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Episode 319 - Izzy in a Tizzy


“There is nothing sadder than a family that becomes prisoners in their own home because of their dog’s behavior, especially because preventing such a situation is — or should be — entirely within the humans’ control.”
 

 
 

Q&A with Cesar

You mentioned the idea of distance in the episode, and how Izzy would only allow people to get so close to Yolanda. Do dogs really have a concept of distance like people do?

I wouldn’t say that it’s exactly like people do, but dogs definitely have different “zones” when it comes to approaching them. Anything over 12 feet is the “public” zone, and most dogs aren’t going to get territorial or defensive over this area. It’s far enough away that they don’t feel immediately threatened.
 
Between four and 12 feet is the “social” zone. This is the area in which dogs first greet — whether they’re meeting another dog, meeting a human, or checking out another animal. It’s also the zone in which a territorial dog will begin to show defensiveness. If you have a dog that likes to protect the yard, for example, it will start barking when strange people or animals get within 12 feet of the fence.
 
The “personal” zone is within one-and-a-half to four feet of the dog, or 18 to 48 inches, which is now getting pretty close. Any human or animal that enters this zone without permission is asking for a fight. Finally, a dog’s “intimate” zone is within six to eight inches. This zone is by invitation only!
 
As humans and potential Pack Leaders, it’s up to us to be aware of these distances and to respect them, especially in the case of strange dogs. Invading the intimate zone of a strange dog, for example, is a good way to get bitten, and getting too close to the social zone of a timid dog, even if you have good intentions, will probably scare him off.
 

I think that one of my dogs might be an instigator as well. How does that happen?

Try to think of it as a “brains and brawn” relationship. The instigator dog is going to be in a higher position in the pack, so it’s basically telling the other dog what to do. Sometimes, it’s very direct — the instigator dog starts barking at a threat and the other dog attacks. Other times, the instigator may use subtle manipulation, like showing signs of excitement until the other dog actually is excited, then leaving that dog in the situation while the instigator wanders off.
 
If the instigator dog is particularly smart, she may actually start using this behavior to get the other dog to do exactly what she wants. I remember one case of someone with a terrier that was constantly scratching at the back door, but then never going outside when her human opened the door. Instead, the other dog, a huge Rottweiler, would go bounding off into the yard.
 
As it turned out, whenever the terrier got tired of having the Rottie around, she would pretend to get really excited about going outside. This would get the Rottie excited to the point of thinking that he wanted to go out — leaving the terrier alone inside once he did. After I helped the owner teach the Rottie to not get excited by the terrier’s door-scratching behavior, the terrier stopped doing it; she wasn’t getting what she wanted from it anymore.
 

You spoke to Marianne a lot about controlling her dog’s excitement, but is that always necessary? Aren’t there any times when it’s okay for a dog to be excited?

Of course there are, but those have to be the appropriate times for excitement. I talk a lot about the need for dogs to have rules, boundaries, and limitations, and this question comes under the area of “limitations.” What I mean by those is how we control a dog’s activity level — length of time, intensity, or both. When we set limitations, we are the ones who decide how long the game of fetch lasts. We also decide how excited we’re going to let our dog get during the game.
 
But we should be setting limitations all the time, not just during playtime. That’s why we have to choose those times and places when our dogs aren’t allowed to get excited, then work on associating those things with calm, submissive energy. The walk is a primary example. It isn’t about your dog getting all worked up. It’s about your dog bonding with you as the two of you migrate through territory. She can certainly be interested and focused, but those things are very different than excitement.
 
Controlling your dog’s excitement is actually one of the keys to getting good behavior. When you can put your dog in a calm, submissive state on command, you’ve gone a long way toward eliminating all kinds of problems — from aggression to fearful destructiveness to separation anxiety. Remove the excess energy, and you remove the source of a lot of problems.
 

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