Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's Not the Dogs, It's the Humans

Just back from the Farmer's Market, where Arlo and I did a little shopping and a little training.  Our last visit to the EFM was in late summer, so I was curious to see how he'd behave.  Last summer, I was impressed with how mellow he was in spite of all the distractions--new smells, sounds, people dogs, etc.  But in the past 10 months, as he's entered doggy adolescence he is sometimes very full of himself, and at other times, lacking in confidence around new dogs.  Or maybe he's generally lacking in confidence and he overcompensates by being--what Suzanne Clothier at a seminar I was fortunate to attend recently called--a "butthead."

Either way, he's currently not consistently making good decisions around other dogs, so I knew I wanted to watch him closely and avoid putting him in situations he wouldn't be able to handle.

We got there when the market opened before it was too crowded or too hot.  On our 5 block walk from the car to the market, he walked nicely on the leash and was only slightly distracted by so many new things.  I used environmental rewards (e.g. go sniff!) for keeping a loose leash, but I was also packing cheese which I handed out for check-ins.  So far so good.

Even though we arrived early, there were already quite a few dogs there, so we just hung out for awhile in a shady, grassy area so that he could take everything in.  I didn't ask for attention, but did reward when it was offered.

As it turned out, I only did a little shopping because more and more dogs were there, and I didn't want to chance a scary encounter.  A couple of times we did have to make U-turns and head in the other direction--sometimes because Arlo was over threshold and other times because people weren't paying attention to their dogs.

Which brings me to the real topic for my post.  As Arlo and I were hanging out and practicing attention and keeping calm around distractions, I had some time to observe some of the dog-human interactions happening around us.  I'm always amazed at how well-behaved the dogs are in spite of the fact that the humans around them tend to be fairly oblivious.  Let me say first that this wasn't the case yesterday for every human--for example, nearly everyone who stopped to pet Arlo asked me first.  It's true that some of the people reached for his head, but most times when that happened, he'd just present himself butt first, or roll onto his back as if to say, no thank you, please rub my belly instead. 

Yes, I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but my point is that his response was appropriate.  Like last year, Arlo seemed to enjoy the attention more than the shopping (okay, maybe not more than stopping at the Dale and Georgia booth, but still a lot).

But I did see some things that I thought were a cause for concern.  One, hardly anyone was watching his or her dog.  I can understand why:  there is a LOT to look at--not just the luscious veggies and fruit, but all of the people.  I'm always running in to people I know, and if I don't keep reminding myself that I'm attached to a dog, I can forget to pay attention.  I didn't actually see any on-leash, dog-dog greets which, especially in this kind of situation, can go very wrong.  But I saw a few unintended near greets because humans weren't aware of where their dogs were.

The worst thing I saw was a lovely dog whose probably very well-meaning owner tied her (or him--couldn't tell) to a tree.  I say "well-meaning" because I think most of us who bring our dogs to the FM do it because we like being out with our dogs.  Not a bad thing to enjoy.  But the dog was on a rather short leash and subject to the attention--for worse or better--of anyone passing by.  This was a very patient dog, and although I wasn't close, I didn't see the dog pulling away from humans.  At the same time, I also didn't see the dog's owner anywhere near (she may have been, but from my view no one seemed to be looking out for this dog or paying attention to the very many people who stopped to pet her).  At one point, an unattended little girl was F2F with the dog.  Adults were nearby, but no one was watching.  I also saw other people leaning over the dog, hanging on her head, and generally getting into her space.  Again, since I wasn't close, I couldn't see what signs the dog might have been giving that she was uncomfortable.  But my question is this: why put a dog in that situation in the first place?  Why take the chance that something might happen?  And even if something doesn't happen, why ask the dog to tolerate being touched--often inappropriately--by so many strange people?

A couple of years ago, I taught a Market Manners class for people who wanted to take their dogs out to the market.  I left today thinking that a better class might be one for humans rather than dogs.

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On a different (and especially happy) note:   this past Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Arlo joining our family.  Here is his official adoption day anniversary photo.

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