Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dog Handling Manners around Other Dogs

On the Dogwise message board there has been a discussion of dog behavior around other dogs. Someone recently posted that she doesn't allow her dog to upset other dogs. Here is my response:

Bravo! My dogs are not only my heart, but also my hands and sometimes other body parts since I need the help of an assistance dog. The idea of someone letting their dog put my dog's mind and body in jeopardy of losing the ability to work calmly around other dogs in the future not only horrifies me, it makes me angry. You are exactly the kind of handler I look for when I need to practice with my dog around other dogs, which I recently did in order to go back and take another CGC test for the record.

My next dog may come to me before being neutered, depending on when my old meanie female goes on to her heavenly reward and when his breeder decides she's done showing him. I want him neutered around 14 months, but my 6 year old female is spayed, so he doesn't have to be neutered to be here for a few months prior to that. I may be dealing with that large, unneutered adolescent male myself, and most people would consider a Belgian Tervuren assertive, though they are always submissive to me.

I believe in better living through training! And part of training the way I do it is to control/handle/govern the dog's behavior through each situation until the dog is doing it automatically the way I want it done. For example, I will get his attention onto me when we encounter another dog until he gets so in the habit that the sight of another dog automatically turns his handsome head to look at me and see what I'm going to ask him to do.

One thing my breeder, a fine trainer and coach, often says to someone she's working with as they handle their dog through a situation is "Do Something! Do Something! Do Something!" Exactly what you do to get your dog's attention on you/off trouble varies with the dog, the training you've put in, your skills, the position of the other dog or distraction, etc. But Do Something!

Working with Believer for the CGC test was a wonderful experience for me, and perfect timing with a new dog coming up. She and I took the test 5 years ago for therapy dog registration, but the TDI evaluator didn't have the CGC paperwork, so it did not count for that. I got a chance to take the test again with Believer this January in a way my health would permit, and it was just too perfect to pass up. First time in 5 years I've had the opportunity to do it when I was well enough, weather was good enough, I had a ride, the situation was well-controlled for my dog's safety, etc.

Practicing a little each day outside the house for 4 days prior to the test got me asking people for training help I normally wouldn't ask for, such as a friend coming over with her dog and people on an outing walking up and petting the dog while I had her do a stay. People enjoy helping, but I just don't often ask. It was so heartening to see how the help I needed was so readily there when I just let them know. With that help, I got to step through maneuvers that added to my range in handling my assistance dog. It's not that we learned new skills, but we reorganized skills in a couple of ways that turned out really well.

Most of all, I gained confidence for handling the upcoming new trainee. Instead of worrying that my physical disabilities will make it too hard, I'm looking forward to new challenges. Working through this reminded me it isn't my body that trains the dog. There are plenty of work-arounds for physical limitations. It's the mind and the heart that do the training. At least that's how I do it.

And getting back out around other trainers gave me a real boost of confidence that yes, you betcha, there are still plenty of people around who can be trusted in a working dog situation. The dog park mentality that seems to be taking over in some areas scares me sometimes, because dogs being allowed to jump on other dogs is not safe for working dogs. But thank God, a lot of people still know that.

There is the occasional person showing off, such as a woman in class with a male Standard Poodle when Believer was young and we did about 12 sessions at the armory. She was supposed to have her dog on leash, but showing off while waiting her turn for the recall, she left the leash off and turned attention to chatting instead of watching her dog. He came running off to the sideslines where I had my girl taking a break with my husband. As he stuck his nose at her, i cupped the palm of my hand around it and pushed him back from her. She's not aggressive and he probably wasn't either, but I was just desperate not to let some careless person ruin my dog! My assistance dog must not think that other dogs being around means they are going to come stick their noses in her face--or her rear, for that matter. She must believe that she can do her job without being molested, no matter who is around. What she believes is a result of what she experiences, and I have to do my best to shape those experiences. At a class where the rule is to keep the dogs on leash, I should be able to trust that situation. And in fact the next person to talk to that handler was the instructor telling her to put the dog back on leash.

I remember when I spent a night photographing training of a group of police K9 handlers on a regular training night with their dogs. During the building search practice, each officer sang out when entering the building with a dog. No one took chances by having two dogs loose in the building at the same time. The dogs are just too valuable to risk a dog fight that could have been avoided by responsible handling. That's how I feel about my working dogs, and that's the kind of handler I want there when my dog is around that person's dog. So, Bravo!