Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC
Seriously, most of my days are good days. My best days are Tad days.
It takes me a little more than an hour to get to the clinic where Tiffany and Tad work. On the way I think about Tad, how much he’s improved, and the work we still need to do. I also sing along (a bit too loudly) to some of my favorite music, but that’s off the subject.
The truth is Tad is improving – a lot. I walked into the treatment area of the clinic unannounced and he didn’t make as much as a peep. Tiffany says he’s not barking very much at all when he’s in that area looking out into the lobby. He doesn’t bark at all anymore when the front door chime rings; and he greets people nicely in the lobby.
We focused this visit on teaching Tad some manners in the treatment area (go to your spot and stay). We also addressed his habit of biting for attention during play. Play biting isn’t the same as emotionally driven fear biting or so-called aggressive biting. Still, it hurts just the same. I was pleased when Tad and I played a bit and he didn’t bite me. I was equally chagrined when he gave Tiffany a few good chomps.
For dogs, the function of bites that are rooted in fear or aggression are all about making something stop or go away. The function of play bites is to get something going. The motivation is totally different. How do we stop it? First, we teach Tad how to control his play. Good dog play includes pauses, short breaks. Watch dogs at play and you’ll see them stop and start often. That’s the polite way to play. So we’re teaching Tad how to start play with humans (when we prompt it) and how to “settle,” which means sit and take a short break. The idea is to keep these training sessions short so Tad doesn’t get excited enough to bite. If he bites and ignores the “settle” cue, he gets a “too bad” and a time out. For a social animal like Tad, nothing could be worse than losing a round of play for a trip to the penalty box. That’s how he’s going to learn to watch his mouth.
Tad uses his teeth a lot playing with dogs too. That got me wondering about the great mystery of his past. A lot of play biters were single puppies, or puppies removed from the litter too early (prior to 7 weeks of age). Was Tad an only child? Did he loose his siblings too early? Puppies are good about teaching their littermates to mind their mouthy manners. I get the sense Tad missed out on this learning.
Dogs can’t tell their own stories. We’re left to wonder, what was Tad’s life like before Tiffany found him, skinny and sick, lost and forgotten? So much of his behavior tells us he lived with people. Who were they? Did they send him away or just let him wander off? Was it because of the biting? Do they think about him? Do they miss him?
I think about that on my way home, south on I-45 toward Houston, almost 6 months to the day from when Tiffany found Tad. I don’t know, but I believe dogs draw from a deep well of forgiveness. I like to think Tad’s moved on and doesn’t dwell on the hurt of past offenses the way we humans do. There’s lots to learn from all this. The thing is it’s hard to tell sometimes who’s doing the learning and who’s doing the teaching.
It’s a hot Fall day in southeast Texas and there are plump promising rain clouds on the horizon. Tad’s improving, and it’s already better than a good day. Time to turn up the music and sing.