The powerful black dog trotted my way after a quick visit with his owner on the chair across from me. His docked tail vigorously wagging this time. I began putting my hand over his head and stroking his face, eyes, and muzzle. I do this as a sort of touching and quick temperament test with every dog I work with. I do NOT suggest you do this unless you have a good grasp of the dog language, which, in my professional opinion, most folks do NOT even though they assume they do! Please don’t take it personally because I know for a fact many dog professionals (vets, behaviorists, trainers, daycare owners) don’t have a solid grasp on dog language either! If they did behavioral issues wouldn’t be skyrocketing like they currently are.
As I spoke with Cato’s owner I applied my classic “Touch and Go” move like I mentioned in the first part of this series. I’ll explain it to you now, Dear Reader, so you too can begin a better life with your own dog and with any dog you happen across in the fine future. Are you ready? Please pay attention. Basically it goes like this…
1. Touch the dog.
2. Stop touching the dog.
That’s it. That’s what I call a wonderful beginning. While I’m telling you this slightly with tongue in cheek that really is the whole maneuver. The magic is that you, the toucher, stop giving touch before the dog, the touchee, leaves your space, or grows tired of your touching, or threatens you, or before he/she demands more touching from you. You pet the dog then, if you’re sitting, you purposefully stop and lean back and look away from the dog. If you’re standing and petting the dog then you stop and stand up to your full height and, looking away, you ignore the dog.
This ridiculously simplistic maneuver is so undervalued and underdone among dog owners and dog lovers. This is astounding to me in my daily dog and human observational studies. Most people keep petting until the dog determines when it’s over. Most people are left bent over and the dog has exited their space whenever it wanted. Most dogs dictate (over time) who touches who and how and when that touch is applied and the human just follows along like a clueless goon. Then, years and many behavioral issues later, “The dog just snapped,” or “The dog just turned, no warning at all!” I call BS on that, Friends. For many a dog has spent its entire life telling the person they live with precisely how they will or won’t receive touch! This is no bueno.
Touch is a dog’s first sense and the most important sense by far when determining sociability, respect, trust, clear and polite communication, obedience, and every other stinking thing you can think of that happens between human and dog! PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO HOW TOUCH IS HAPPENING TO YOU AND YOUR HUMAN BODY AND TO HOW YOUR DOG TAKES TOUCHING ON HIS/HER DOG BODY. My “touch and go” move lets the dog clearly know that I’ll touch when I want, how I want, and then stop when and how I want also just like the mother or father dog would on their young. It paves the way for healthy relationship between owner and dog as opposed to the classic blunder of – dog dictates touch whenever and however and forever until something awful happens! This is what many families suffer through.
Does the “Touch and Go” work for nervous or aggressive dogs? YES and YES! The point is to touch them and then stop before they aggressively warn you off of their body or space or bed or food, or before they run away or slip your touch. In extreme cases it looks like this – You touched them. They barely registered it. They began to get uncomfortable but before they could escalate you already have stopped and you’re ignoring them. It’s the smooth way to begin to handle a dangerous dog and to begin to lay claim to what you should lay claim to – namely – your dog’s body and the space and items around it.
The owner proceeded to tell me Cato played a bit rough for her older female pit. That he was afraid of loud noises too. Fear. Fear is rampant among dogs these days. I noticed his flat buckle collar was on his neck pretty tightly. I guessed he was prone to slipping his head loose by way of backing out of the collar. All those things mattered little to me though as he took my touching so well.
You see, Dear Reader, when I touch a dog I am communicating to them on a primal, instinctual level that is familiar to all canines (and to the majority of creatures on the planet). This is so much more important than training and behavior modification! Touch is the heart of dog language, it goes into energy, space, and how all dogs interact and build relationships.
Cato was a sweetheart. A heavily muscled, cropped-eared, strong-jawed pushover. Because he received touching so well from me, a stranger, I knew he could get over those fears and I knew he would make for a great family dog. Jokingly, I mentioned how cool I thought he was and “If you ever get rid of him just let me know.” I finished my eval/training session and merrily went off to my next appointments. (Special note: if a dog training company has time to offer Free evaluations typically that clues us into the fact that they’re services are Not in demand, or they’re planning to pull a big upsell on you, or they do their alleged “training” only part time = I’d typically steer clear of these companies/people when searching for a quality behaviorist/trainer but bear in mind there are always exceptions to the rule)
Well, life has a way of handing us what you put out into the atmosphere and within a couple weeks we got a call about the possibility of us taking Cato or at least fostering him until a suitable home could be found for him. His owner had hurt her hip (apparently unrelated to Cato or the dogs) and the doc was telling her it would take a while to heal up and since I had mentioned to her to let me know if she ever got rid of him…
The bride and I had a fitful night of back and forth and other low-minded indecisiveness. I did not enjoy it. I liked Cato but weeks later I was purposefully and intelligently thinking of things that would potentially disqualify him from entering our home. You see, Dear Reader, we should all use our heads as well as our hearts when it comes to rescue and shelter dogs. We must consider our lives, and our children, and our schedules wisely. In this way we can foment growth both in our home and family and in the new dog. I was thinking of all the potentially terrible happenings that could occur if/when we took in a two year old, powerful breed, shelter dog and things went sideways because my first responsibility is as a husband to my wife and a father of four young children and then as a dog owner of my older boxer, Rambo. If more people thought this way instead of rushing out with emotions blazing perhaps dogs in the rescue world wouldn’t have such a bad return rate, or bite rate, or as many behavior issues. Maybe shelters and rescues (very well meaning) should stop lying or at least hiding the truth about certain dogs’ temperaments just to up their monthly and yearly adopted dog numbers! Many rescues do this. It’s a sad truth. Many dogs should not have gone out. They were unready for a home. I see the rest of the story. I see the bites on children. I see the bites on other dogs. I hear the stories direct from our clients of the bites on unwitting and unequipped dog trainers and behaviorists they hired prior to using our unique services. I see neurotic dog after dog after dog. It’s time to stop listening to sappy commercials that purposefully manipulate your heartstrings and utilize both your heart AND YOUR HEAD when contemplating bringing another dog into your home. By all means love the dog. Love it fully which includes leading it.
Tune in next time for the conclusion of Cato’s story and for more tips about dog language and about rescue dogs and their proper care and handling.
For more reading in the meantime please sample my books on Amazon. Simply search Garrett Stevens or search Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety