“The pup is the parent of the dog!”
We live in a fast changing world where logic and common sense are used less and less. We all get affected by this and, through no fault of their own, so do our beloved pets. We are changing their world too, but they have no say in the process, so I felt I had to talk on their behalf on a subject I feel rather passionate about…
This “blame culture” society now seems to target the “Puppy Party” scenario as the reason for the dogs’ aggressive and dangerous behaviours.
The Puppy Party issue has been popping up quite frequently recently, with the authors of the simple but powerful message: “Puppy Parties can make your dog aggressive and dangerous!” gaining more and more support. I can mention a few cases now where the “Helicopter owners”, trying to shield their dogs from any possible harm or worry, avoid ALL socialisation and training opportunities being frightened by this confusing information
I recently attended a heated debate on the subject and decided it was better to leave the arguing sides in peace, but would like to express my views, so that you will have a chance to see where I think the argument goes wrong, and why we need to think about it, so here goes-
Puppies do not know how to play, they are born with no social etiquette or manners to speak of. Should they just be dumped together in so-called Puppy Parties, which may cause them to be nervous, anxious or fearful in the presence of another dog? I’m sure you’d say of course not, and you would be partly right, but there is another side.
So the puppy attends the party, is bullied, becomes frightened and very confused and does not wish to remain in such an environment. The perpetrator learns to bully, intimidate and provoke the weaker and smaller playmate into a variety of undesired responses and most puppy parties go exactly like that. You may then assume if this is allowed to continue, this will be all those dogs will ever learn. Let me leave it for now and explain the theory behind this instead, so you can understand the process better.
To start with, it’s just unnatural for any creature to be dragged out of your cosy den to a meeting place where lots of other creatures are doing despicable things. This is how our pups see things after spending a few weeks in the solitary confinement of your home; waiting for the “All Clear” from the vet so they can go out and start socialising. Well, how do they do it? They don’t know; we don’t always know, but we usually just “wing it” and hope for the best.
“…many owners know that they should socialise their puppy, but have no idea how they’re supposed to do it.”
“Since young puppies won’t have developed a very strong code of appropriate play, it usually involves lots of inappropriate play fighting.”
“by the time he is adult he is aggressive towards other dogs? But how many of the owners of these puppies will ever trace their adult dogs aggression back to the lessons learnt as a puppy in the puppy training class?”
Yes, sure, this is correct up to now. So your pup is a “menace with a faceful of teeth!” What are you supposed to do then? You end up holding on to him for the length of the session; listening to the advice from the trainer, whilst receiving dirty looks from other owners. You have to, and so the lesson usually learnt is this: I am desperate to get to other dogs: I create noise and havoc: I am then kept away from the rest of the world and “calmed down” and so rewarded for my behaviour and then taken home to peace and quiet. You get my drift – he comes out feeling- “Let’s do it again next time!”
The puppy being chased does not look happy and as we have stopped using the term “subordinate” and would now use “fearful and scared” we try to help it to deal with the situation by … wait for it… picking it up, shielding it from the “nasty mean Rover” and terminating the outing there and then. The puppy’s take home message: I just do not like dogs. I do not like bigger dogs and I do not like playful dogs pestering me. So where do the ten escalating signs of aggression (Kendal Shephard, Ladder of Aggression) come in? They don’t because the dog never has a chance to learn them – they have not seen this article and cannot Google search for help.
“Puppies bite, and thank goodness they do. Puppy biting is normal and natural puppy behaviour. In fact, it is the pup that does not mouth and bite much as a youngster that augers ill for the future. Puppy play-biting is the means by which dogs learn to develop bite inhibition, which is absolutely essential later in life”.
Do you agree with me at this point? Let’s talk further. I know what happens next as I live with three such dogs who learnt plenty of “criminal” dog behaviour in their youth mostly due to NOT “PARTYING” ENOUGH there and then. Interrupt the early learning and pay the ultimate price later on in their lives: guide and channel it – and enjoy the benefits! All three rehomees are fine now and are regularly used as Stooge dogs (See Angela Stockdale’s work) helping other hounds to discover their inner-self, and head on the right path. However, a substantial amount of time and effort is required to help the adult delinquent dog.
So in a different class, away from the careful, law-suit fearing and politically correct trainer another lesson takes place. Here the supervising trainer / behaviourist (TMO it doesn’t matter who runs the class as long as they are good at what they do!) allows the pups to play instinctively. They do not know how, and we cannot teach them. Let me repeat this once again: “We humans cannot teach our dogs how to play!” The puppies will run, chase, escape and also bite – well, this is about everything young puppies can do to one another. This is innate behaviour and has yet to be lost or replaced with learnt and more acceptable behaviour. If the correct message is not learnt here some individuals may run into difficulties later on in life, and pay the ultimate penalty: a Put To Sleep verdict.
