An irritated pup snaps and bites, and who gets the blame? The dog! Even though they were most likely provoked into bad behavior.
“People tend to do all the wrong things, which causes pets to become worried and sometimes snap. Most people only recognize the final warning signs that dogs will give,” said Robyn Slusky, MS, a professional dog trainer and behavioral coach who educates children and adults in dog communications.
“Dogs will try and communicate when they feel scared, stressed or uncomfortable. It’s when these warning signs aren’t adhered to that you get a growl, snarl, snap and bite,” she said. “Bites rarely come out of nowhere. The only time this happens is when the dog’s warning system has been punished.”
When pooches warn you with a “grrrrrrr,” it means: “Quit pestering me!” or “Stay back.” Ignoring them starts trouble.
“People should never punish a growl!” said Slusky. “That is their final warning they give when they aren’t comfortable. If it gets punished, the dog learns that there is no point trying to communicate that he isn’t comfortable, and they end up learning to go straight to bite.”
For example, I hate it when some clown comes up and vigorously pats me on my head. If he wants to stroke me, he should introduce himself. First, he should offer me the palm of his hand. I’ll sniff him with my superior olfactory senses, gathering information. After I am comfortable, then he may proceed to gently pat me.
The website www.stopthe77.com illustrates what dogs feel and sense during play time, car rides, roughhousing or on walks. It teaches children to honor a dog’s signaling for safe interactions. The “77” is because 77 percent of dog bites are from family pets or a friend’s pet when someone failed to defer to the dog.
“Dogs — and animals in general — should never be forced to do anything that they are not comfortable with,” said Slusky. “I do a lot of ‘force-free’ handling techniques with dogs and their owners to teach them how to be active participants in their handling and care. Consent is such an important aspect of our human lives, and it should be for our pets as well.”
Slusky’s education focuses on creating a curriculum to teach children “dog” body language.
Today, she teaches those lessons at “Camp Humane”, hosted by the San Antonio Humane Society. Children, she pointed out, learn about wild animals, zoo animals and ocean animals, but little about the animal at home — the family pup.
Through pet education, she aims to lower the number of yearly reported dog bites, and to reduce the number of surrendered pets, dropped off at shelters because they bit someone. This lovely “dog whisperer” is in high demand with ’09 clients.
“Most of my clients have dogs with some sort of fear, anxiety and/or aggression issues, but we get dogs from all walks of life,” she said. “I do a lot of work with local rescue groups. I love working on preventative training, especially with puppies, to prepare them for what they will be experiencing in the rest of their lives.”
This lady speaks my language!
“Just like we vaccinate animals to inoculate against diseases, I see training and early socialization as a way of inoculating our dogs against future behavior issues,” she said. “Behavior kills more dogs than health issues do, so it’s up to us humans to help dogs learn how to feel safe and comfortable in the world we have created for them. Training and learning in general should always be fun, never stressful or painful.”