"The Peeing Post"

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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Dear Dog Friend,

First, a special announcement: Arrangements have been made for me to give a series of seminars/workshops in Kelowna, BC this weekend. (June 24-26). The activities were originally meant for only a closed audience, but the people arranging it have a few extra spots available if you can make it to Kelowna these dates.

The activities will include:

You can click on the link to learn more about the contents of those seminars/workshops, but you cannot sign up on-line, as the facilitators have limited space and take care of the financial matters themselves.

If you would like to participate, either in the whole session or only in certain parts of it, please contact Jackie Kilburn at (250) 862-2727 (daytime) or (250) 491-4993 (evening). You can also contact Jackie per e-mail at dogsense@telus.net, but, with this kind of short notice, I suggest you try the phone first.


Killer dogs!

Kim Barcello found this story on-line about a woman who got killed by her own dogs. Kim asked me if I could "shed some intelligent light on this bizarre story"... The original was brought by Yahoo News on April 16, but the story is not longer available online. Here it is, though:

A 74-year-old animal lover was found dead in her home after what police believe was a brutal attack by the woman's two mixed-breed dogs. Neighbors reported a commotion Thursday at the house of Laverne Ford, a retired nurse's aide who lived alone with the dogs and many cats.

When an officer arrived, the larger dog estimated at between 50 and 60 pounds was sitting next to Ford's body, Wheeler County Sheriff James Peacock said. Both dogs had blood on them and are believed to have taken part in the attack.

"I've seen dog bites before, but I'd never seen anything like this," Peacock said.

The officer shot the larger dog after it threatened the officer, and the other dog, which weighed about 30 pounds, fled into a bathroom and officers locked it inside.

Neighbors said the dogs had become mean, and Ford put up a gate to keep them out of her living room. Mary Cheek, who used to work at a hospital with Ford, said the woman took in "any stray dog or cat she could get."

"That was her only company," she said. "The very thing she had loved and took care of all her life killed her."

Well, Kim, that's quite a challenge to say something intelligent about this...! There is a lot of essential information missing. But we can discuss some of the possible reasons for something like this happening. I have seen it in practice, although rarely with this kind of tragic end. But nevertheless, it happens, small-scale, on a daily basis...

The same thing has happened with wolves that were kept in captivity. More than once. It also happens with dogs that are constantly chained. Animals that cannot exercise their normal instincts through natural behaviors simply go "nuts". Humans do too, so there is no mystery in this!

The mystery is that some people (obviously including this loving older lady) just ignore that humans and animals have different needs. Standard "TLC" simply does not "cut it" for an animal, when given in accordance with human standards. Animals do not feel the love in the same way as a human might, no matter how sincere it is. They get desperate if they cannot discharge their natural energy from their fundamental instincts - and they have to do this though their behavior. (If you do not understand the "Need Barrel" concept, then it is due time for you to watch the video "The Dog's Social Behavior"....)

"It does not help a whale that you love it, if it is beached..."

Same thing with dogs. It simply does not matter that you love your dog, if you keep it under circumstances that prevent it from satisfying its most important fundamental needs...

It appears that this loving lady did almost nothing right, in accordance with the nature of these domesticated wolves. As far as we can tell from the story, she did not comprehend the consequences of her own lack of knowledge about what those animals truly need in order to enjoy their lives. Granted, the reporter does not give us all the details that truly are necessary in order to make such a conclusion with certainty, but just assuming that the details that are given are correct will give a totally different picture.

I have been tempted to call this loving old lady an "idiot"! Don't I have any sympathy for her?

I sure do! But I also see the situation from the dogs' side.... Although the report is very fragmented, there are some very obvious facts - and those facts are more than enough to tell the story:

This lady "collected" stray dogs, offering them a "home". In Dog Language, this translates to this: "depriving them from the ability to roam and hunt and live life the way they were born to". Although food is pretty high on any animal's need agenda, chances are that this lady fed kibble - which isn't very attractive to a dog that is used to hunting and scavenging on its own... besides, "shelter" is not on the list at all. And for dogs that live and roam in a pack, "companionship" isn't either - and there wasn't much offered in that regard anyway, as these dogs were kept out of the living room, confined in their own small space... (Again, we're not told what the full story is - we don't know why they were kept out of the living room - perhaps their tails kept knocking things off the coffee table, after all she was 74 and probably had a collection of things that she had scattered all over the place; perhaps these two dogs were unfriendly to the other animals in the home. But it doesn't really matter what her reasons were - the net result most likely has been that this lady did not spend much time with these dogs...)

