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Episode 316 - Big Bad Buddy


“Because humans intellectualize their emotions, we can fear what we can imagine, unlike dogs. So when what we fear are dogs, our imagination plus our energy can quickly put the dog in a dominant position.

 
 

Q&A with Cesar

Is it really true that dogs can smell or sense fear and that this is what makes them attack a scared person

Dogs can sense a lot about people through their energy and will react accordingly. If a person’s energy is weak or negative, and especially if it is lower and weaker than the dog’s, then the dog will take that as a sign that the human belongs in a lower pack position. It isn’t necessarily about fear. If someone has low energy in general, a dog is not going to follow them, but is going to try to lead them.
 
Also, a dog won’t necessarily attack a scared person — unless that dog is very fearful itself. A frightened person isn’t a threat, and when a dog senses that energy, it will either ignore the person or approach them simply to “herd” them. People who are afraid of dogs get into trouble when they act on their own fear and make it obvious. What do people often do when they are afraid of something? They run — and running away is a great way to trigger a dog’s prey drive. Become the target of a dog’s prey drive, and you probably will be bitten.
 
To recap: just because you’re afraid of a dog it doesn’t mean the dog is going to attack you. When you feel yourself fearful in a dog’s presence, concentrate on being calm and also appearing non-threatening. Do not stare at or confront the dog. Respect his space and he’ll probably respect yours.
 

My grandchildren are 5 and 7 and I have two dogs. My dogs are very friendly but my grandchildren can be very energetic. What advice can I give their mother so that when she visits with them they can avoid being bitten by my dogs?

The simplest way to think about it is “respect.” Respect a dog’s space and what she’s telling you, and you’ll probably never get bitten.

“Respect” is probably a little bit abstract for kids of that age, though, so here are the do’s and don’ts for children to remember to avoid dog bites:

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog. If the dog is with a human, ask the human from a distance if you can approach, but don’t be upset if they tell you no — that’s to protect you.
  • Do not scream or run away from a dog. This just makes the dog want to chase you. Stay calm around dogs, and move carefully — a sudden movement might make them turn and bite if it startles them. If a strange dog walks up to you, do not pay attention to it. It will probably just sniff you and leave
  • Do not play with a dog when no adults are present. Even if it’s your own family dog, an adult should be there in case something happens. This is so they can take care of you if you get bitten, but also so they can tell people if it was an accident so that the dog isn’t taken away.
  • Have you heard an adult say “let sleeping dogs lie?” You should never bother a dog while it’s asleep, or if it’s eating, tending to puppies, or has something else it considers valuable, like a treat or toy.
  • Let the dog approach you first. If you want to pet a dog and their human has given permission, let the dog come to you and sniff you. Then, the dog will let you know if you can pet him. If he sits or stands near you with his mouth slightly open, then he has said it’s okay. Now you can pet him — but scratch on the front of his chest, not on top of his head.

We’re two couples who share a house, but one of the housemate’s dogs still gets separation anxiety whenever he leaves even if everyone else is home. I thought that separation anxiety had to do with being left alone, so why can’t we calm the dog down by being there?

With separation anxiety, the key word is “separation.” It’s not that the dog has to be away from every other dog and human in order to feel it; it’s that the dog is separated from her Pack Leader (or leaders). In the wild, it isn’t natural for pack members to leave or stray far from the pack, and dogs will always stay with the leaders. In the human world, we’ve created places where we force our dogs to be separate from us and often leave them behind when we go out.
 
To a dog, this can seem like their leader has just abandoned them, which is the worst thing that can ever happen to a dog. Their natural instinct is to try to follow their leader, and if that means chewing through a door or breaking through a window to do it, then they may get that desperate and do just that. It doesn’t matter if other pack members are around. In fact, it can make things worse if other people in the house try to engage the dog or play with it while its human is gone because this can reinforce the feelings of anxiety and make them worse.
 
The first thing a dog prone to separation anxiety needs is a place to go to and be calm when the Pack Leaders leave. Crate training can be very important in treating separation anxiety, although just having a bed in a quiet corner where the dog can go when she’s left alone can also help. The idea is to create an association in the dog’s mind: “Pack Leader leaves means I go to my quiet space and relax.”
 
If you really want to help with your housemate’s dog’s separation anxiety, then your job should be to remain calm when he leaves, then gently direct your dog to her calming space if she shows any signs of anxiety after he goes.
 

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