Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 26, 2013

I’m so sorry, Uncle Otto

Posted at 04:22PM - Comments: (6)

One potential hazard of fostering dogs, when you already own dogs, is that your dogs become stressed or unhappy about the foster dogs, who often need remedial training and lessons in basic good dog manners. Other dogs enjoy having canine company, even if the visitors are ill-mannered. While my dog Otto is currently the latter, I think that when he’s a senior dog, I will have to forego fostering for a time. I suspect that he’s going to be one of those senior dogs who loses his tolerance for young dog antics. 

Today, though, I really appreciate his participation in our fostering efforts. If I bring in a well-behaved dog, he gives that dog proper space and respect, allowing him or her to participate in all of our daily activities. However, I’m more likely to bring home a juvenile delinquent who needs some remedial work on self-control; these are the dogs who need the most help to become appealing enough to find an adopter willing to take them home. And when I do bring home one of these impulsive, anxious, over-the-top dogs, Otto helps teach the dog when and where it’s inappropriate to be wild. In the kitchen? Mind your manners and keep all four feet (and your butt) on the floor and you may get a treat; if you act like a chimpanzee, we are all going to get kicked outdoors and NO FOOD.

Otto has never, ever, left a mark on another dog; his bite inhibition is exquisite. But he has a fearsome growl/roar – more like a bear than a dog – and he will unleash it on any teenaged dog who attempts to jump up on him or get right up in his face. I rarely have to say anything when one of my foster dogs is behaving too exuberantly in the house (or as we are on our way to get in the car or even just going out to feed the chickens); if the dog jumps up on me, Otto will take it upon himself to pounce on the rowdy youngster with a fearsome RRRROOOWWFF! (translated as “Knock it OFF! Or else!) and when the young dog hits the dirt, I can step in with a kindly word, petting, or treat as a reinforcement, both for the dog’s deference to Otto and for calming himself.

Recently, due to a number of family events, I’ve been staying in the Bay Area, at the homes of various friends and family members. Otto and Tito (the Chihuahua) have been going with me everywhere. They’ve been to most of these places before, and have been relaxed and polite visitors to my friends’ homes. But Otto had to work hard during our frequent visits to one house: my son’s dad’s house. My ex and his wife have a gorgeous 8-month-old German Short-Haired Pointer, who (surprise, surprise) is also a bit of a nut: relentlessly active, curious, and confident. She flings herself on every visitor and explores every damn thing you might have in your hands.

It took Otto about two seconds to identify her as a Special Problem and take responsibility for teaching her better manners. When her owner came in the back gate and Trixie jumped up in a exuberant (but rude) greeting, Otto pounced (“RRRUUUUUFFF!”). Trixie hit the dirt, displaying appropriate deference to the older dog, but then would bounce back up after a few seconds and jump again. RRUFF! Down. Jump! RRUFF! After five of these corrections, Trixie gave up and just walked into the house ahead of Amy, who laughingly said, “Can Otto stay here for a few months?”

A couple of days later, my son and I took my two dogs, Trixie, and his girlfriend’s elderly Labrador to the beach for an outing. It was Otto’s first experience with an ocean, and he had a wonderful time. He loved the sand, was fascinated with the seagulls, and seemed super curious about the incoming and outgoing waves (and the salty, not-nice taste of the water). He also rode Trixie hard for all of her infractions: not coming when called, not giving us humans (or Tito!) enough space as she ran by, jumping up on us, and sometimes, just existing in the same space/time continuum as him.

A young adult Labrador also got his attention when it ran toward us, blithely ignoring his owner’s calls. Given that the Lab was intact and at least 20 pounds heavier than Otto, I was worried when the Lab got in Otto’s face and Otto immediately gave him the Trixie treatment (RRRUUUFFF!). Fortunately, the Lab also got the message and displayed some deferent behavior (“Okay, boss, whatever, I’m outta here.”) rather than escalating and taking umbrage for what could very easily be taken as Otto’s bad manners – the presumption that all the other dogs should behave as he thinks dogs should.

We left the beach shortly after that encounter but it made me wonder: How much tolerance does Otto have left in him for ill-mannered dogs? Is this behavior getting more pronounced because of all the fostering we do? Should I dial it back to help Otto mellow out and not feel compelled to “train” every rude dog we encounter?

Those of you who foster: What do you think? What do you do to make sure your own dogs are not too put-upon by the dogs you foster? 

Comments (6)

Well I used to foster and do help with a local 501c3. So, as a trainer, but not a certified behaviorist, my experience with Candi my 11y/o hound mix and 'Day Care Dogs' would have me to say that daily reprimands to youngsters etc probably would not make her 'sour' at other dogs later on. Any dog used as a neutral dog has it in their DNA and personality to have the position of 'trainer of doggie etiquette' for the rude ones! Maybe the stress of fostering different dogs in the home continually would possibly be the trigger later on. So many adjustments over time to different dogs continually. OR: if new dogs stress the foster family, then the family dog feels this too. Anyone agree on this??? just a thought.