These dogs, according to neighbors, "got mean". So, this change of behavior happened over time, while the dogs were with this lady.

Translated to Dog Language, this means that these dogs were so deprived of satisfying their fundamental natural instincts that they developed a sincere stress level, which (as always) got expressed through irritability first and pure aggressions later. ("Need Barrels", again!)

Yes, there could have been medical reasons. Dogs that are suffering from pain do tend to get irritable, just as people do. However, for two dogs to suffer simultaneously from the same medical problem is highly unlikely, unless it is caused, for instance, by vaccination (there are many examples known of repeated rabies vaccination resulting in such symptoms; when the body's immune system repeatedly gets exposed to the dead vaccine, and realized that it is being cheated by someone "crying wolf" for no reason, it will stop reacting to the vaccine and the chemicals it contains, including the dead virus's feces products - which are the ones that cause the famous rabid behavior!).

What needs are we talking about? Well, there are many that are extremely obvious:

My question really is, "How can anyone in their right mind expect these dogs to remain calm and "well-behaved"? It would have been weird if they had remained mentally balanced...

On top of this comes the possible fact of these dogs having a lousy Imprinting on humans. In my not-so-humble opinion, people who do not know what Imprinting is should not have a dog. This old lady being no exception. Dogs that lack solid Imprinting on humans will not perceive humans as pack members - but very easily classify a human as a potential prey or enemy. In other words: There is not much difference between dogs with lousy human Imprinting and wolves....(Imprinting is thoroughly explained in the video "The Dog's Social Behavior"....)

So, the "final scene" has very likely taken place like this: The two dogs have been caged for weeks in this room - with no contact, no ability to "be dogs" - constantly damming up energy and frustration to a level of desperation. The old lady comes in to feed them or give them water, trying to convince them of her love. The dogs start some serious play, jumping at her, roughly inviting her to wrestle - for their own entertainment. The old lady realizes that she cannot control the situation, so she acts in a clumsy way - and possibly screams because she gets overwhelmed. The screaming is natural trigger for the dogs to attack.... because of their seriously dammed energy, the attack ends up being a bit more vigorous than possibly first intended. The old lady defends herself, but with no serious effect - it might just have triggered more fighting behavior from the dogs' side. She is not strong enough to convey to the dogs that she is the master - and she truly isn't. Instead, she becomes a toy for the dogs and they continue their "game" - with the result of injuring her so badly that she dies...

Note that they had not eaten any of of her, so they did not attack in order to kill for food.

The reporter cited the police officer for calling it a "brutal attack". Sure, add some emotions to make the story interesting! You can use the exact same term about the way a wolf pack will kill a bison or an elk... Or the way a cat kills a mouse!!

When the officer comes in, the dogs are still frightened and alert - and naturally feel even more trapped - so expecting a friendly welcome in that situation is more than naive...

And the dogs cannot answer any questions anyway, so there is no point in asking any before pulling the trigger... Why shouldn't the bigger dog threaten the intruding officer? Give me just ONE good reason that would make sense for a dog!

Death of another animal is the result of the dog using its instincts - with no thinking involved, and certainly no desire for causing death. Dogs have no idea what the difference is between "live" and "dead". They do not kill in order to cause death. They kill as a result of them using their natural instincts, triggered by the key stimuli that are given to them in the situation, and driven by the natural needs that control their behavior. A carnivore does not care if its prey is dead or not. It only cares about it being calm enough to eat!

Humans call any killing "mean", when, in our opinion and judged with our values, it seems meaningless. However, what really is mean here is the way this old lady apparently took care of those dogs, so completely depriving them from natural activities! We tend to judge her emotionally - based on an appreciation of her loving intent. But that does not count at all for the dogs....

The problem with depriving a dog from natural activities is serious, also on a smaller scale. The accumulated energy will cause serious stress for the dog, and that stress will first result in rambunctious, hyperactive behaviors that typically are mixed heavily with aggression. Later, as this condition of high stress continues for longer time (years...), the dog will end up becoming apathetic. Unfortunately, most ignorant and uninformed dog owners refer to this as "the dog finally calmed down"...