“The combination of weak jaws with extremely sharp, needle-like teeth and the puppy penchant for biting results in numerous play-bites which, although painful, seldom cause serious harm. Thus, the developing pup receives ample necessary feedback regarding the force of its bites before it develops strong jaws – which could inflict considerable injury. The greater the pup’s opportunity to play-bite with people, other dogs and other animals, the better the dog’s bite inhibition as an adult. For puppies that do not grow up with the benefit of regular and frequent interaction with other dogs and other animals, the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition lies with the owner.”
So let’s jump ahead and accept the PLAY part of the class with an open mind. Please look up an article on bite inhibition “The Bite Stops Here” by Ian Dunbar explaining the science behind biting as an essential mechanism of dogs’ development.
When an “aggressor” pup sinks his teeth into another dog’s ear / neck etc. the outcome could be one of two things: the offended party either yelps and retreats, or it bites back – either way the fun of a previously enjoyable game is over- the offender then has to re-think and re-plan its approach to other dogs in order for play to continue.
Young whelping pups live in the cycle of play-eat-poop-sleep patterns, repeated over and over again, all day long, at different intervals. This is all they do. Older puppies do this, but a little less and with slightly more knowledge of what to expect in return. This is the way the early life of pups has always been until the “new age” behaviourist started to advise that this was wrong: but by interrupting what nature intended some pups will grow up being aggressive and even dangerous to other dogs. Mother nature knows best and would have eliminated the bite inhibition process ages ago if it was anything less than beneficial to the species and their well-being.
“I shall repeat over and over: teaching bite inhibition is the most important aspect of your puppy’s entire education.”
“In the dog training world, bite inhibition is defined as a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite. We know that all dogs have the potential to bite, given the wrong set of circumstances. Some dogs readily bite with little apparent provocation, but even the most saintly dog, in pain, or under great stress, can be induced to bite. When a bite happens, whether frequently or rarely, bite inhibition is what makes the difference between a moment of stunned silence and a trip to the nearest emergency room for the victim (and perhaps the euthanasia room for the dog).”
Can the pup learn without the actual biting? Perhaps if the pup can watch a DVD, or read a DIY bite inhibition manual. Well, first you’d have to teach him to read, but until then it is all about the “Trial and Error” principle. So it is OK for your pup to fail, to get upset, to recover and to learn what does and does not work!
Dunbar also suggests that this is a “systematic two-step process: first, to inhibit the force of puppy bites and second, to lessen the frequency of puppy mouthing”. A good reward-based class and reward-fuelled walk would do just that; giving the pup an alternative to gnawing on another dog’s neck for the length of the session.
“In my opinion, a good puppy training class or puppy party – if there is such a thing, places the greatest emphasis on the puppy interacting with the owner, rather than with anything else, because it is the owner who should be responsible for the puppy’s education.”
We are naturally concerned about the stress our little darlings are likely to experience when approached, or heaven forbid pounced upon by another dog. But why wouldn’t you want to teach your dog to handle the stress they are likely to experience for pretty much most of their lives, whether you like it or not? Of course having a house-dog offers an attractive option of never having to worry about it at all, but it is not the solution for most of us. We walk our dogs, and therefore they will most definitely be approached by other dogs. How do they know then how to express their intentions, learnt manners and social etiquette, body postures, facial expressions and many other communicative skills so absolutely paramount to their everyday life? (Please search internet for “Tolerance to Frustration and Impulse Control” in dog training.)
There will be pups, having lived in a gilded cage up to that moment, who will not have a clue what to do and how to respond, so some will panic, fight, or fly and some… well…
Fortunately there will be some dogs who are not beyond repair. They can learn well after the critical period responsible for social interactions has closed its doors. You cannot convince me that older dogs cannot learn social skills post the 16 week period – this is our only hope in rehabilitating rescue and “second chance” dogs and working with dogs who just missed out on it- Most do improve, so don’t give up hope!
“For owners who have good control over their dog, there is no better way to maintain the dog’s soft mouth than by regular play-fighting. However, to prevent your puppy from getting out of control and to fully realize the many benefits of play-fighting, you must play by the rules and teach your dog to play by the rules.”
Teaching all this in the absence of other puppies is like teaching him not to jump / play / bite you by simply not being around the dog or not letting him go near you… This may work for a while, but there’s always more to come! Ridiculous, you’d say – but this is where we are going with all this.
