This blog is a continuation of my leadership series of posts. Please see the last two to “catch up” if necessary.
In my first blog of this series, I talked about the importance of reacting when things are happening around you, whether talking about a dog or a child. Nothing screams lack of leadership like an absence of human direction, so avoid that. I also suggested that exactly what you did to intervene mattered less than the fact that you intervened.
In my last blog, the second in the series, I talked about handling a situation where your dog is behaving badly, and neither the dog nor the human have any training. Your average dog owner got caught flat-footed. Regardless of the cause, my advice was the same: get out of there one way or the other. First, manage the event; the training will come later.
Now let’s consider a slightly more sophisticated situation. In this case, the handler has some minimal training, and as a result, she is inclined to be carrying cookies with her. It is also possible that she has had one or more bad experiences in the past, so is “on notice” that things could go wrong.
Ok; here we go again. For whatever reason, your dog starts misbehaving. Possibly growling, barking, lunging etc. What should the handler, who happens to have food on her, do in a case like this?
As soon as she realizes her dog is in a bad spot, she should take a cookie, wiggle it like a little mouse in front of her dog’s nose, and redirect her dog 180° away from whatever has his attention. The goal is to magnetize the dog to the coookie while moving away. After that, the advice is the same:
Get out of there!
The “get out of there” process should happen as soon as the handler recognizes a problem, because the longer the situation goes on, or the closer the handler gets before she realizes there is an issue, the more likely it is that her cookies are not going to attract her dog. The dog may be aware of them but too over-aroused by the situation to really care at that moment.
So let’s run with that for a second. Let’s say that the handler tries the cookies, and the dog ignores them!
Then get out of there however you will. Review the last blog for more ideas on this.
The notable thing for the cookie in hand technique to work is that the handler has to 1) be paying attention and 2) have a cookie in her hand very very quickly.
So here’s a question for you. If the handler gets into a bad spot and the dog is acting up noticeably, should the handler stand there and fish around in her pocket until she finds a cookie, or should she revert to the no cookie approach?
This isn’t necessarily a black-and-white answer but in general, I would suggest reverting to the no cookie approach. The reality is, the longer you stand there doing nothing, the less likely the dog is going to want it anyway. That’s because a little over-arousal has a way of becoming big over-arousal when nothing intervenes to stop that process.
So let’s say that happens. The handler gets into a bad spot. The handler is not paying attention, so the dog is pretty high by the time she recognizes the need to intervene. She is holding the leash, but struggling to get a cookie out of their bag because the dog is pulling.
Forget the cookie and act like you don’t have any on you. Get out of there one way or the other. Use your voice or physically interrupt the dog’s behavior, and get as far away as you need.
There is a silver lining here, however. If the handler has cookies on her body, whether or not she was able to use them to get out of the situation, she should absolutely use them once they are further away, because food will help to calm the dog down. In that case, the order would look like this:
The dog and the handler approach. The dog becomes agitated. The handler doesn’t notice. The dog starts to act out noticeably. The handler claps or taps the dog physically or blocks the dog, or whatever, and gets the dog out of the situation. The handlers is then able to get the dog further away and the dog is no longer looking in the problem direction. The handler then feeds the dog’s cookies until calm – (both of them, since the handler is probably a wreck by now too.)
And now that all is calm and you have some free time, call your mentor, friend, or dog trainer, and set up a training plan to make things better for the future.
Is this the best possible handling/managing of a situation? No, it’s not. In this case, you had a handler with some training and a dog with little or none. So what can you do in a situation where the dog has more training, or the handler is possibly on notice that their dog has an issue and really wants to fix it?
Next, we’ll consider bare bones management for a bad situation where the handler is somewhat sophisticated and has taken the time to train their dog, at least a little, in advance. We’ll call that “training for management”.