Little Armand was one of Tessa’s “ride-alongs” from Odessa. Much like the Roswell dogs I have rescued, I wonder why no one bothered to look for him. To me, they are always perfect . . . whatever little quirks they have, we either work through them or around them, and it’s those quirks that usually point me to their special talents and the qualities that make each one so unique and endearing.
A cute little poodle/terrier mix about a year old, he quickly figured out what was expected of him . . . no problems with any of the other dogs, no marking in the house and the only time he makes a sound is to “ask” to go out. He is so undemanding, and I could see in his eyes how badly he wanted to “fit in.” I discovered two “issues” that probably caused his owners to “dump” him, and sadly, neither one of them is his fault.
So much of dog misbehavior, including aggression, is the result of bad or aversive training. People say that they understand dogs have feelings, yet they continue to treat them otherwise, demanding that the dog “submit” to them. I cringe when I hear how insensitive owners attempt to “teach the fear” out of their dogs by flooding with them with the fear triggers. If you’re afraid of snakes, will my locking you in a room with a hundred snakes make you less fearful?
I groom my own dogs (which accounts for why I’m always behind) for two reasons: one, it gives me more opportunity to assess the behavior, and two, I can allow myself the luxury of grooming in stages. I rarely complete it in one day because it is as stressful for the dog as it sometimes is for the groomer, and frankly, I don’t want them exposed to anyone insensitive. When a dog has been through a lot of stress, the last thing I want to do is put him through more, so we start out very slowly.
The hair over Armand’s face was very overgrown, so I wanted to clip around it so I could see his eyes. When I got him on the grooming table, I could feel his body tense; so soothing talk and petting, I thought, would calm him. I started the small, quiet clippers, and that was it. There was no calming him. So full stop on the grooming, and I sat with him in my lap for quite awhile until he was calm. I always keep an extra set of grooming tools by my chair, so I picked up the scissors and hand cut the hair around his eyes without any problems.
Armand had clearly had a bad experience during grooming, and don’t think for a minute that every groomer is a dog lover. They earn money by the number of clients they have . . . the more dogs they can groom in a day, the more money, often causing the dogs distress. If you are lucky enough to have a groomer that your dog loves, treasure that person, because not every groomer cares how the dog feels.
So, I will probably never set Armand on the grooming table . . . we have made a lot of progress . . . I can brush, comb and scissor-cut his hair while he is on my lap, and we’ll eventually move to clippers. He gets a lot of treats while he’s in my lap and going through this, and our brushing sessions are now routine and something he looks forward to.
The other issue is one that would probably have cost him his life if the wrong person tried to do an assessment.
I had just gotten a new shipment of “bully stix” and after his dinner, I put him in his crate and gave him a bully stick to occupy him while the others were eating dinner. After quite a bit of time, I needed to move him from his crate. To my surprise, he whirled, bared his teeth, and was determined to not give up his chew. My first thought was, how rude of me to just try to “take” something from him, and here is where a dog is doomed if the archaic alpha-based techniques are used, regardless of what any dominance-based “celebrity trainers” tell you.
I believe in honoring a dog’s space. Contrary to some popular beliefs, dogs are not into bad behavior just to show you that they are the “boss.” If they don’t want to do something, I always want to know why, and then show them how to do it if they don’t have a good reason to not do it (e.g. in one of my classes, no matter how hard we tried, we could not convince a dog to sit . . . it turned out it was arthritis in his hips and it caused him pain to sit).
In his young life, Armand probably never had treats, never had enough to eat, never had much POSITIVE attention, and probably received more “correctional training” than actual teaching. For him, this was not an issue of dominance . . . he simply wanted his treat. We settled this in just one session.
I came back to his crate with a handful of treats, talked to him and asked him if I could have his bully stick. He dropped the stick to take the other treat I offered him, and I petted him as I gently picked up the stick. After he ate the “alternate” treat, and this is CRITICAL, I gave him back the stick. We repeated this until he felt comfortable enough for me to take the stick. He has never growled again over any resource.
When your handling of dogs is based on mutual respect and cooperation rather than the old model of “blind obedience and compliance,” you have a happier dog and a much more wholesome relationship for the both of you. I always have treats within ready reach, and when I want something that one of the dogs has, we do a “trade.” Armand was so mellow and easy-going, I forgot to “trade”, and that was a mistake I won’t make again, because it caused him unnecessary stress.
I’ve always said that dogs will tell you their story if you listen. As kind and mellow as Armand is, his life was not as rosy as one would think. He may not have been physically abused, but the emotional abuse via over-corrections and punishment was clearly evident.
Armand remains happy and eager to learn, and we’re getting ever closer to a new “hairdo.”
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