realized that I needed to not only allow the behavior but encourage it, I did just that. The first time I praised a correction, I remember my skin was actually tingling because the puppy, like puppies are prone to do, went off yelping like someone had just run over its tail. But, of course, Mr. drama llama, aka the puppy, was perfectly fine and completely stopped jumping up into my boy’s face after that.
Since then, I have only had to allow corrections from my dogs four times, not including the first one described above. That period encompasses roughly two and a half years and approximately 100 foster puppies. Two of those instances resulted in a superficial cut on the muzzle of the pupper in question, but, considering, all of my dogs are huge, that is nothing to be concerned with. The reason that the correction is such a rare event is that I no longer stop the other behavior mentioned in the graphic above. Most people would interject themselves when a dog starts to growl, show teeth, or go stiff, thinking that they are going to prevent him/her from seriously injuring the puppy. But when we do this, it enforces the behavior, because we cut off the, all important, “you have gone to far” step of the correction.
The other, very, very, very difficult behavior to allow is when a mama dog teaches her babies using corrections. It sounds downright violent, with puppies often sent yelping into a corner, for jumping into mom’s food or just being overly rambunctious. It is doubly intense when all this occurs when the person tasked with their care (me) is in another room of the house and has to listen to this! But, through experience, I’ve learned that these corrections are absolutely critical in teaching these little babies the correct and proper way to socialize with other dogs later in life.
Does my experience line up with yours? Let me know in the comments below!