“I do not teach my pupils, I only provide the environment in which they can learn”
Another school of thought is one where you should only mix your young pups with older dogs who know what they are doing. Grown up dogs are often easier to select and vet for such a role, but harder to source. It’s true that young pups can learn tons from them, if you are able to do this (well, fat chance I’d say for most of us, as hardly any older dog on your daily route would be happy to be pounced upon by an over-excited, over-exuberant youngster) so the puppies are usually easier to come by. However, in any case, they still need to learn what to do with other silly pups.
“Normal dogs, like normal people, are often incredibly tolerant of the antics of youngsters. The tolerance level is highly individual and dependent upon the dog’s experience with puppies. Dogs without much experience with puppies may not be nearly as tolerant as dogs who have seen a lot of puppies come and go.”
“there appears to be a “puppy license” of sorts, possession of which entitles you to be an utter pest without much repercussion. Past the age of 4 months, the “puppy license” expires as hormone levels shift and psychological changes occur. At this point, adult dogs begin to gradually insist on more controlled, respectful interactions from youngsters”
This will happen to your pup, but don’t panic when it does – this is how they do it.
Helen Vidler, who kindly offered to have this article proof-read, commented on this:
“I feel sorry for puppies who would only be exposed to older dogs. Up to the age of 5 I lived with my Mum and grandparents, saw lots of adults but rarely any children, no nursery etc. I can still remember my first days at school, screaming the place down and then was painfully shy! I rightened up by about 10 and unlike the puppies had no biting tendencies!” Yah, so she thinks!
Now back to learning how to behave in the human household. The adult family would usually establish early on some rules about rough play, but what about your kids? Guests to the house? Strangers on the street and in the park? Joggers, cyclists and picnickers? Unless you are planning to spend the next 18 years dragging your dog around by its leash and never letting them have a life, you need to start teaching them some manners. Luckily we know a bit about what is and is not acceptable around other humans, but the need for exposure to real life remains – you need the tiddly Buster to start generalising objects, humans and dogs, by exposing him to an array of different stimuli.
Most of my clients bringing their dogs for assessment, due to aggression problems towards other dogs, would say, “He was absolutely fine until he got attacked by another dog about 4 years ago…” And they still live in the past (the clients I mean). To start with, they’d grab and remove their victim from the scene just at the sight of another dog. Soon their dog would learn to ward off other dogs by screaming and trying to nip at them, if they came too close. However, dogs do not live in the past. They must also learn that there are some idiotic dogs around that should be avoided and appeased if possible, but the majority of dogs are fine and the world is a friendly place if we let it be. Severe attacks are rare, and they are certainly not educational. As our puppies grow up they become potentially able to cause more damage. Expose them in puppy class, or call it a day, prepare yourself – you will be having issues with your Scooby later.
Please look up the article, “He just wants to say ”Hi!” by Suzanne Clothier and her “appropriate response to rudeness” to help you understand that a dog’s world is a very much more self-contained and rather efficient structure when you remove human interference:
“It never fails to amaze me how willing humans are to excuse and rationalize a dog’s rude behavior instead of teaching them good manners. Part of developing appropriate social behavior is learning that no matter how excited you may be, there are other folks in the world and certain basic rules of politeness still apply no matter how excited you may be.”
“All too often, when a dog has bitten severely, the case history reveals the dog was “fine” as a puppy: “Oh no, he never mouthed at all”, or “But she was so gentle when she mouthed as a pup”. This is the major reason we go to great pains to encourage shy and standoffish dogs to play in puppy class. The most important survival lesson for a puppy to learn is that biting causes pain and of course, the pup can only learn this lesson, if he bites and if the bitee gives appropriate feedback. Remember, Puppy biting is wonderful.”
Our dogs need us to be there to guide them throughout their lives, but I strongly believe if our very young pups do not acquire the appropriate manners, necessary for life, at the correct time, we are producing potential future problems: and the best place to do this… in a safe, well controlled and supervised Puppy Party where there is equality between the participants. One where the pups are the same age having similar strength, ability and energy levels. However, a big NO to this if the pups are not well matched and cannot balance each other out fairly. Do remember though if you have not done most of the dog-to-dog socialising by the age of 14-16 weeks, you then playing the catch-up game. As long as you realise this then go ahead, but have a good guide next to you, someone whose dog/s can be the equivalent of your dog’s Shiva, to help it live in peace and harmony with others in the world, just and fair, but strong and independent nevertheless.