Does your Dog "Show Off?"
Last weekend a few of us were invited over to have dinner with friends (nothing special about that in France – my social life is crazy considering I live in a small village). They have two young sons who were admonished on more than one occasion for “showing off” while we were there. Some of the ways were gross as only young boys can be (and it was hard not to laugh which would have been exactly the reaction they were looking for). The embarrassed parents were perplexed as to why their kids would always act up when there was company.
I should point out that this behaviour is not limited to small children. My father was well-behaved on a one-to-one situation but get him in a room full of people and he could be a real jerk sometimes. This habit that some have of “showing off” can also be seen with dogs when visitors arrive at the home. They can jump up on people, throw toys around, bark loudly at them (particularly if they are a bit nervous) and generally seem to play the fool. However, the actual reason for this behaviour is due to the fact that the dynamic has changed, leading to a reassessment of one’s position in the group. Remember that human beings are also pack animals with an instinctive notion of hierarchy (even if many out there try to deny it).
This is why I sometimes hear from clients who tell me that their dogs are fine with them after having implemented the Amichien Bonding process, yet they revert to being a problem when there are visitors. I remember well one couple in particular who had – and I quote – the “Hound from Hell”. I worked with them all and gave them the support they needed to transform their hound into – and again I quote – the “Wonder Dog”.
The couple decided to celebrate their transformed dog by throwing a big dinner party so all their friends could see the new perfect pooch... Yep, you’ve guessed it; the dog took one look at all these people suddenly arriving en masse and lost the plot. He reverted straight back to his hellish ways. The wife called me in floods of tears. “It’s been 6 months since he’s done that!” she wailed. “How many dinner parties have you had” I asked. Quelle surprise, it was the very first one. I advised her to redo the steps she had taken at the beginning to remind her dog of the right way to behave. Sure enough, once he realised that this situation was no different, he calmed down quickly.
As I have often stated over the years, every time there is a change, a dog can ask a question. In this case, the sudden arrival of other potential pack members requires an assessment. Dogs don’t know if the visitors are going to stay or leave; they do know that they must find out who goes where. When they can see that their humans are still the ones to listen to and trust, they will quickly realise that it is not their problem. Attention seeking behaviour is the most common way that a dog will test the water; getting influence can lead to responsibility – something that we don’t really want our dog to feel they have in the Huma world.
I often advise putting dogs out of the way at first when people visit, creating a buffer zone; the dogs and visitors can’t get to each other immediately (there are more than a few visitors who will say hello to the dogs before even acknowledging those who actually pay the mortgage and are feeding them!). Once everyone is calm (including the visitors) dogs can be brought into the room.
If you have a dog that jumps up at people to get attention, you can always bring them in on a leash for instant control. If they can’t relax, they can go back until they are calm enough to try it again. I can’t imagine one single visitor being too happy if they end up with muddy paw prints all down their clothes as a greeting.
Always remember that attention seeking is a dog’s way to find out who goes where. I have heard some claim that it is down to a lack of physical or mental stimulation, yet I have witnessed far too many dogs try to get attention immediately after being exposed to stimuli to believe that. As a Dog Listener, I expect dogs to ask questions, knowing that the correct reaction from us is to give them the right answer every time. That way, they can learn what is and is not acceptable. Showing off is all part of the reassessment that happens when the pack changes, including when you invite people over to your home. It is not difficult to create opportunities for your dog to learn, even if you live remotely. Jehovah’s Witnesses are harmless enough and can be used as practice...
All the best,