Written in collaboration with Hill’s
Before you have kids you probably do quite a bit of research. You read parenting books. Go on forums. Chat to your friends who are parents themselves. And while I’m not saying here that having dogs and having children is the exact same thing, they both require a serious commitment – but information for the former is not nearly as accessible or plentiful.
When we first got our dogs, we didn’t know much about animal behaviour or dog owner etiquette. One of the best things we did though was spend A LOT of time taking our dogs to training where they learned how to socialise and respond to us. It was every Saturday for what seemed like months on end but it was invaluable, as people often comment nowadays on how well behaved our dogs are (okay I’m going to give my husband most of the credit for this!).
Although it’s vital for all dogs, I think it’s especially important for large dogs to be well trained. We don’t want people with small children arriving at our house and the kid getting knocked over the first second they walk through the door. A 45kg Ridgeback is a powerful thing and it needs to respond to its owners.
There are so many things you learn as a dog owners, from picking up their poo and making sure you have enough poo bags (one time I ran out of bags! I had to use a leaf from a bush and it wasn’t nearly big enough aaaaaargh). To getting used to greeting fellow dog owners – it’s polite to say hello to strangers while your dogs smell each others’ bums (weird I know).
Dogs like to play so it’s also about learning what’s “normal” behaviour when it comes to playing and then when it’s best to say bye bye to the other dog to avoid any confrontations. We were told in our training that no dog should ever climb on top of another dog because that could be the start of a fight, so it’s always good to watch out for that.
Female dogs are also pretty interesting! We didn’t know that they are often the “alphas” in groups and that it’s not recommended to have two female dogs as they get a bit argy bargy in terms of who is dominant. In our case, the tiny whipper snapper Buckley is the alpha and the huge graceful behemoth Juno does her bidding, which really does make us laugh. I’m not sure why – maybe Buckley is just super smart.
I’ve also begun to realise that your behaviour as the dog owner heavily influences how other dogs behave. Dog owners who act afraid and immediately scoop up their dogs and start to shout when they see another large dog coming towards them, don’t do themselves any favours. Dogs sense fear and it causes them to react. If you are relaxed and you let your dogs say hi and have a quick play (if you’ve got time), it all ends well most of the time.
But not all the time. A few months ago our little mixed breed was bitten, although not very seriously. I would have liked to have some guidelines on what to do in those situations so I thought I’d contact Hill’s to ask for their advice on that, plus other dog owner etiquette. They gave me some feedback from Marycke Ackhurt, who’s the national breeder manager for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and I thought you may find it useful:
Q: Kids and dogs. We’ve taught our children not to pet strange dogs without asking the owners first. Is there any other advice we should be teaching them when interacting with dogs not their own?
Teaching children to ask permission to say hello to strange dogs is certainly the right thing to do. To add to this, teach them to wait until the dog interacts with them, instead of initiating interaction with the dog. If the dog tries to get away, they should allow the dog to do so and not follow them. Growling is a warning, so if the dog does growl, rather stop the interaction immediately and do as much as possible to minimise the threat to the dog. Don’t allow children to pet dogs on their heads, but rather suggest stroking motions on the side of their necks or to scratch their chests if they’re comfortable with that.
Q: What should you do in a dog fight?
There are no clear cut guidelines as to what to do during a dog fight. There are so many factors that play a role: size of dogs, breed, size (strength) of handlers/owners, the environment in which it takes place (inside/outside/street/park…), are the dogs on or off leash, what aids do you have nearby (leashes, water, something that makes a loud noise, something to block them with, a blanket/big coat….), are they dogs that often get into fights, what triggered the fight etc.
Most dog fights end with only a few scratches or stitches but the effect on the behaviour of the dogs afterwards, especially the one who was the victim, is more important because his/her reaction towards other dogs in future might trigger a fight. So to get the help from a good positive reinforcement trainer will be advisable – prevention is always better than cure.
Very often the owner/handler’s reaction towards a dog approaching in future will have an effect on the dog’s behaviour too.
I would recommend exchanging contact details and reporting the incident to the local police station. In case of costs as a result of the dog fight, a civil case can be opened for this.
I found this very helpful, especially the bit about how it effects your dog’s behaviour, getting bitten. Juno was bitten last year by a Boxer and ever since then she has absolutely not been comfortable around Boxers and other breeds of large dogs. I may try find a trainer to remedy that.
In keeping with all things doggie, we recently got sent this divine Hill’s Dreammaker pillow! It’s available in three designer colours, and it’s keeping them nice and cosy this winter. The pillow is free with purchases of any two big bags (9.5kgs to 13.6kgs) of Hill’s Canine Science Plan, Ideal Balance or Prescription Diet, at participating retailers, in July while stocks last.