I am sometimes flabbergasted by people who don’t realize that dogs freeze in winter.
Dogs need a warm place to sleep and some of them even do need clothes, even the big ones like dobermans and such, whose hair is so short that doesn’t keep them warm at all. And yet we all are fully aware of cold. Some of us just think that dogs are fine with cold, since they don’t find them frozen to death in the morning.
I shouldn’t be surprised then that we don’t see in dogs the same patterns that we can’t even spot in ourselves. Some days ago a friend of mine adopted a dog from a shelter and while chatting she told me about some peculiar behaviors that I recognized as imposing and control behaviors.
My first reaction was all about prejudices and common mistakes that are widespread among dog trainers and owners.
I first went “Mh. The guy might be a tough one.” Luckily I’ve learned to keep such thoughts for myself as I don’t want to feed the leadership non-sense that I read all over the place. I was still a bit puzzled though, so I asked for help to Alexa Capra.
I totally reject the “you have to be the dominant one” shit, I rather go for empathy and firmly believe in a mutual relationship and respect, because I don’t care about yelling orders, I care about my dog to trust me and feel good. When she answered me, I realize that it all was so obvious. Of course.
How could I be so short sighted. He just happened to be adopted, which is great, but always implies to suddenly change all your life, your certainty and have to face the scary unknown. New places, new people you didn’t really choose to share your life with, who could turn to be awesome mates or awful enemies. Feeling anxious is pretty suitable to this situation. He was feeling anxious, right. I already knew that as she told me he wouldn’t accept treats nor toys, which usually is a sign of stress. And I saw some pics of him, displaying some stress behaviors as well.
Not many, though, which was the tricky part. It fooled me to think that he was pretty confident and to forget that even confident guys can feel anxious when their life goes upside down. And when Alexa told me “yes, he’s feeling anxious so he needs to take control over things in order to cope with that,” it seemed totally obvious to me. That’s what I do as well! The thing is, I got aware of that not much time ago, it’s pretty new to me, so it just didn’t occur to me that the dog might feel the same. It was enlightening.
Control isn’t a good or a bad thing, per se. We need to analyze the context in order to get its meaning in that very situation. And once we get it, we have to respond properly.
To prevent the dog to control things, or even people, in such a stressful situation wouldn’t help the dog, nor its trust and bonding.
When allowed to act like it needs, the dog will slowly relax. The more he relaxes, the less he needs to take control. This is how a good relationship starts. With the freedom of experience and expression of feelings and needs.
Alexa carries out research on inter- and intra-species aggression in dogs, in collaboration with Prof. Valsecchi of the University of Parma’s degree program in Biology.
In 2010 she was a speaker at the second edition of the Canine Science Forum, in Vienna, where she gave an oral presentation entitled, “Flight, foe, fight! Aggressive interactions between dogs” (A. Capra, S. Barnard, P. Valsecchi).
In 2008 she was a speaker at the first edition of the Canine Science Forum, in Budapest, where she gave an oral presentation entitled, “Are pit bulls different? Behavioural evaluation within a rehabilitation program for ex-fighting dogs (A. Capra, L. Marazzini, M. Albertini).
Since July 2003, she has participated in scientific research on the rehabilitation and re-homing of ex-fighting dogs (pit bulls), as head of the rehabilitation program. Since July 2004, she has served as coordinator and sole director of the rehabilitation program run by ENPA, the Italian National Institute for Animal Welfare and Protection.
She is a professor in the master’s degree program in Dog Training at the University of Pisa Veterinary College.
Works on dog behavior: http://www.ethogramdogbehaviour.com/book-dvd-download-dog-training.html