The behaviorist on the terrible, bad day

Last night we finally got to talk to our behaviorist. I have to say, I’m so glad that we have one and I’m even more glad that she is good. After Yun described to her what happened on our terrible, bad day, she asked more questions. I find that to be one of the best things about her. She really tries to get a full picture of what happened. She takes the time to learn about the situation and circumstances before diving into an opinion.

Prior to the seemingly very random bite, Loki and Jujube were playing. He was trying to get her to chase him, but became annoyed when she caught him and snapped back at her. Then apparently, this repeated a few times. Loki kept asking for more play, but was agitated by her at the same time.

I know I may be anthropomorphic here, but I sort of imagine a child who really wants to play, has only one playmate, and gets annoyed when the playmate doesn’t understand the rules of play. Like trying to get someone to play tag with you. You chase your friend and finally catch him. “Tag, you’re it.” Now it’s his turn to chase you. But instead, he’s confused and doesn’t chase you. Now, you get annoyed because he’s not playing the way you had wanted to play. Repeat a few times and now you’re really frustrated. You might still want to play, but at the same time be very agitated.

So the point is, the behaviorist thought that Loki might have still been in an agitated and unstable state when Yun went to pet him. We already know that he’s not the most stable dog. And he and Jujube did have a scuffle in the morning, so that may also have contributed to his unstable mood.

Still, she mentioned that we may never fully know why Loki did what he did. He’s a dog, and we are humans. We can make the best educated guesses possible, but we may never know for sure why dogs do what they do.

In addition, she encouraged us to be even more obvious in our preferential treatment of Loki. At the moment, we still feed the dogs at the same time, and that morning Yun was about to give them rawhides at the same time. She suggested that our actions be further exaggerated in very deliberately showing Loki that he gets food first and that he gets rawhide first. We already did other things to show Loki that he’s top dog, like letting him out of his crate first, but she suggested we do more. She said that the more obvious we are to assure Loki of his top dog status, the more secure and stable he would become.

Lastly, she said that she considers this an isolated incident. One incident after about two months of peace isn’t terrible. She said if this were occurring every week, then we’d be having a different conversation.


Jen said...

I'm so curious about this - if you are anthropomorphizing, and by the way that makes sense to compare it to child's play, wouldn't then making Loki aware of his being first at everything make him sort of like a spoiled child? Appeasing his already unpleasant behavior?

I'm just shooting in the dark, I am by no means a behavior expert. It seems though, by giving into whatever is assumed Loki needs in preferential treatment, that it would reinforce his already unstable temperament? I could be way off... thats just how it reads to me.

What is the behaviorist's ultimate goal for Loki's behavior?

Vi said...

Jen --
You bring up some really great points & questions. I think the ultimate goal is make Loki a more stable dog and to minimize all aggression. In more practical terms, we don't want to be nursing bite wounds all the time.

The idea with treating him as top dog is to make him feel secure in his spot as top dog, so he doesn't feel the need to assert his dominance all the time with Jujube. We want to give him no reason to compete with her. Show him that there's no competition -- he's already won. There's no need to fight.

I wouldn't say that we are spoiling him. Though I didn't mention it in my post, the behaviorist also encouraged us to practice obedience and handling with him, so that he understands that we are the ultimate pack leaders.

Anonymous said...

It is silly to over-analyze the dog's behaviors or compare it to that of humans.

Dogs (female & male) have simple motives to fight: Food, toys, treats. Humans conflicts ---ranging from neighbhorhood conflicts to the war between countries --- have different motives: politics, money, ego, greed, bias, hidden agenda, selfishness, stupidity.....and the list goes on. There are even people in the paid professions to cause conflicts or perpetuate conflicts.

Can you really compare these two species? Woops, Jen side tracked me, again.

The Shiba said...

All dogs respond to a hierarchy. In our house, mine is the ultimate voice, then my husband, then the cat (she educates shibas well), then Cortez, and then Belle. So why is Belle on the bottom?

She is the most recent addition to the family. To avoid conflicts, we made certain that this hierarchy was in place so that Belle would know exactly where she fit. This does not mean she gets no treats; she just gets hers after Cortez's. Cortez goes to his food bowl first. Cortez gets in and out of the car first; Belle knows that she is loved and appreciated here-- but she also knows that Cortez is the first dog and she is the second.

It's not that she is losing out on anything but what it does do is help her to be more submissive to Cortez (when we are dealing with a rather dog aggressive breed) and as a result, he is more relaxed in his status as #1 dog and so he does not challenge her when she does certain things- like touch a toy that he may want as well- or if she walks over to his bowl to see if he left anything behind, he does not freak out because his belly is full (well, so is hers but she tends to be more of a vacuum cleaner than he is). He even lets her sleep in his crate without worry because he knows that it is his, and it does not bother him that she is in it.

It's not like she is getting less than Cortez- in fact, she gets more because she is more affectionate, likes to snuggle, and engages much more easily than Cortez does. But of the issues that are important to Cortez, feeding times, walking times, rides in the car, etc., he knows that he is still higher in the pecking order and his rules are followed.

By allowing Cortez to feel like he is first, Belle follows his lead on most everything. As a result, we have no fights because she knows that he is her leader and that by his confidence in that, she is happy because she knows what to expect when through his communications.

We got Belle because she was trying to be the #1 bitch of her kennel and was using severe methods to obtain that status. She is now the #1 bitch, but she realizes that there are others above her, and is respectful of that.

This said, we have had no growling matches, a few back off barks (mainly from Belle if Cortez plays too rough) and only one major battle that required a trip to the vet- Cortez was unharmed but Belle did something that completely pissed him off enough for him to strike out at her at 2 am.

What is interesting to watch is how they do communicate. For the most part, she looks at him, and he looks at her sideways-- but if he locks eyes with her, she immediately backs down because she knows that while it is now their house, she needs to follow his rules.

Masako said...

I don't have much advice to provide here. I am just really happy that you are blogging about this because I think it could really be helpful to me and others some day. Thank you!

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