After few months of being on the outs and by that I mean being out of the dog society we went on the very famous communication classes. For dogs! Yeah, I know – I should be attending classes for people but I gave up on my social skills after even Dale Carnegie wasn’t able to help me. But there’s still chance for Hugo so we went for it!
It was a wonderful experience. Marina is an amazing person, her knowledge is impressive but I was also in awe of her modesty. The way she reads dogs is simply amazing not to mention her ability to look but not judge. There is so much you can learn from her and it seems she loves the process. No question went unanswered and trust me there were plenty. What I really liked is that she understands that there’s life after the classes. That the environment isn’t always safe and well… shit happens! That was my biggest fear before attending this workshop. How does it transfer from the laboratory to normal life outside of school? The answer is: it does and it doesn’t. There are some inevitable mistakes which can slow down the process but it’s worth taking anyway. I was thankful for a things she said. She compared 3 dogs, including Hugo and said you can work with them starting at the same point, doing exactly the same and end up in different places. People often say dogs are different but she actually understood and meant that. And I was thankful to her for that.
Fortunately or unfortunately (I cannot decide on that) I know Hugo quite well and wasn’t surprised by his behaviour. What came as a nice surprise though, is that he’s communicating more than I thought. He’s still more of a Rincewind than Gandalf but there are some unmistakable signs that he’s trying.
Ok, you can easily mistake them! Hugo, the cheerful owner of a quite complex personality is a one dog orchestra… but jokes aside! He can present aggressive behaviours but he’s main social competences lie in a provocative and competitive behaviour. Not to mention he’s stubbornness.
And all of that is underlaid with the insecurity around dogs.
Still, he can be a nice guy when given a chance. At this point, it depends on the other dogs competences and social skills. I believe he’s unable to make a right move under stress. When he’s in the right state of mind he stops perceiving dogs as a threat and he’s behaviour changes 180°. It also changes to 180 different states but this you already know.
The workshop helped me to put some new puzzles together. I’ve intuitively seen the picture but thanks to Marina it came to me more clear, based on facts and not only suspicions.
Marina told me that sometimes behaviour that looks aggressive – a so-called “rough play”, meaning the physical contact (not baring the teeth), might be a way for a dog to try to stop another one. I think it’s possible that Hugo’s trying to get out of the situation while at the same time enjoys running with dogs – it’s exciting – so he continues to do so.
Hugo’s interactions weren’t surprising. First one showed that he needs a strong, assertive dog that knows how and when to use the more aggressive signs for Hugo to back up. The first dog he met was too polite for him and her “no’s” didn’t make the right impression. Or no impression at all.
Next interactions confirmed my suspicions about the insecurities. I believe Hugo prefers not to interact with unfamiliar dogs. I’ve suspected it for some time but in Spain it was possible to actually see the relief when he understood that most dogs won’t come near. We used to live in a great place where people respected each other and dogs didn’t have to greet all the time. If someone was open for greetings than yes, but if not there was no forcing one on another. And day by day, I saw my dog getting calmer and more relaxed.
Here, on classes I’ve seen it again. After the first interaction which at the beginning was stressful but turned out to be just fine, Hugo felt much better and on the next one he wasn’t so inclined to go and check out the dog sitting in the fenced area. For what is worth Hugo is better in ignoring the dog when it’s lying or sitting but still – progress. It took him some time to go and check out the dog inside and when he went he was much better than the day before. They met through the fence, tense at the beggining but as the emotions went lower after a while, Hugo refocused on the environment.
It’s just a theory but I think that not only the interactions mattered but also the ability to sniff the area. It was full of intense smells – the interactions took place in the same area so there was a lot of “stress” in the air – and still, it was safe. For a moment I thought that it made him a bit calmer on walks but I’m not so sure about it anymore.
In a perfect world
I knew I won’t fix Hugo in 3 days but somewhere deep down I thought that maybe if I see him interacting with dogs off-leash in the safe environment it would show me that Hugo can interact and I can trust him more often and even let him run towards unfamiliar dogs. Unfortunately, it reassured me that I’m doing the right thing not letting him do so.
Sometimes I feel overprotective – no! Sometimes I feel that people think I’m overprotective but I just know him too well. When I say he won’t come back, he won’t. When I say he won’t like this dog, he won’t. I just don’t want him to fight. If that’s overprotective than OK, I am.
It’s a beautiful idea to let the dogs make their own decisions, to listen to them carefully and respect their feelings. But what if you got a dog like mine who’s incapable of making good decision and by “good” I mean safe and smart? It’s a question I often ask myself and haven’t found an answer yet.
Marina lifted my spirits up a bit saying Hugo’s to young to communicate perfectly. But as I’m not so sure wisdom comes with age in this particular case I won’t leave that to chances. We got a work to do, Mister, and a lot of it so get ready!
Looking at Hugo I couldn’t help but thinking where were we a year ago. What’s the biggest of our achievements since then?
- he can focus on the environment in others dog presence,
- he can run towards me (away from the dog) if I go far enough into the depths of the spider’s web,
- he gets hold of his emotions much sooner,
- believe it or not – he’s less intense in contacts with dogs.
We’re far from perfect but we’ve done a hell of a job.
As some of you may suspect I’ve lost my faith dozen times already and I’m still not happy with the results. It can and should get better. My watch hasn’t ended just yet.
Workshop organizer: Psia Wachta
Photo credit: Magda Urban