Posted by: debbie l | August 28, 2013 7:48 AM    Report this comment

While I don't foster dogs, I do bring my non-reactive, mellow, easy going Great Pyr to classes and private lessons that I teach. She LOVES the car, so if it's cool enough, many times she just hangs in the car. In the warmer months, I'll leave her in a crate in the training center, where she doesn't make a peep, and most people don't realize there is a dog in the building.
Because she is so gentle and enjoys meeting other dogs, I started using her as the "neutral" dog during private lessons. I would do one or 2 lessons with a dog who had trouble meeting and greeting other dogs (never dogs with a bite history! just those who were over the top excited, or were rude or anxious around dogs) We would work on impulse control, leash walking, attention exercises - all without a dog present. By the 2nd or 3rd lesson, if I felt the dog was ready, I would bring Izzie in the building. We would work at a distance, sometimes never getting close enough for a meet n greet, other times, we'd do a quick meet n greet and move apart, and if things were really going well, by week 3 we'd have them off leash together.
There were 2-3 dogs who reacted in her presence (we were 40ft away) by barking, pulling, spinning ,etc. And a few dogs who during the meet n greet, just jumped in with rude humping/jumping/pawing, rather than a politely sniffing and then offering play signals. Her reaction in these situations is to back away and look away, like, Whoa, why are you doing this to me? She is tolerant and then tries to leave the situation.
I started feeling the same way as Nancy - am I souring her to other dogs, by working her in the presence of owners who are nervous, dogs who are easy to get worked up, and when we do feel they are ready for an off leash meet up, some play very rough and literally over the top?
I have since started to bring her to Basic Manners puppy classes, where she can play w/ the puppies after class, and to private lessons that are not all about dealing w/ reactive dogs.
There was a 5 month old Leonberger (distant cousin to the Pyrenees) who she play bowed at and spun around and play bowed again - they had a great romp! I loved seeing her meet a dog and instantly make friends! (she's yrs old) She was also "borrowed" at a Kids Camp I taught this summer - a girl who participated last summer had a dog who was too old to do it this summer. I knew the girl was gentle and sweet, a great match for Izzie. So she got a TON of treats in the presence of 8 other friendly, happy dogs AND kids.
I think tolerance can definitely be worn down over time - don't we get exasperated at work when we get the same questions week after week? In Izzie's case, I wasn't worried about her reacting so much as shutting down and becoming fearful or timid around every dog she met. I think by upping the good experiences - banking them, so to speak - and keeping the balance on the positive side, she'll do fine.
Ian Dunbar talks about getting your puppy back with his "circle of friends" right away after a scary (to your puppy) dog-dog incident. I think it makes sense - don't we want t commiserate w/ our circle of friends after a frustrating day at work, where we've had to "bark" at or "bite back a bark" at coworkers or clients?

Posted by: lovesaussies | August 28, 2013 5:58 AM    Report this comment

How about fostering an older dog, when Otto is an older dog? Older dogs REALLY need help out of the shelter/rescue, so much more so than (allegedly) younger/cuter dogs. My rottie is 10 now and while she has been pretty tolerant of foster dogs when she was younger, I don't want to stress her out at this point with a young, bouncy rottie foster who might just try to bounce on her back to play. I started fostering older mixed breeds from another local rescue group that specializes in matching older dogs to new owners, and so far so good. Older dogs that end up in the shelter can often be the unfortunate victim of circumstance. This rescue group sees many older dogs put in the shelter and given up to rescue because their former owners are headed to the nursing home or senior care due to illness and they can no longer care for their beloved dogs and they either have no family to help out or the family just does not want their dog. IF there ever was a dog that needed help, this is it! Please consider this option, you won't be sorry. Mature dogs are housebroken, well mannered, easy to care for, etc. Just needing help to place and love.

Posted by: Nancy P | August 27, 2013 5:11 PM    Report this comment

I, too, can depend on my dog Cisco to enforce his set of rules with foster dogs. But I do have to be careful and take in only dogs that are amenable to accepting his corrections without challenging or escalating since Cisco won't back down (nor should he have to). I often do medical foster, so have learned to avoid trigger situations when "correction" might injury the dog, but usually let Cisco establish his house rules without much interference. I think it is an integral part of successful fostering to have clear direction from both people and dogs. Puppy foster is particularly difficult for Cisco, since he recognizes that they can't be expected to know proper behavior and gives them the "puppy pass" - even tolerates having me cuddle them on the couch! Oh, the horror!

Posted by: MadderScientist | August 27, 2013 4:36 PM    Report this comment

My 7 year old yellow Labrador, Jack, and I work together at our boarding kennel with visiting dogs who often are undersocialized. Their people none-the-less want them to play with other dogs in our grassy big field area.
Jack's behavior is exactly like Otto's. He has superb bite inhibition and has never put a mark on another dog, even the Italian Greyhound-Chihuahua mix who would leap in the air to reach his flews and hang on with her teeth to go for a ride! But if dogs play inappropriately, are too aggressive - like the miniature poodle who went for Jack's jugular and was not kidding!- Jack will either do the Big Rrrufff! or look to me. Jack trusts me to keep him from being hurt while doing his doggie side of the job. I removed the miniature poodle from the situation because I recognized that he was going to hurt my dog, even before his owner saw it. I do look out for Jack's stress level and respect his experience. He is the best host when we have a
houseguest dog, and let's them have whatever I want them to have in terms of resting spots and attention. But I notice he heaves a sigh of relief when he has our living space back to just our family. So yes, especially as he gets older, I will be more picky about what I give him for "jobs" in terms of other dogs. But I have always protected him from harm, and he trusts that.

Posted by: auntiesharon | August 27, 2013 1:19 PM    Report this comment

I feel that my dogs are my priority! However that home care and training is very important. When I did foster large amounts of dogs I made sure that their where places and activities that where special to my dogs only. I find that in doing that it was easier to transition to their forever families. Since I worked often with these dogs solo, I felt that this was their special time. I also feel that your foster dog needs to feel welcomed and liked. It may sound simplistic, but I have rehomed dogs that where not liked, loved or resented in their homes and were acting out badly. When put in a loving environment blossom into great dogs quickly! If fostering is not for your dogs or other pets, consider short term fostering, or volunteering in other very needed ways! If our dogs are truly part of the family. Hear and respect what they have to say!

Posted by: Filomena D | August 27, 2013 12:01 PM    Report this comment

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