Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scout & the dog park, a no-no!!!

Scout has now had 2 unsuccessful experiences at the dog park a few months apart.  Early on, he did not handle well the first dog park we went to one near our old home.  It was crowded and had many dogs and this made him feel like he was out of control or overwhelmed.  Everything was a perceived threat which led him to thinking he needed to attack to defend himself.  When we moved, I belatedly learned of a new dog park and thought we could start trying to socialize him again.

I knew to keep myself calm & assertive, not to crowd him which would amp up his protectiveness and no leashing within the park.  On-leash aggression is a problem when a dog feels it cannot defend itself restrained.  His first bad incident was with a male, unneutered young friendly pit bull.  The dog was far away at the fence line peeing.  Scout dropped into a stalking-down-position (prey/hunting behavior) with an unblinking stare at the other dog.  I had never seen him react like this before and did not employ the blocking technique which would have obstructed his view of the other dog.  Before I knew it, he took off right at the other dog.  There was a lot of trash talking and shiba screaming.  The owner of the pit bull was calm and quickly went after his dog and praised him for not reacting to Scout's crazed tantrum.  We didn't return to the park for a while.  I discussed it with other shiba owners.  We chalked it up to the fact that dogs much like people do not like everyone they meet and to be extra vigilant next time.  Some tips to keep in mind with an aggression-prone shiba inu:
  • Stay calm and assertive
  • Teach your dog the avoidance technique, so as to not feel compelled to confront every dog he meets
  • Create space between your shiba and other dogs, or block his view of other dogs if you think something will happen
  • Manufacture neutral experiences on neutral ground to build his confidence and lessen the aggression
  • Protect him from rude dogs (overly excitable like the young pit bull he "encountered"; fearful/shy or even frustrated dogs)
  • Refocus your dog's energy back on you every so many seconds with treats, praise or toys so he doesn't become obsessed with a dog and go into aggression overdrive
Desensitization exercises with a shiba inu can take a long time because they are a more primitive breed and have a lower instinct threshold (the point where they lose control).  Dominance/Submission are survival mechanisms wolves/dogs use when they feel they need it. I do not feel (from experience) that dogs are in a prime state for learning at the park when they feel they need to use one of these survival mechanisms.

I had someone remark to me that Scout's tolerance level had decreased as he's gotten older.  He's 9 now and wants to be in charge within the park and for everyone to be calm, submissive and just meander around like he does.  The only dog he'll ever engage in play is his sibling, Max, who is a much smaller dog that he's grown up with.

So after the unfortunate pit bull incident, I decided Scout deserved a second chance. We had a few uneventful visits where Max rolled with the big dogs and had fun.  One day, Scout just observed and splashed the pond  with his paw to tell the water-loving labs to get out.  We always went early on a weekday when fewer dogs would be around and I would easily have more control over the situation.  Ever observant of any other dogs in the vicinity, I noted that there was only one other dog on this fateful day.  It was a young rescued greyhound 7 weeks into adoption with its new owner.   This greyhound had some shyness issues she informed me and we watched it race very fast around the park's borders at a high speed.   Regrettably as it got closer to the picnic shelter where we all were standing, Scout's need for dominance or defense took over and he lunged at the dog vocalizing the notorious shiba scream that he was displeased with this dog's behavior.  The greyhound agitated tried to get away from him.

We did not step into the middle of the two of them because your chances of getting bitten are very high.  Two animals in the middle of a fight are in survival drive.  When in fight or flight mode, they don't see you as their owner and will bite you.  The proper way is to grab the dog's back feet like a wheelbarrow and pull them apart.  Slowly swing the dogs in a circle while backing away from each other to keep the dog from curling back and biting you in the legs.   Fortunately we did not have to employ this method and the fight quickly died down within 30 seconds.  It was still very upsetting to see this greyhound have this experience so early in its new life with a loving owner.  We inspected him for open wounds or puncture sores and did not find any.  I took full responsibility, offered to pay for any vet care and apologized profusely.  We left the park quickly.

I made the decision that Scout does not want the dog park experience and would be better off kept at home in a stress-free environment while I take Max alone in the future.  I do agree that Scout is older and less tolerant. Dogs can outgrow their desire to play as they age. Shiba Inus as a rule don't like their space bubble disrespected.  They hate dogs that get in their face or are all bouncy and playful.  They see it as rude or terrible behavior.  Scout has always done well with northern breeds like huskies and malamutes whose body language is similar and he recognizes.  If I could fill up the dog park with just huskies in a minute, I would! 

No comments: