The Bark Stops Here

Here's where I'll post odds and ends of interest: Upcoming local events, health bulletins and announcements. Periodically, I will post an original article addressing dog training and behavior. In addition, please visit the Southport Veterinary Center Blog page by clicking here, where I am a guest author. So check back often to see "The Inside Poop".

News

Book Review/Mention

Please visit the link below to read about Imp, The Imperfect Pup on Goodreads for the month of November by clicking here.

townvibe

Please visit the link below to read the article "No Bad Dogs" in the November-December 2012 issue of townvibe.

townvibe

"No Bad Dogs - Jody Rosengarten teaches fairfielders how to be better dog owners" by Robin H. Phillips

The Daily Westport

I will be writing a recurring column for The Daily Westport addressing various dog behavior problems as well as answering questions from pet owners. Please visit my column at The Daily Westport by clicking here.

Radio Show

I am a sit regular guest on the phone-in radio show, David Smith's Exchange, WICC 600AM. I will be live usually the first Monday of every month from 3:00pm to 4:00pm. You are welcome to call with questions at (203) 333-WICC (333-9422) or toll free at (800) 922-6060 or via the internet at www.WICC600.com. If you would like any additional information please email me by clicking here, and please be sure to include your contact information and email address.

Articles

New Articles

Decoding (Some of) Your Dog’s Behavior

(Posted November 1, 2017)

At least once a week, a prospective client calls to complain that her infant puppy is, "biting". I’m told equally often that the pup is, "growling". Less frequently, one is wrongly described as, "baring his teeth" or, "snarling". And I am constantly surprised by how few people recognize the difference between dogs playing and their fighting. Clearly, if Imp is truly biting, growling, snarling or fighting there’s a huge problem. But what if the first pup is mouthing; the second’s grumbling; the third dog’s smiling and the, "fighters" are really just having fun? And how do we tell them apart?

Antithetical emotions often manifest similarly. One can cry for joy or when sad. Only by looking at the behavior in context can we accurately interpret its motivation. It is safe to assume that tears shed at a funeral are different than those at a wedding.

You may have been told to stop your puppy’s mouthing pronto as it is purported to be a precursor to biting. Believing this is tantamount to worrying that the more dexterous human infant who pulls one’s hair is a Boston Strangler in the making. While there’s no question that mouthing can hurt, and both babies need to be taught a gentler way to express themselves, the issue is intention. It should be obvious that the ten-week-old puppy’s mouthing while wiggle-waggling ecstatically upon greeting you is not maliciously motivated. Imp can only learn to inhibit his bite in the context of mouthing.

A growl is a deep, guttural sound that is meant as a warning. Imp’s body is typically rigid, eyes fixed and he may even appear to be holding his breath. What I call a grumble is a playful, fluctuating vocalization in which the pup’s posture is relaxed and at ease. He may grumble while playing with you, a toy or another dog. My Cozy just raced over squeaking her best fuzzy duck while grumbling euphorically as her tail wagged widely. Throaty though it sounds, clearly Cozy means no harm. Grumbling is a play style that’s as innocuous as a tennis player’s grunts while serving.

Smiling is a far less common behavior. Some dogs actually bare their teeth to appease their people or when saying, "How do you do"? Dalmatians are an especially smiley breed. There is no precedent in nature for canids to show their teeth affectionately. It seems that some have learned to mimic this human display. Dogs don’t smile at one another, toys, food or a squirrel; they only smile at us. My beloved ReRun, a 105-pound German shepherd-mix, was a great grinner. ReRun’s greeting the uninitiated with a big old toothy smile caused many a heart-stopping reaction. As smiling is so rare, misreading this is easier to understand. Even here, if you just look past the teeth at the body language, the benign nature of the grin is evident.

Being unable to play video games, ride bicycles or bowl, dogs play amongst themselves by mouthing, chasing and jumping on one another. I’ve seen whole dog faces disappear in the jaws of another and come out completely intact, albeit moist. I do understand how difficult it can be to differentiate playing from fighting as both can look and sound ferocious. Please know that dogs play way more than they fight. And it is extremely rare for an adult dog to hurt a puppy.

Serious fights almost always occur between dogs of the same sex. While there are no guarantees, the best way to ensure Imp doesn’t become a fighter is to neuter and thoroughly socialize him to other dogs while young. My rule of thumb is, if neither dog is harmed and if they can easily be separated, no matter how volatile the interaction seems; I wouldn’t worry.

The tail wag is an extremely ambiguous piece of body language that is frequently misinterpreted. In describing the circumstances leading up to a dog’s biting, I am often told, "But his tail was wagging".

It is true that the sweeping, horizontal wag is a happy, friendly sign, but an upright tail wag could be a dominant display while a low wag is a sign of submission. Rigid wags represents arousal, and a slow, low wag suggests uncertainty. And what about dogs whose tails are docked or the perpetually erect tail of many terriers? Hunting dogs wag ecstatically as they catch and kill their prey just as the tracking dog does upon cornering a felon.

Despite popular opinion, raised hackles (piloerection) along Imp’s neck or spine is rarely a sign of aggression. Like goose bumps or blushing, piloerection is an involuntary response to arousal, with confusion and fear being very arousing.

Barking is how Imp expresses himself and his doing so could save your life. With all Imp has to say, let’s look at different Barks.

The Play Bark exists between dogs with one asking, "So you wanna suck face or what"? Imp may also try to engage a cat, vacuum, basketball or passive person in this manner.

The Predatory Bark is high-pitched and squealy, and accompanies a rapidly wagging tail. The Territorial Bark says, "Back off, Jack"! Imp’s ears are as erect as possible, hackles raised and tail held high, making an overall large and in-your-face impression.

The Fear Bark accompanies a tucked or low held tail. Imp’s ears are usually slicked back.

The Bossy Bark is when Imp looks you squarely in the eyes to demand that you feed or walk or cuddle or lift or toss a ball NOW!

The Bored Bark drones on and on and on and on and on… And some dogs are multilingual.

In response to complaints that Imp is biting, growling, snarling or fighting, many a veterinarian, dog trainer or mother-in-law recommends he be given away or that harsh training techniques be employed to quell the aggression. Happy, healthy dogs are regularly destroyed—spiritually or literally—because their people misrepresent a behavior to someone who takes the complaint at face value without delving more deeply into the accuracy of their words. I therefore strongly encourage you to describe behavior in terms of what is seen, heard or felt rather than simply assign a label to it.

Good luck!

Jody Rosengarten
The Bark Stops Here
(203) 372-BARK

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