When I was a young teenager I once got into a fight with my younger brother and our cousin, who were both a little younger than me. They’d been teasing me for a long time, and I’d snapped and hit my cousin. My dad was FURIOUS and told me that they could push me under a bus and I still could not hurt them. So of course, being kids, they just teased and taunted me all the more, especially when around traffic, as now they had permission from my dad (status by association) to do what they liked to me as I was not allowed to retaliate, and certainly he wasn’t going to interfere now.
Did this decrease the chance that they would get hurt by me? No. It increased it. As I was only a child myself and hadn’t learned self-control. No-one was protecting me (in fact the protection was going to the boys who were ganging up and bullying me) so I had to do it myself. Eventually, the boys were crying, then I got walloped by my dad and I was crying too. We all got hurt.
Why do I tell you something that makes me sound unpleasant and maybe a bit of a thug? Chances are we’ve all got into fights with our families when we were kids and you’ll understand. But why is it related to dogs? I’ll tell you.
When I look after puppies, they get a lot of leeway from my dogs, and the dogs I walk, as they’re all good-natured nice family pets. But they all have different temperaments and different levels of tolerance of being messed about by puppies.
One day I was walking with an older puppy, just on the cusp of adolescence when the tolerance of adult dogs can sometimes drop. He was bouncing around, happy to be alive and in the great outdoors, wanting to play, like every other puppy. He’d bounce off the other dogs every now and then, trying to get some dog games going. None were really interested as they just wanted to do their own thing, and dogs walking with me never know how long they are going to be out so they like to pace themselves just in case.
So eventually one of them had enough, and told the puppy off. He ran off to another dog, who also told him off, which started a bit of noise and nonsense with a couple of the dogs running after the pup and barking at him – really telling him off, but not hurting him. He ran to me for protection, as that’s what I always teach the dogs. If you’re worried or don’t like what’s going on – come to me. Only when the pup got to me this time…
I told him off too.
Why would I do such a wicked thing? Because I don’t want to give the puppy status by association. He has to learn that he can’t just insist on a game. He can’t go up to other dogs and bounce all over them. He can ask for a game, and lots of dogs will say yeah, great! But when they say no, he has to accept that or face sometimes unpleasant consequences. Of course, being a pup who did what he was supposed to by coming to me I didn’t tell him off badly. I simply ignored him. Wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t touch him, wouldn’t talk to him. I don’t want him to think coming to me is a bad thing. I just wanted him to know that I wasn’t happy with him either.
This protects ALL dogs, as this puppy is learning that when he’s told no he should gracefully accept it. The other dogs know they do not have to bite or fight because they are allowed to tell another dog to leave them alone. Why didn’t I stop the puppy bouncing on them in the first place? Because it wasn’t excessive, he just hadn’t accepted the no the first time. When pups are really excessive and not taking no for an answer time after time after time no matter what, I will take steps to prevent them being a bother, usually keeping them on a lead until they’ve calmed down. But in cases like this it is beneficial to allow the puppy to learn something without being traumatised by bouncing up to a dog who’s had one too many dogs bounce on him and get bitten.
Two minutes after that I did a successful recall with the puppy which meant I could shower him with love and affection. By leaving it two minutes, pup didn’t associate the fuss and love with the scolding from the other dogs, nor my cold reaction. He just knew he’d done A Good Thing and Aunty Was Pleased.