Do you have a dog that barks at dogs that bark at your dog? Do you?
My dog is the light of my life. He behaves half the age he is, which is pretty entertaining, and he is a happy, agreeable loon (the pictures in this blog are of another, anonymous dog by the way, to spare my boy’s blushes). He is great with people and children and babies and dogs … well, he’s great with dogs unless they bark at him. Whether they be in front of him, over the road or behind a fence, if they bark at him, he gets outraged. “How dare they!” he storms. “Who do they think they are? I’ll give them a piece of my mind”, etc etc. This unfolds with him bouncing up and down on the spot (pogo-ing without the stick), lunging and whirling about (á là the dervish) and yelping back at them with a rather undignified, girly yelp (it’s a loud operatic soprano girly yelp though).
Obviously this is pretty alarming (especially to passing motorists who think that the spectacle is going to whirl and pogo out onto the road in front of them) and being a person of a less exhibitionist disposition, the whole mortifying hoopla makes me want to walk him at 1 am in the morning, hiding amongst bushes and trees (even then the occasional hedgehog and pukeko have been known to shout at him as well!). The other problem is that my lovely man seems to exude some sort of general nuttiness that must be commented on because even dogs that would normally say nothing, give tongue to their disparaging views, much to the surprise and ultimately exasperation of their owners (as the bouncing, yelping, dervish works himself up into a whirling tornado of outrage towards them).
I took my problem to Carolyn Press-McKenzie, well-known author of this parish and founder of HUHA (yes, I went right to the top) and she did not think my dog was barking.
This, in brief, is pretty much what she said. My dog is not barking (the jury is out on me instead, it seems).
When dogs bark at other dogs in the street like that, they get excited and the excitement is an adrenalin rush – it’s enjoyable for them and the more worked up they get, the bigger the high they are getting. You need to put something else enjoyable in its place (something civilised, something quiet!).
Establish a routine of massaging his back at home and use a word like “Easy” while you are doing it. This will be very enjoyable for him but it is also calming and not adding to the adrenalin rush he’s on. You don’t want to further excite him, you want to trade excitement for lovely relaxation and enjoyment.
Having established this at home as something he likes to have done and he responds well to (it is familiar to him as something he loves), and armed with some treats, go find your first barking dog.
Firstly, the temptation is to remove yourself from the horrible scene as quickly as you can, dragging the dervish with you. In fact, you need to stand and wait out the performance. When the other dog barks or you first see a dog coming towards you, start saying (calmly – not in your squeaky “oh-oh” voice) “Leave it” or your usual “Leave it” variation. Have a treat ready in your hand. When you’re outside the fence, say, and the other dog is venting his spleen and performing the full St Crispian Day’s speech from King Henry V, get your dog into a firm hold and start your massage routine and say “Easy, easy”. A wave or two of the treat across the nose area also helps to get their attention on you and listening to you (ideally; in an ideal world unlike this one). The massaging and the “Easy, easy” slows you down as well, which helps your dog. When he or she has stopped, you can give them the treat and walk on, feeling proud of you and your star pupil.
Needless to say, this is going to be messy, but people can see that you are addressing it. Usually (speaking from personal experience – mine, not Carolyn’s) the racket makes the owner of the aforesaid rant merchant come out and bring the dog in. That’s fine – that helps, but you still do your routine.
So how are we going with this, you ask? Well first, the practising of massaging at home and saying “Easy, easy” in a soft, calming way has been wonderful to do. His eyes roll back and his breathing slows, my eyes roll back and my breathing slows and we start snoring together on the stinky ol’ dog couch (who am I kidding – it’s actually The couch (and also stinky)). So take it from us, you’ll both enjoy that.
Then we went out armed with “Leave it”, treats, our massaging knowledge and hope. As advertised, we have messy moments. However, he no longer gets frustrated with me and he does calm down. Now (some weeks down the track) he will often not react at all. Timing with the “Leave it” can be key. And I admit I do start the treat-waving reasonably early. But I am a lot more confident with it all and that vibe is better for him. We are not cured (and there are some shamelessly rude and opinionated dogs out there – some of them are hated by every dog that passes), but we have tools now, are 75 per cent better than we were and we have made a lot of sympathetic friends in the street: “Oh that dog, I don’t know why they let him do it”, and “Your poor boy, I don’t blame him a bit; I feel like doing that too” (really?) etc etc . We are happy to take the pity – and they always pat my lad and seem to admire him, as I do too, I have to say.
Do give this a go if your dog suffers from low tolerance at rude vocal attacks in the street. It works, it’s not complicated (so you can remember what to do when under fire) and it’s a great way to meet the nice, understanding, dog-loving people in your community.