In my experience, between 90% and 95% of all dog behavior problems originate in this lack of adequate stimulation of fundamental instincts. And 90-95% of dog trainers and so-called behaviorists try to address the problem by finding ways of discouraging the unacceptable behavior! (Did you hear me scream? Maybe these people also want to cure a disease that gives high fever by dipping the patient in ice water? Now, this might be a relevant option if the fever is getting out of control and threatens to kill you - but it still does absolutely nothing to cure the disease that caused that fever.)

One of my mentors, the Swedish dog psychologist Anders Hallgren (author of "The ABC's of Dog Language") has in several of his publications (not translated to English....) discussed his own studies about problem behaviors being related to lack of activity. These studies are discussed in great detail also in "BrainWork for Smart Dogs", but let it suffice here to just refer to Anders' overall conclusion: 87% of all "problem dogs" have less than 4 hours of meaningful activity per day. That makes boredom a certain number one on any list of reasons for "bad behavior" in dogs...

The solution is simple when we understand what causes these troublesome behaviors - and it costs less than half of what most professional trainers charge for a single lesson. It is called "BrainWork for Smart Dogs". Yes, it takes a couple of evenings to read that big e-book. And, yes, it takes another evening to plan your training. And, yes, it takes 15-30 minutes of your time EVERY DAY to use this knowledge in practice. BUT: if a happy and mentally balanced dog isn't worth that kind of price, then please find another home for that dog....

Our love for our dogs has to find ways of being expressed that makes sense for the dogs. Our own human value system is valueless for this - if not outright dangerous, as the example with this old lady illustrates....

In conclusion, Kim, I do not at all think this event is bizarre. To me, it is a very natural and logical result that could have been both predicted and avoided... What is bizarre about this is the fact that people don't "get it", like the reporter and the police officer, who both used their personal emotional human values to judge the dogs' behavior - with no appreciation whatsoever for the dogs' nature and their desperate situation....

What would we have expected if this old lady had gathered tigers or lions this way? From those animals, we kind-of expect this kind of behavior, right? Sorry, but it is only stupidity from our own side when we ignore that our dogs are equipped with the very same instincts that can and will trigger the very same behaviors, unless we have some strong inhibitors in place:

  1. Sufficient Imprinting on humans, so people are considered pack members

  2. Healthy genes that make sure that the relevant bite inhibitors are in place.

  3. Sufficiently low stress level, facilitated through adequate mental stimulation

Those factors are not at all "a given" for every dog. The first one depends completely on how the puppy was raised. The second one depends completely on how the dog was bred. The third one depends completely on how the dog is cared for. The third one is the only one of the three that we can change...

As I said many times and will repeat: "Aggressive dogs are man-made". This story is no exception, and the person who is guilty on at least 1/3 of the account is the old lady who paid the ultimate price for her own "crime". To me, it does not make much difference that the crime is conducted under a motive of wanting to help. Even if I think it will help a diabetic patient to drink honey water if he is in coma because of insulin shock, I will still have to defend myself against the charge of manslaughter or murder if I do it! Lack of knowledge about the law does not free anyone from liability. If you break the law in ignorance of it, it is actually counted as an aggravating condition.... This situation is no different. My sympathy is on the dogs' side. I have nothing but pity for the old lady...

Killing the dogs in retaliation of a crime they were the innocent victims of is not only completely unjust, but also just as stupid as closing the barn door after the horse ran out.

This, however, in no way implies that I suggest finding other homes for these dogs! If the underlying problems were caused by bad Imprinting or bad genes, there is no way such a solution would be responsible - and I cannot tell without being given a chance to test those dogs.

The shelters and rescue organizations unfortunately often stimulate promotion of this, probably without realizing it. Too often, I have found that their attitude is no different than what was demonstrated by this old lady - and it does not serve anybody any fairness in proportion to the devotion and love that typically lies behind those kind people's attempts to "help". Again, I am not attacking the rescue organization for what they do - I am only requesting that they truly assess each individual situation and stop thinking that "all dogs are good", and "all problems can be solved with some TLC". It is plain simply not true.

I am just wondering if stories like this one will help get that point across...

 

Cheers and woof,

Mogens Eliasen

 

If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, or some comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in to dogs in general, I will be happy to know about them. If I can find an answer for you, I will!

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P.S. The fall schedule for the Creston camp course is ready. The time will be September 18-25. We made a few changes, based on the experiences we got with the last course where we were able to use some additional local training areas very close to town, making the logistics much simpler than usual, so it is now easier to bring family along, even if those family members do not want to join all the training lessons. More information and sign-up at http://k9joy.com/dogtraining/campcourses.php.

Mogens