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Monday, February 4, 2008

Keep Your Hands to Yourself!

You've all seen or experienced it: the overly friendly dog who greets everyone (especially visitors) by jumping up to make friendly contact with the standing human. The human will generally extend his HANDS down toward the dog in a vain attempt to push the dog away or discourage his advances. But as soon as the HANDS enter the act, the dog becomes MORE excited because he sees it as an invitation to continue the play.

Using your HANDS to push a jumping dog away will only AGGRAVATE the situation!

Last week my pit bull Lizzie ran up to greet Mark, one of the young carpenters working on our house, who looked to her like a good potential playmate. Mark likes Lizzie and is easy-going; yet he really didn't want her jumping at his hands because she was getting in his way. So he said something friendly to her and extended his hands, palms down, toward her , as if to wave her away. Then, as she came back for more, he'd retract his hands and then try to wave her away again. Lizzie loved the game...and then I realized why.

When sociable and confident dogs interact with other dogs in play, they will use their front paws to swat at each other. This is usually "Stage Three" of a play session. (Stage One: the dogs politely sniff each other. Stage Two: one dog initiates play with a "play bow.") Stage Three involves playful and physical interaction between both dogs, beginning with extensions of front paws. If one dog doesn't want to proceed with the play, he will turn sideways to the swatting dog and look in the opposite direction. This is a passive signal to the swatting dog to back off.

By trying to use his hands to deter Lizzie's jumping, Mark was actually mimmicking Stage Three dog play...which of course made Lizzie even more excited.

I tried to coach him from across the driveway. "Mark, take your hands away," I called. "Keep your hands still. Use your lower body to bump into her." Either he didn't hear me, didn't understand my advice, or was just too wrapped up in the moment. I finally had to walk into the scene and sternly remind Lizzie she was an obedience-trained dog....

It got me thinking, though....if people realized WHY dogs respond to people's body cues, people would stop giving those cues. And waving your hands at an excited, happy dog is a sure way to aggravate the very situation you're trying to diffuse. The alternative: TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY, MARK! HOLD YOUR HANDS CLOSE TO YOUR BODY. IGNORE THE DOG. DO NOT TALK TO THE DOG. DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH THE DOG. If the dog jumps ON you, use your lower body to deliver a sharp and impersonal bump.

Our friend Cesar Millan ("The Dog Whisperer") says the same thing in different words. He says "No touch, no eye contact, no talking" until a dog has calmed down. In this way, you present yourself as the "Calm Assertive Energy" that says to your dog, "I am a leader."

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