Note from Con Slobodchikoff. This is a guest post from Rick Smith, who works with dogs and cats in Japan. He is ex U.S.Navy, has worked with marine mammals extensively, and has evaluated and trained a number of animals (mostly dogs and cats) in basic obedience as well as correcting a range of behavior problems including canine and feline aggression. He studied canine behavior on a serious level for about a decade and currently works with Japanese and Americans in Japan for both training and rescue work. He is passionate about responsible pet ownership and stresses that goal in all of his training. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Here is a little short test I always give to my prospective customers before I start training with their dog. I started doing this a few months ago and I have been amazed at the responses I get and the rationale behind the responses. My purpose is to try and get a feel for how they view their dog and dogs in general, and use it to "break the ice" and start talking about behavior before any actual training starts. It's been a real eye opener for me and I intend to expand on using it in other situations.
When I started training dogs I recognized early on that many times what I was observing and commenting to owners was not being seen by them, and usually the reasons for the difference in interpreting behaviors was the level of "anthropomorphizing” influencing the interpretation - and in many subtle canine behaviors there is no absolute interpretation since often a dog's body language is presented in clusters.
Many behaviors, such as prey instinct and prey drive have been clearly explained in the academic/research communities, but they "morph" into many other interpretations when explained by basic pet owners who don't research and study canine behavior, and often their interpretations are very deep rooted and resistant to change.
Petting is another common example, since 99% of "basic pet owners" see nothing wrong at all in giving nice little pats on the top of a dog's head when they first meet a dog. Since 99.9% of all pets will not clearly demonstrate a reaction that indicates they are not happy with that kind of handling, it's often hard to explain why I never recommend that form of petting during a first time encounter.
I am extremely safety conscious, especially with little children because I have seen the unnecessary trauma that can affect a child for a long time even though the dog did no physical harm to the child. In my experience, when little kids offer food to a new dog they almost always will quickly pull their hand back when the dog takes the food, and many dogs will quickly follow that movement and startle the child. To me it's just not worth taking even the smallest chance for that happening regardless of the odds it would happen at all. Especially when there are simple ways to ensure it doesn't happen, such as holding the child's hand so that although the CHILD thinks they are feeding the dog, YOU are actually doing it for them.
So I focus the test questions on common situations that will happen for all owners:
Dog Facts and Canine Behavior
1. How many teeth does a puppy(P) and an adult(A) dog have ?
a. P/28 A/42
b. P/28 A/28
c. P/42 A/42
2. What is the normal temperature(C) range for a healthy dog ?
3. Trimming a dog with very long fur very short will make it more cool and comfortable during very hot weather
4. A dog's normal weight for most dogs :
a. gains a little weight in the summer and loses a little in the winter
b. gains a little weight in the winter and loses a little weight in the summer
c. doesn’t change in normal weight from summer to winter
a. should be taught to control their bite whenever they are biting
b. should be taught to never bite at all
c. should be taught to bite only toys but not humans
6. A dog's nose and his butt will do what?
a. his butt will go in the opposite direction that his nose goes
b. his butt will go in the same direction as his nose goes
c. the two movements (nose/butt) are not related to each other
7. Best way to meet a dog for the first time
a. Walk up slowly, bend down and extend your hand in front of the dog's nose. If the dog seems relaxed, gently pat it on the head a few times. But if it looks nervous, pull your hand back quickly.
b. Walk straight up and look at the dog's eyes closely to see if it is watching you. After a few seconds of watching, if it looks relaxed, you can start petting it.
c. Walk up and kneel down at a 45 degree angle to the dog's front. Don't look at the dog's eyes and wait until the dog moves closer to you before you touch it.
First time meeting situations....How the dog reacts. What does it mean ? What should you do ?
8. The dog looks at you and slowly opens its mouth wide and yawns. This dog is :
a. comfortable and relaxed....ok for you to pet
b. not comfortable and not relaxed.....not ok to pet
c. maybe a bit sleepy or tired....ok but don't bother it
9. The dog looks at you but doesn't turn its face so that mostly only the whites of its eyes are showing. This dog is :
a. a little shy but probably friendly.....talk to it nicely and offer your hand to it
b. scared....don't get closer and don't try to pet
c. not interested in you very much but probably friendly....either petting or no petting is ok
10. The dog is very friendly and starts licking your hand....what does it mean; what should you do :
a. it's happy....allow it to lick you as much as it wants to
b. probably happy but you can't be sure.....allow it to lick but be prepared to pull your hand away quickly if it starts to use its teeth
c. you just don't know......so, pull your hand away quickly and try to pet it instead of letting it lick you
-- answers (and reasons why I chose them)
1. a (helps to educate and determine how much an owner has studied about dogs in general)
2. b (good way to introduce the benefits of knowing how to read a thermometer when used on a dog)
3. False (educational, since dogs don't cool by sweating like people do, and in some cases shaving a long hair dog in the summer can lead to skin problems in certain breeds with sensitive skin)
4. b (of course not an absolute, but helps people see the importance of weighing their dog on a regular basis to help monitor health and become more responsible pet owners)
5. a (biting is a basic animal behavior; more benefits to control compared to attempting extinction, and in many cases bite control can be an effective play interaction and behavior reward (tugging) when taught correctly)
6. c (useful knowledge when luring is used to shape or create desired behaviors ...as opposed to yanking a lead up and pressing a butt down)
7. c (simply put, the SAFEST way, even though it may seem overcautious and probably not needed in all cases, and takes into account that all dogs may not want to meet all the people who want to meet them)
8. b (safety issue and good example that dogs often don't do things for the same reasons people do)
9. b (same as #8, but even more safety related)
10. a (safer than tensing or making sudden movements that might startle or scare a small child or someone not accustomed to being around dogs)