BARKS from the Guild January 2019

Page 55

Giving Dogs Choices



Stephanie Peters discusses her work with families to ensure they receive the appropriate,

humane education to foster communication and to strengthen the dog-human bond t was therapy visit with my rescue dog Marmalade that initially inspired me to pursue a career involving both dogs and kids. I have 15 years’ experience working with children, which was the perfect preparation for me to apply my knowledge of development and learning theory to the enrichment and education of our canine friends. I am one of only two certified behavior consultants in the state of Iowa, and the only dog professional in the state who is also a certified humane education specialist. Fittingly, one of my specialties involves helping parents create a more harmonious household through training for their dogs and humane education for their kids. As force-free professionals are already aware, taking an adversarial approach with children and alienating parents does not improve the lives of the dogs we wish to help. Children must be allies in the training process; their enthusiastic participation is a key component of the consistency that dogs need to be successful in a busy household. Many of the parents who invite me into their homes are swimming in a sea of misinformation, just trying to stay above water. They may have been told, or read on the internet, erroneously of course, that when their dog mouths or jumps on or steals food from their children, he is trying to “dominate” them. They may even have been told, again erroneously, that the dog must view children as superiors, not subordinates, and that the parents have caused the disruption in the hierarchy by not being a strong enough “pack leader.” Says Miller (2018): “…[T]he very presumption that our dogs would even consider we humans to be members of their canine pack is simply ludicrous. They know how impossibly inept we are, for the most part, at reading, understanding and responding appropriately to the subtleties of canine body language. We are equally inept, if not even more so, at trying to mimic those subtleties. Any attempts on our part to somehow insert ourselves into their social structure and communicate meaningfully with them in this manner are simply doomed to failure. It’s about time we gave up trying to be dogs in a dog pack and accepted that we are humans co-existing with another species – and that we’re most successful doing so when we co-exist peacefully.” Many parents certainly need better education and resources. I usually start my educational packages with a heavy dose of myth busting. I thoroughly debunk the idea that the dog is trying to “boss around” the children or vie for some superior place in the family hierarchy and share reputable sources of information on kids and dogs, such as A Kids’ Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog! by Niki Tudge, the Family Paws Parent Education website, the Doggone Safe website, and the books by trainer and behavior consultant Colleen Pelar of Living with Kids and Dogs. One of my clients, Lisa, came to me when her pup Frito bit her son Huston on the chin. She was understandably concerned. As a single parent with an incredibly demanding work schedule, she had more than enough on her plate. She could have returned Frito to the rescue organization he came from a year and a half ago. Instead of punishing him or panicking though, she wasted no time in seeking resources that would help her balance both dog ownership and parenthood. Nevertheless, she was essentially shamed by some for placing equal emphasis on the behavioral needs of her dog and the welfare of her child. As part of her training package with me, Lisa learned to accurately

Photo © Ben Sandness Photography

Stephanie Peters (right) ensures her clients have the appropriate resources and that children in the home are allies in the dog training process

read canine body language and avoid applying moral constructs to a dog’s behavior. Lisa says Huston “can now verbalize how Frito is feeling by looking at his body language,” and will “call him, whistle to him, or encourage him” instead of “pulling on the leash or grabbing his collar.” Huston loves practicing targeting activities with Frito. He uses the Doggone Safe “Be a Tree” pose to “settle his own body if the dog is riled up by his leaping or hopping.” Huston practices management by picking up his own items to prevent Frito from getting hold of them. He also knows how to trade for a treat when Frito “has something he shouldn’t, versus chasing him” and pulling the object out of his mouth, which can cause or exacerbate resource guarding. Now Frito is “doing a good job of dropping things when Huston approaches.” Another of my clients had been advised by the breeder that her young son should roughhouse with their large-breed puppy in order to expend the puppy’s energy and promote bonding. But a dog cannot comprehend that when a boy shoves his hand into the dog’s mouth in play it is considered acceptable to mouth at the hand, but that the same mouthing should cease when the boy is reading a book, getting dressed, or eating an after school snack. By the same token, a kindergartener doesn’t automatically know how to get a dog to leave him alone when persistent jumping and mouthing becomes annoying, or even a little scary.

Choosing Compassion

A well-intentioned neighbor gave another of my clients a set of DVDs by a well-known reality TV dog trainer to help her train Rosie, her tiny cavalier puppy. Lori and her three daughters watched segments of several episodes and felt uneasy. They knew there must be a less forceful and more compassionate way to train their young pup, and gave me a call at the recommendation of their veterinarian. During their training package, daughters Sofie, Izzy, and Hanna were invested and engaged every BARKS from the Guild/January 2019